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Practical or Professional Nursing

Have you decided upon a career in nursing? Congratulations! Now you must choose which license you want to attain: practical or professional. Each has a different educational path, and each offers different advancement opportunities. (Links to resources are found in the For More Information box at the end of the article.)

Practical Nursing - LPN/LVN

A Licensed Practical Nurse (called a Licensed Vocational Nurse in a few states) can perform selected nursing duties as directed by a licensed professional nurse, physician, or dentist. These duties would not require specialized skills, judgment or knowledge. LPNs perform basic bedside care such as taking vital signs, applying dressings, and taking care of patients' personal hygiene as well as their emotional needs. Experienced LPNs may supervise nursing assistants and aides.

About 60% of LPNs work in nursing homes or hospitals. As the population ages, the Department of Labor expects an increase in job opportunities in nursing homes and home healthcare. Job opportunities in hospitals will decrease as more procedures are performed outside the hospital, in doctors' offices, clinics and homes. In May 2006, the median salary for an LPN was $36,500.

To become an LPN, you must spend approximately one year in an educational program offered by a vocational-technical school, community college, or hospital. The programs include classroom study as well as supervised patient care in a clinical setting. You then apply for a license with your State Board of Nursing, and pass the NCLEX-PN exam to earn your license. Each state has different requirements for licensing, so it is important to investigate the requirements on your state's Board of Nursing web site, and to contact them if you have questions.

If you decide upon the LPN license in the short-term, you can work towards an RN license when the time is right for you by entering a program that bridges the educational gap between LPNs and RNs. With these “LPN-RN bridge” programs, LPNs can earn their Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) or Bachelor of Science of Nursing (BSN). Once an LPN has graduated from the ADN or BSN program, they can sit for the professional nurse (RN) exam.

Professional Nursing - RN

Compared to the LPN, a Registered Nurse (RN) can get involved in diagnosing and treating, health teaching, health counseling, and executing medical regimens prescribed by a physician or dentist. They can work in hospitals, nursing homes, offices, government agencies, at worksites, etc. opportunities to work outside a hospital setting, and for professional advancement are much greater.

Job prospects for RNs are excellent. It is the largest healthcare occupation, and is one of the top 10 occupations for growth according to the Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook. With the demand for nurses high, salaries will rise accordingly. In May 2006, the median salary was $57,280.

If you plan to become an RN, you have three educational routes from which to choose:

  • 4-year Bachelor of Science of Nursing (BSN) from a college

  • 3-year Hospital Diploma Program

  • 2-year Associate's Degree in Nursing (ADN) from a college

The trend in RN education is shifting away from the hospital diploma programs towards the programs offered by formal education institutions. At first blush, beginning students might be tempted to follow the 2-year path, but there are important long-term issues to consider. The 4-year BSN degree prepares you to work in any healthcare setting, making you much more employable. The BSN lays the groundwork for advancement in nursing care (clinical nursing specialties), and is critical if you wish to participate in case management, administration, teaching, consulting, or nursing specialties.

After completing your formal education, you must apply for a license with your State Board of Nursing, and pass the NCLEX-RN exam.

If you pursue the ADN or hospital diploma path to your RN, you can go back later for your BSN since many institutions offer what’s called a “RN-BSN Bridge” program. Your employer may have a tuition reimbursement program to assist you.

Choosing between an RN and LPN nursing program is an important one. Knowing the job responsibilities, employment outlook, and educational requirements can help you determine which of these two respected professions matches your individual career goals.

For More Information:

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