You may think that a nurse is simply a nurse, but the title "nurse" is broad. There are actually two types of nurses: vocational nurses – or licensed practical nurses (LPNs) as they are known in some states – and registered nurses. VNs and RNs work in the same environments and perform similar tasks, but RNs are better educated, can perform more tasks, and are better compensated.
RNs have two educational options: they can either study for a four-year bachelor's of science in nursing or a two- to three-year associate's degree in nursing. Either course of study requires taking courses in anatomy, physiology, chemistry, nutrition, psychology and other health-related courses. VNs need to complete a one-year certificate program that covers topics such as nursing, biology and pharmacology.
RNs work together with doctors and other medical professionals to care for patients. They may record patient histories, observe patients, provide treatments and perform diagnostic tests. VNs also work directly with patients but are more limited in their duties. They may monitor patients' health and provide basic nursing care such as changing bandages. VNs will discuss healthcare with patients, keep records, and report patients' health status to RNs and doctors. What VNs can and cannot do varied by state. For instance, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, some states allow trained VNs to give medication and start intravenous drips; other states prohibit them from doing so. RNs often supervise VNs, and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, some states require RNs to provide instructions to VNs when performing certain tasks.
As of 2010, VNs earned an annual median wage of $40,380. By comparison, RNs earned significantly more, taking home a median annual wage of $64,690. The top 10 percent of VNs earned more than $56,010 but the top 10 percent of RNs earned even more, bringing home more than $95,130 per year.
Both RNs and VNs are expected to have strong job growth through 2020 due to the aging population in the United States. VNs are expected to see a 22 percent job growth over this period, while RNs are expected to see their jobs grow by 26 percent. Both of these growth figures are significantly higher than the 14 percent job growth expected for all occupations over this same period.
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