LPN Vs LVN: What’s the Difference? 

By Sarah Collins

10/24/2022



The medical field features hundreds of abbreviations, a massive collection that could make your head spin. Sometimes, these short forms represent similar jobs and roles, like LPN and LVN. These two programs refer to the same specific nurse type but vary slightly.

How do they differ? Well, it has to do with location, specifically the state where you get your certification and work. The subsequent sections reveal more information on LPN and LVN, highlighting their requirements, average salaries, roles, benefits, and outlook.

  • LPN and LVN refer to a similar type of nurse that performs essential basic nursing tasks. Their scope of practice is a little more strict than that of a Registered Nurse.
  • Certification as an LPN or LVN involves taking specific training courses and passing the national council licensure examination – practical nurse (NCLEX-PN). Texas and California use the term LVN, while other states use LPN.
  • There are many benefits to becoming an LPN or LVN, and multiple schools offer these training programs.

What’s an LPN?

LPN stands for Licensed Practical Nurse. It refers to this type of nurse in most areas of the United States who help perform primary patient care as part of a multidisciplinary healthcare team.

They assess their patients’ needs and act as advocates helping to produce the best possible patient outcomes.

Typically, an LPN has a more limited scope of practice than a registered nurse (RN). For example, some states don’t permit LPNs to administer certain medications or perform specific nursing duties owing to their complexity.

However, LPNs can still perform a wide range of nursing practices within their scope of practice. Like RNs, this nursing group also works under a doctor’s supervision, carrying out their directives.

In some cases, you’d find RNs supervising LPNs instead of doctors, given that the former has a significantly more expansive scope of practice.

What’s an LVN?

LVN stands for Licensed Vocational Nurse. While not as popular a term, it still refers to a specific type of nurse with special training similar to an LPN. This nursing group also works under physicians’ and RNs’ supervision.

Like LPNs, LVNs can help with primary nursing care, particularly for patients with more predictable health outcomes. They are entry-level and often spend more time at the bedside with their patients than RNs, leading to deeper connections and awareness of patients’ needs.

How Do an LPN and an LVN Differ?

The difference between an LPN and LVN is mainly in their names. Texas and California use the term LVN, while the rest of the U.S. typically refers to this type of nurse as an LPN.

For example, consider the following definitions of LPN laid out by Texas and California:

  • California LVN: “An entry-level health care provider who is responsible for rendering basic nursing care. A vocational nurse practices under the direction of a physician or registered nurse. The licensee is not an independent practitioner.”
  • Texas LVN: “Has a directed scope of practice to provide focused nursing care that requires specialized judgment and skill. Requires appropriate supervision by an RN, APRN, physician, physician assistant, podiatrist or dentist for LVN practice… Provides care to assigned patients with predictable health care needs.”

Consider how these guides are pretty similar to the explanation for LPN laid out by the NYS Office of the Professions:

  • “The practice of nursing as a licensed practical nurse is defined as performing tasks and responsibilities within the framework of case finding, health teaching, health counseling, and provision of supportive and restorative care under the direction of a registered professional nurse or licensed physician, dentist or other licensed health care provider legally authorized under this title and in accordance with the commissioner’s regulations.”

Ultimately, it comes down to the state where you get your certification and choose to practice. Your jurisdiction outlines your scope of practice as an LPN or LVN.

What Are the Roles and Responsibilities of LPNs and LVNs?

Your duties as an LPN or LVN will depend on where you work and the scope of practice laid out by your state. You may choose to get additional training to engage in a specialty area. However, your duties may include the following:

  • Reporting changes in patients’ conditions to RNs, doctors, or other healthcare team members as needed
  • Monitoring patients’ vitals
  • Assisting with patient care, such as helping to feed or dress patients
  • Listening to patients’ concerns and reporting them to work towards the best health outcomes
  • Assisting with dressing changes and other patient care orders within the LPN scope of practice
  • Assisting in administering medications within the LPN scope of practice
  • Working with all health care team members to help achieve patient goals
  • Reinforcing teaching to patients about their health and treatment plan

Where Can I Work as an LPN or LVN?

As an LPN or LVN, you can work in the outpatient setting. Some include working at clinics, doctor’s offices, or urgent care. You can also have jobs in more acute settings such as the hospital; depending on your experience level, work in areas such as the emergency room, intensive care, or a general hospital floor.

You also have the option to work in long-term care as an LPN. For example, you could practice in a nursing home, which would involve assisting patients with activities of daily living and helping them maintain their health.

As you work to make a decision, it can help to consider your interests and strengths within the healthcare field. You may start in a more general area and then move into a specialty as you gain more experience.

What Qualities Do I Need as an LPN or LVN?

LPNs and LVNs should possess certain qualities. If you already seem to have some of these attributes, working as an LPN or LVN may be the perfect fit. You can also identify areas you’ll need to improve and strive to develop your skills.

  • Communication: You’ll need to work with all healthcare team members and communicate clearly about what’s happening with your patients and the actions you’ve implemented.
  • Critical thinking: You’ll work to solve complex problems and will need to adapt to changing health needs.
  • Listening: Patients will open up to you. Other healthcare team members will discuss patient care and what you need to do. So, it would help if you were skilled at listening to everyone: patients, their family members, and healthcare personnel.
  • Compassion: You should be emphatic, have a heart for people, and desire to help them. At its core, nursing is about helping people improve their health and well-being.
  • Organization: You’ll often be caring for many patients and performing many tasks, which makes organizing and an ability to plan essential.
  • Time management: When you work with multiple patients, you may need to get things done in short time frames, making your ability to prioritize and manage your hours critical to success.

As an LPN, much of the work you do will be hands-on. So, if you take pride in getting things done and interacting with others, the job will fit excellently with these attributes. You also need to be a good team player, as your role involves working with others in many different capacities.

What Are the Benefits of Becoming an LPN or an LVN?

Choosing to become an LPN or LVN opens up several unique opportunities in the healthcare field. LPNs can work in many different specialty areas, depending on your ambition. An LPN or LVN position has many benefits, and it’s helpful to consider these perks when deciding if you want to pursue a career in the healthcare field as one.

Here are some of these perks:

  • Fulfillment as you provide essential nursing care: Helping others can be fulfilling. As an LPN or LVN, you get to help people when they are vulnerable and need to rely on others. You get to make a difference in patients’ health, providing the comfort and support they need during difficult times.
  • A short time in school: It takes less time to get an LPN certification than an RN certification. This short duration makes LPN positions great for people who want to enter the healthcare field as soon as possible.
  • Job security: The job rate for LPNs and LVNs is steady. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the job increase for LPNs and LVNs will be around 9% by 2030. The need for skilled medical care is constant.
  • Direct interactions with patients: As an LPN or LVN, you spend time at the bedside with your patients, sometimes more than RNs or other healthcare team members. This period allows you to establish trust and build relationships with your patients.

Pay for LPNs and LVNs

Pay may vary based on your experience and your area of specialty. In 2021, the average income for LPNs and LVNs was around $48,000 annually and $23.00 an hour. While these figures are lower than those RNs spot, you’ll have to balance this with the training you’ll receive.

LPN and LVN programs typically take less time to complete than other medical degrees. Your level of student debt will likely be less than if you chose to pursue a degree as an RN. Also, gaining more experience as an LPN or LVN affects your salary; you become eligible for a pay rise as your employee value increases.

How to Become an LPN or LVN

LPNs and LVNs require a certain level of education and training before proceeding to practice. While your specific training will vary by state, you’ll need to complete an LPN or LVN program accredited in your potential practice province, and then pass the national council licensure examination for practical nurses (NCLEX-PN). A typical LPN program lasts between one and two years.

You’ll learn how to care for patients at an LPN or LVN program. New members must also grasp pharmacology and how the human body works thoroughly. Consider the components of an LVN program in California:

  • Elements essential to nursing conduct: including communication, leadership, and critical thinking
  • Different areas of nursing: including geriatrics, rehab, maternity, pediatric, and medical-surgical nursing
  • Pharmacology within the LVN scope of practice
  • Components of patient interactions: including patient education, end-of-life care, and culturally congruent care

Schools That Offer LPN and LVN Programs

Multiple programs for LPNs and LVNs are available all over the country, including options supporting both online and in-person learning. If you’re in an LPN program full-time, it typically takes between one and two years to complete one. The process may take longer if you choose a part-time schedule.

LPN Programs

LPN programs are available in many states, but here are just a few that you can check out:

LVN Programs

LVN programs are available in Texas and California. Here are just a few to check out:

Researching LPN and LVN Programs

Suppose you’re specifically interested in searching for schools where you can get LPN or LVN training. In that case, Practical Nursing is an excellent resource for those interested in becoming LPNs or LVNs.

As you research schools, you must consider what you want and what each school offers. You should always check to ensure a program is appropriately accredited in your state and that you’ll be eligible to take the NCLEX-PN upon completion.

Get Started With Your LPN or LVN Today

A career as an LPN or LVN can be gratifying. As an LPN, you’re a patient advocate, a caregiver, and an essential healthcare team member. You can make a difference in patients’ lives by taking this critical next step in your career.

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