The real difference between LPNs and RNs. Not what you think.

by downsouthlaff downsouthlaff, LPN Member Nurse

Specializes in Nursing Home. Has 9 years experience.

You once considered a career a nursing. You browsed the web, looking for different types of nursing education. And then comes the big question, what is the difference between an RN and LPN. On some job information website you Probly come across a job description for an LPN/LVN that more accurately describes what a CNA routinely does. Then you probably  talk to friends who are Nurses, LPNs and RNs alike, who will tell you that an LPNs do nearly everything RNs do aside from one or two skills, sound familiar yet ? 

Now it’s time to get to the real difference between LPNs and RNs. The difference has nothing to do with skill. In some states there is essentially no difference between the physical skill that an LPN and RN perform. Today, In some states LPNs hang blood, push IV meds, manage PICC lines, you name it. The real difference between LPNs and RNs, is the type of nursing being practiced and the approach to nursing. One thing LPNs and RNs have in common? Both have met the states requirement to become what can legally be called a nurse. But what’s different is an RN is a professional nurse who practices professional nursing. An LPN or LVN is a nurse who practices practical nursing. 
 Most states define practical nursing or vocational nursing as any paid nursing services that do not require the skill or practice of a professional nurse. sounds  offensive at first but it’s really not. It boils down to professional nursing practice standards and which part of the nursing process has to be done by whom, and it has little to do with skills performed. By default, only professional nurses can assess, diagnose, plan, and evaluate. Practical nursing is all about implementing. 

Now, with that said, do LPNs assess, of course they do. Assessment simply means to measure the value of something. The nursing profession did not invent the word assess. In every state, LPNs carry the knowledge and training to measure the value of their observations, and determine how to address  them. And this is assessing. But LPNs are not allowed to assess within the realm of the nursing process. And this simply means that as LPNs we are not allowed to take our observations to independently formulate a diagnosis and create a care plan. That action would require the scope of a professional nurse. 

So again, yes LPNs and RNs when it comes to skill typically do the same things. And the truth is in that aspect, you may not notice much of a difference between the two. Again, the difference is that LPNs practice practical nursing which in nearly all 50 states is a seperate practice from that of professional nursing. I hope this sheds some light on the confusion regarding the issue, that I have encountered. 


Edited by downsouthlaff


MagicMama, LPN

Specializes in Women’s health/primary care. Has 47 years experience. 9 Posts

Good explanation!