There are two ways to pursue a career in nursing: as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) or as a Registered Nurse (RN). RNs and LPNs wear the same uniform and appear to have the same rank and responsibilities in medical facilities. However, differences in their educational backgrounds lead to different job descriptions and career prospects in the health care facilities they work in. Typically, an RN and LPN are tasked with patient care and other bedside duties, but their similarities end there. Although the differences between RN and LPN may appear to be insignificant, there are actually tremendous benefits to being an RN such as higher remuneration, and a better chance of receiving promotions hence better career growth prospects. According to recent trends in the health care industry, an LPN is being viewed as a stepping stone to becoming an RN courtesy of the numerous higher learning institutions offering LPN to RN programs.
Advanced Education Options for LPNs
In order to transit from LPN to RN, individuals have various avenues to further their education. The options include pursing an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN), Bachelor’s degree in Nursing (BSN), or a Master’s Degree in Nursing (MSN) with advanced practice options of becoming a Certified Nursing Specialist (CNS), health researcher, or nurse educator.
As a result of increased demand, many colleges and universities offer LPN to RN programs that are specifically customized for LPNs intending to obtain an RN degree. Some higher learning institutions offer the programs through online platforms enabling LPNs to still have full-time jobs. Most LPNs opt for either the LPN to RN Associate’s Degree Program or the LPN to RN Bachelor’s Degree Program. The ASD provides basic entry level training that is required to practice as an RN. The program takes around two years to complete depending on the training program. On the other hand, the BSN program takes about four years to complete and includes advanced units. The degree offers a more comprehensive level of training and education required to practice as a professional RN. It is important to note that students who graduate with BSN often have better career prospects than those with an ASD.
Upon completion of the coursework and other relevant training in the LPN-to-RN program, the graduate must sit and pass the National Council Licensure Examination, NCLEX-RN. The exam is moderated and coordinated by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, which evaluates the students’ nursing knowledge and education levels. Currently, the NCLEX-RN test is administered online through an interactive computer testing application. As the student attempts each question, the application selects the next question based on the answer given so as to give the most accurate assessment of the examinee. The results are then automatically generated by the computer program. Because the test is computer generated and different questions are asked for each student, the results give fair assessment of the student. In order to shift from an LPN to RN, you must pass the test.
Because of the flexibility of LPN to RN programs, LPNs have the benefit to continue to work in their respective nursing field while they still pursue RN accreditation education. However, they cannot exceed the scope of practice as LPN practitioners. The practice sessions in an RN class should not be transferred to in their full-time or part-time jobs as an LPN.
It is not a requirement that one has to pursue an ADN-RN program first in order to advance to BSN or MSN levels. Many LPN to MSN and LPN to BSN bridging programs have a level where the student can take the NCLEX-RN exam and then get registered as an RN as they continue completing their education programs.
Differences in Responsibility between LPN and RN
LPNs, who work under the supervision of an RN or a medical doctor, are usually task oriented. Depending on the guidelines set on respective nursing boards, LPNs are not permitted to perform certain activities like initial medical examinations. Some nursing boards prohibit LPNs from even hanging blood or chemotherapy, or even injecting intravenous medications.
On the other hand, RNs are given more leeway and freedom in terms of responsibilities and limits. Their training allows them to have an in-depth understanding of health care issues allowing them to offer solutions. RNs work more independently since their training gives them a bigger picture perspective allowing them to understand the specific scenario better. In addition, they can work in intensive care units and other complex settings provided they undergo specialized training. Given the nature of the job, they should be people who can think fast and have good interpersonal skills.
One of the reasons driving many nursing students to pursue an LPN education first is that the curriculum takes a minimum of 18 months to complete, and they can enroll for their RN program as they continue working as LPNs. This affords them the benefit of earning ‘field work’ experience while still furthering their education. Furthermore, online LPN to RN programs are not offered to non-nurse students because they lack hands-on experience. What this signifies is that an LPN working for a clinic full-time still has the opportunity to become an RN by just taking online classes. Additionally, most employers are usually supportive by offering study loans and flexible working hours to LPNs furthering their education.
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