What Is the Role of the LPN Compared to the RN?

An RN has greater responsibility than an LPN.
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The licensed practical nurse or LPN, performs basic nursing duties, often under the direction of a registered nurse, or RN. The registered nurse performs more complex and independent nursing duties such as coordination of care, the evaluation and education of patients, developing care plans and making nursing diagnoses. LPNs and RNs work together as part of a medical team to provide efficient care to patients in a hospital, clinical or home setting.

Role of the LPN

    The LPN participates in and performs client care that is focused, limited and directed. She may collect data on patients and report findings and changes. The LPN does not make any diagnosis or independent decisions. Instead, she helps the RN to provide patient care and supports decisions and care plans that have been implemented. The LPN plays an important role in the nursing process and can assign duties to unlicensed assistive personnel. The LPN never assigns duties to an RN, who is higher in the chain-of-command. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, LPNs earned a mean hourly wage of $20.21 in 2011.

LPN Preparation

    LPNs are licensed professionals who are educated beyond high school. The exact licensing requirements can vary by state, and people interested in this career should contact their state board of nursing to clarify the requirements. An LPN has generally completed a one- or two-year accredited practical nursing program at a technical or vocational school, or at a community college. Some hospitals offer certification programs where LPNs learn on-the-job. LPNs must also pass the National Council of State Boards of Nursing examination for practical nurses, or the NCLEX-PN, to demonstrate their fitness to be licensed.

Role of the RN

    RNs provide patient care and may supervise LPNs and nursing aides. The RN is trained to assess patients and use critical thinking skills and health-care knowledge to plan and coordinate nursing interventions. While there are a number of nurse specialties, RNs monitor and record changes to patients, develop plans for care, educate patients, administer medications and consult physicians. Unlike the LPN, RNs are responsible for making independent decisions and diagnoses. According to the Bureau, RNs earned a mean hourly wage of $33.23 in 2011.

RN Preparation

    RNs are licensed professionals who have completed a nursing program. RNs often complete a bachelor's degree in nursing, although this degree is not required. An associate degree in nursing or a diploma in nursing may also qualify graduates for a nursing license. Depending on the program, RNs study for two to four years and take coursework in anatomy and physiology, nutrition, nursing, biology and behavioral sciences. Nursing programs can be rigorous and competitive, and include time spent working as a student nurse. Graduates must pass the NCLEX-RN before they can be licensed in any state.

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