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RN Duties Vs. LPN Duties

by Ruth Altman

Registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) work in hospitals, medical clinics, hospices and nursing homes. Both play a key role in the healthcare system and the well-being of their patients. When it comes to education, a registered nurse will earn a more advanced professional degree, while an LPN will usually spend less time on her degree and therefore make less money. Nonetheless, both RNs and LPNs must take and pass the National Council Licensure Exam before entering the field of nursing.

Patient Assessment & Decision-Making

A registered nurse acts as the supervisor to an LPN, partly because LPNs cannot legally interpret patient data. When an LPN takes vital signs or gets other important information from a patient, she relays that information to an RN or physician. Under the limitations of her license, an LPN cannot assess or make decisions for the patient. An RN, on the other hand, is expected to make decisions for the patient and will delegate care accordingly. When it comes to respective duties, a registered nurse performs physical exams, administers medication, oversees or administers wound care, provides patient education and interprets data to make critical decisions on behalf of the patient's well-being. On the other hand, an LPN is limited to these practices areas due to licensure restrictions. In this sense, an RN has more decision-making authority than an LPN.

Education & Training

A registered nurse will spend more time obtaining certification than an LPN. At the very least, a registered nurse needs an associate degree -- that is, a two-year program of study -- upon entry into the field. However, a growing number of RNs are graduating with Bachelor of Science in Nursing Science (BSN) degrees, which are four-year college degrees. LPNs, on the other hand, require a post-secondary non-degree award, typically called a certificate, to receive licensure. Certificate programs are available at community colleges and vocational schools and take about a year to complete.

Bedside Care

LPNs focus on delivering the basic care to patients. They are responsible for taking vital signs such as temperature, blood pressure and glucose levels. LPNs must also care for patients by changing dressings, preparing and administering injections, monitoring catheters and feeding patients when necessary. In this sense, the LPN is more concerned with the basic care of the patient, whereas a RN focuses on the bigger picture such as diagnosing patients and relaying information to overseeing physicians.

Salary & Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, RNs earned a 2010 median salary of $64,690 per year. Practical nurses earned a median salary of $40,380 annually in 2010. Both should see decent job growth in coming years. The BLS expects employment of registered nurses to grow 26 percent from 2010 to 2020, while demand for LPNs should increase by 22 percent for the same time period. Both figures are above the 14 percent projected growth rate for all occupations.

About the Author

Ruth Altman writes on business, lifestyle and careers. She holds a Master of Arts degree from Pepperdine University in addition to a bachelor's degree from Harvard University.

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