Practical Nurse Programs and Growing Your Career
Should you study in an undergraduate program that will get you your RN licensure or is a Practical Nurse program enough to get you a good career in the nursing field? What’s the difference between the RN and an LPN?
The nursing field is expanding in both directions and for good reason. The recent ongoing nursing shortage has strained even the most vital nursing staffs. One solution? Create additional LPN jobs to take up some basic patient care and urge experienced RNs to pursue Advanced Practice.
About the Practical Nurse Program: LPN vs. RN
The LPN is an entry-level nursing licensure, not a degree. An LPN studies in a Practical Nurse program and once successfully completes it is then eligible to take the NCLEX-PN exam, which awards the LPN licensure.
The outstanding differences between the RN license and the LPN license are: scope of nursing practice, salary, and career advancement. The job or care responsibility accorded an LPN varies from state to state based on regulations, but for the most part the job has significant restrictions especially when it comes to intensive patient care areas. LPNs are trained to do very basic patient care, even dispense some medications, but some of the real meat of nursing practice – ie patient care plans – is well beyond the scope of an LPN’s training in most locales.
Where to Study a LPN or LVN Program
Since the Licensed Practical Nurse is a career program the most common avenue is your local community college, where allied healthcare programs are commonly offered or even Associates degrees. Here you have flexible class schedules allowing you to continue working or caring for your family, and access to very well-trained faculty, many of whom are experts in their fields.
Alternative educational options include vocational nurse training schools that specialize in delivery of LPN and CNA programs.
Make sure before you sign on for any quick and dirty program that the school is appropriately accredited to provide the training they sell.
A full-time course of study leading to an LPN license costs you about 1 full year of your time.
Most LPNs learn the following core curriculum before taking their test and getting a job. And some of it is very similar to the basic courses any Associates-focused nursing student might study:
- Basic nursing
- Anatomy and Physiology
- First Aid
- Intro to Pharmacology
- IV Therapy
- Diet and Nutrition
- Geriatric Care
- Pediatric Care
- Psych Care
- and more
LPN to RN Bridge Program
Once an LPN is always an LPN unless you choose to take the step to RN licensure. The LPN to RN is a common bridge program—also called “ladder” or “transition” program-- that offers the missing training so you can get your NCLEX-RN under your belt and move upward in your career.
The balance of this bridge program is coursework focused on bringing the LPN nurse up to the scope of practice equal to that of RN. This includes a great deal of time devoted to hands-on clinicals in a variety of patient care facilities (your experience as an LPN would be helpful) as well as including course work that teaches you proper patient assessment and development of care plans.
Explore Your Nursing Degree Options Today!
Since registered nurses (RNs) have greater responsibilities than licensed practical nurses and licensed vocational nurses (LPNs and LVNs), typically earn higher salaries, and are more frequently promoted and placed in positions of leadership, it is common for LPNs to return to school to become RNs. One flexible way to accomplish this is through “bridge” programs, which are designed for working professionals who need the flexibility of evening or weekend classes. Bridge programs also frequently include the option of online classes. LPN to RN bridge programs typically take about 18 months to two years to complete, and graduates leave with an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN or ASN). Others may choose to enroll in LPN to BSN bridge programs, which typically take a year or two longer to complete than an associate’s program and result in a bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN) degree.
Why Enroll in an LPN to RN Nursing Program?
LPN to RN programs are ideal for LPNs who want to increase their level of knowledge, their responsibilities at work, and their rate of pay. LPNs can give basic patient care, like changing bandages and inserting catheters, but their duties are restricted compared to registered nurses. In many states, LPNs cannot give medication or start intravenous drips (IVs), for example. RNs are therefore entrusted with more responsibility than LPNs and sometimes specialize in a particular area – addiction nurses, gerontology nurses, and rehabilitation nurses are all commonly RNs. Because of their specialized knowledge, RNs also tend to earn a higher salary than LPNs. Additionally, since hospitals typically require an RN license for staff positions, getting an RN license can increase employment opportunities.
LPN to BSN programs are ideal for those who have more time to become an RN since RNs with a bachelor’s degree tend to make more money than RNs with an associate’s and are more often promoted to positions of leadership. There is also growing support in the nursing field for accepting the bachelor’s degree as the minimum educational standard for registered nurses. An LPN to BSN program commonly takes three to four years to complete.
LPN to RN Nursing Program Requirements and Prerequisites
While the requirements to enter an LPN to RN program vary by school, a high school diploma or GED is typically the minimum requirement. Some prerequisites are also commonly required, such as English, math, anatomy, and physiology. Each school will also have minimum admissions requirements for ACT or SAT scores, high school grade point average, and the overall strength of the college application based on supporting materials like the statement of purpose and letters of recommendation. Some schools require applicants to take the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS) or a comparable general skills exam before being admitted. Applicants to LPN to RN bridge programs must be licensed practical nurses (LPNs) or licensed vocational nurses (LVNs). Many programs require letters of reference from a recent employer, current CPR certification, and/or a background check.
People wishing to become RNs should have a genuine desire to help others, good communication skills, and physical and emotional stability. They should also be academically talented, especially in the fields of biology and other sciences. A career in nursing can be physically and emotionally draining, often with long hours and variable schedules, but it can also be rewarding. People with compassion, organizational skills, stamina, and excellent people skills are typically the most successful nurses.
LPN to RN Nursing Program Coursework
The coursework in LPN to RN nursing programs will vary by program, but most programs take around 18 months to two years to complete. LPN to BSN programs will take closer to three to four years to complete. Typically, students are required take courses like anatomy, physiology, biology, English composition and chemistry prior to admission into the LPN to RN program. Program courses might include:
- LPN to RN Bridge Course
- Foundations of Professional Nursing
- Pharmacology for Nurses
- Clinical Nursing
- Psychiatric Nursing
- Maternity and Newborn Nursing
- Community Health Nursing
- Applied Principles of Health and Disease
- Applied Ethics in Clinical Practice
- Leadership and Management in Healthcare
- Medical-Surgical Practicum
- Advanced Clinical Assessment
In addition to the coursework listed above, students in LPN to RN programs may also be required to complete clinical work, where they will practice hands-on skills. Depending on the program and the student’s work history, the clinical work may be able to be completed at the hospital or clinic where the student works. Students in these programs are also expected to maintain a minimum grade point average in order to graduate with an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in nursing.
Online LPN to RN Programs Versus On-Campus Programs
Since most students in LPN to RN schools are working professionals, online programs are a frequently encountered option. Accredited online LPN to RN programs can provide more flexibility than traditional programs, and they are usually designed for nontraditional students, sometimes even allowing students to take just one class at a time. Some online programs offer year-round admissions and class schedules, making it easier for working students to enroll and attend class. LPN to RN online bridge programs might be cheaper overall than on-campus programs, especially when taking into consideration the time and money students will save by not having to travel to and from class each day.
Online programs are not for everyone, however. Attending an online nursing school requires students to be highly self-motivated and driven. Traditional on-campus programs offer students the social aspect of meeting and collaborating with their fellow students and asking questions of professors after class, which can be beneficial. While LPN to RN bridge programs online do provide opportunities for students to interact, electronic interaction is not the same as physically being in the same room with others, and some students can find this isolating. Some nurses will prefer an online option for the convenience and flexibility, and others will prefer the traditional classroom as a means to becoming an RN. With advantages and disadvantages to each, nurses must decide which type of program is best for them as individuals.
Career Opportunities for Graduates of an LPN to RN Program in Nursing
After completing an LPN to RN or an LPN to BSN program, graduates will need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). The NCLEX covers the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary for entry-level nursing practice and tests the critical thinking ability of the candidate. It is a highly individualized test, meaning that the computer selects each question based on how the previous one was answered. Most questions are multiple-choice, but there are also other formats including open response-style and image cues that may ask test-takers to identify a given body part. Once this exam is successfully passed, candidates will be eligible to apply for licensure as registered nurses.
Nursing is one of the most popular job fields, and qualified nurses are in high demand. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 2,751,500 registered nurses in the US as of 2016, earning a median annual salary of $68,450 per year.1 By comparison, the median salary of the 719,900 LPNs and LVNs working in the same year was $44,090.2 The outlook for RNs is also promising. Registered nursing jobs are expected to increase by 16% through 2024.1 The demand for RNs is higher than that for LPNs, which should make it easier for RNs to find a job and to move to other jobs if desired.
The increased demand for nurses is due in part to the aging of the baby-boomer generation, growing rates of chronic illnesses among the general public, and the retirement of many nurses in the coming years. Nurses who are willing to work in medically underserved and in rural areas will likely have an advantage in the job market. Long-term care facilities are expected to have a greater need for nurses than hospitals, and home healthcare is also expected to see an increase, so ADNs who apply for these jobs may have a better job outlook.
The Organization for Associate Degree Nursing – Established 30 years ago, this organization exists to support those who have associate’s degrees in nursing. Find furthering educational opportunities, news and networking opportunities on their website.
The American Nurses Association – The American Nurses Association is a professional organization for all registered nurses. Membership provides opportunities in networking, advancement, and education.
The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) – Visit the NCSBN’s website to find out about the exams required for licensure, practice analyses, and testing locations.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I transfer courses from other colleges or universities to an LPN to RN program?
Most colleges and universities will accept transfer credits from other regionally accredited schools, but will likely require a minimum passing grade for those classes. Check with your school of choice for more information on transferring college credits from other schools.
Should I choose an LPN to RN bridge program or an LPN to BSN program?
For LPNs wishing to become RNs who would like to save time and money, LPN to RN bridge programs can be an excellent choice. They offer flexibility and can be more cost-conscious. However, RNs with their BSN do tend to make more money and tend to be promoted more readily than RNs with an ADN, so for some nurses, it may be worth the extra time and effort to get their BSN in nursing with an LPN to BSN program, which can also offer flexibility for working nurses. At the same time, if you complete your LPN to RN and later decide to earn your bachelor’s, an RN to BSN program is an option.
Are in-person clinical hours required for LPN to RN programs?
It depends on the program, but most schools do require in-person clinicals. Some schools will take into account the student’s work history, allowing the clinical work to be completed at the hospital or clinic where the student already works. Check with LPN to RN schools for more information about their clinical requirements.
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Registered Nurses: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/licensed-practical-and-licensed-vocational-nurses.htm