RPN or RN for my dream job?

World International


I am currently in the Pre-Health program at a college in SW Ontario. My dream job is to work in a hospital, preferably in NICU, L&D, Neo-natal, Emergency or Surgical.

I have no interest in working in long term care at all.

So I need to apply soon for either the RPN or RN program, and I'm searching job boards and have been talking to the faculty at my school. I'm getting conflicting responses.

The faculty at my school say RPN's are more hands on and I should be able to find a job "no problem" in one of the departments I've listed above, and that RN's are being phased out in favour of cheaper labour (RPN's) (their words, not mine, sorry). They say RN's are all admin, teaching and management jobs. I definitely want to work with patients. The career counselor says that with my high marks, I should really consider the degree program. I'm so conflicted.

The job boards here paint a very different picture and I've haven't seen any RPN jobs in the departments I prefer.

Add to that, I am 36 years old now. Though money and brain power are not issues (I'm smart and we can afford either program), I'm unsure about investing 3.5-4 years working toward the RN degree. Having said that, I don't want to do RPN and find I can't find the job I want once I'm done. I will invest the time in RN if it means I get what I want in the end, but is it necessary?

Can someone enlighten me on any key points you think are necessary to consider, or offer any insight on the difference between the end result based on your experience? I would really appreciate it.

I'd hoped that you were talking Registered Psychiatric Nurse (RPN) but you are in Ontario.

I've been an LPN for a decade and have never heard of a PN in NICU. L&D only in smaller hospitals, in major cities RNs have that one tied up. Surgical Services and Emerg all have LPNs employed in them.

The forecasted trend is to utilize RNs in admin/management roles but I don't see that happening for a very long time in reality.

I'd ask your instructors which hospitals do hire in the NICU. Ask them to introduce you on a class field trip to LPNs working in those areas. Put them on the spot because that's why you are paying them to provide guidance.

Fiona - that's a great idea! I will request that. My thinking is that they were trying to steer me to RPN (called PN at my school, sorry for the confusion) because they know if I choose RN I have to switch schools so maybe they're thinking they'll lose me if I decide on RN and hey, I'm worth tuition bucks to them!

Specializes in acute care med/surg, LTC, orthopedics.

Of the departments you mentioned, surgical inpatient units employ RPNs, the others do not. Some ERs do but you would only be working with level 4 or 5 patients on the CTAS (triage and acuity scale).

In hospitals RPNs work mostly in med/surg inpatient units, specialty inpatient units, outpatient units, psych, dialysis, mother/baby and the OR (with an added certificate.) Out of hospital - LTC, community care, schools and camps, md offices, addiction treatment centres, corrections.

When I graduated, I was told the same thing as you. The reason they revamped the educational requirements to 2-year PN diploma and 4-year BScN is to push more RPNs to the bedside and more RNs to administration, teaching, research. However, I have yet to see this happen. RNs still work in all hospital departments especially those with higher acuity including emerg, ICU, PICU, NICU, CCU and L&D - if your faculty is telling you "you should have no problem finding an RPN job in these departments" then they are lying to you. Or more likely, clueless to the realities of the real world. Yes, there are many management RNs but they are usually MScN or APNs. I don't ever see RNs being phased out of bedside nursing.

I sympathize with your dilemma because I was there once. I wanted to do nursing from the time I was a child but lacked the maturity to commit to the program my first time through college so settled with another career. Let's just say I was more interested hanging out at the pub, than having my nose buried in anatomy books. But the regrets lingered for many years, until opportunity and circumstance drove me to once again consider nursing school at the age of 35 - but 4 years full time just wasn't an option with two kids soon in college themselves, mortgage, car payments, yearly vacations south, etc. etc, although my husband was incredibly support with whatever decision I made. I wouldn't say I settled because it's a lifelong dream for me to have gotten this far, but had I been 10 years younger and had only myself to think about... well, I may very well have chosen the BScN path. Who knows? No regrets, though, never.

My best advice to you is if you have the time, motivation, money and commitment, go the BScN route as I doubt you will regret it. Or, alternately, you can do like many and start off with the RPN program to begin making an income sooner, then bridge to BScN. RNs make far more money faster, have their own dedicated super-strong union, more opportunity and more respect overall from other health care professionals. RPNs are (still) sadly dogged by stigma, misinformation, unfairness and are often found labouring at the bottom of the food chain -- although year after year we are told this will inevitably change. Sigh.

Consider this - if the new PN program is the old RN diploma program, then why are RPNs making considerably less money than diploma RNs? Food for thought. And yes, administration IS all about the bottom line.

I hope I'm not being too negative or deterring you as there are fabulous RPN jobs out there and fabulous workplaces, and in my opinion far greater value needs to be placed on how good a nurse you are, rather than what level of nurse you are. I certainly have no regrets based on my personal circumstances and choices, however, based on the information you provided, it does sound like BScN would align more with your hopes and dreams.

Good luck whatever you choose, and keep us posted on your progress.


My best advice to you is if you have the time, motivation, money and commitment, go the BScN route as I doubt you will regret it.

This keeps ringing in my ears. Probably because the majority of people I talk to about this are saying essentially the same thing. More education will open more doors, so I think I should go for it.


Also, terrified. There's only one option for me in this area and they take their own pre-health students before other college's pre-health students. I'm pulling in all A's right now and I'm hoping to continue that trend right through this year so I look as attractive as possible to the University.

It's funny you say you tried this once before - so did I, at age 17. I wasn't emotionally ready for it. Two kids and many years later, I'm certain I will succeed at it!

Thank you so very much for taking the time to write such a detailed response. I really appreciate that.

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