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What Is the Difference Between a Registered Nurse and a Licensed Vocational Nurse?

When patients are receiving care, they might notice nametags on their caregivers and wonder about the differences between a Registered Nurse (RN) and a Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN). It’s important to note that, in some states, the LVN is synonymous with the LPN, or Licensed Practical Nurse.

Education and Training

There are some similarities in terms of education: both LVN and RN students participate in lectures, laboratories, and clinical training sessions, and both must take a licensing exam. However, the scope is different: the training program for an LVN typically takes a year or less to complete. On the other hand, a registered nurse needs a minimum of an associate’s degree in order to take a licensing exam, and many RNs choose to pursue additional education.

Once in the job, RNs can pursue additional education if they would like to specialize. Nursing specialties may involve a specific health condition, such as diabetes or oncology, a specific group of people, such as geriatric or pediatric patients, or a specific workplace, such as an emergency room or a school. Such specialty options are generally not available to LVNs and LPNs because they are required to work under the supervision of other nurses.

Job Duties

LVNs provide basic nursing care, provide for patients’ basic comfort, and report patients’ status to RNs, doctors, and other care providers. RNs have more advanced duties, including providing and coordinating patient care, providing education about various health conditions, and providing advice and emotional support to patients and families.

Many LVNs choose to work in long-term care because they have greater opportunities to move up in the ranks. Most RNs, on the other hand, work in hospitals. Both groups have other options, including doctor’s offices, home health care, and more.


Given the differences in educational requirements and job duties, it’s not surprising that there are differences in salary, as well. The average LPN salary is $20,000 to $50,000 per year. Conversely, the average RN salary is $48,000 to $90,000 per year. For people who are considering a career as an LPN or an RN, the salary differences may be an important factor, especially in the context of earning potential over a lifetime.

It’s important to note that the specialization options available to RNs may make the salary gap even wider. A recent salary comparison showed that RNs averaged $64,690 per year, while LPs averaged $40,380, but with specialization, the annual pay for an RN goes much higher. LPNs have very limited chance of specialization, and, therefore, it is much less likely they can break through to higher annual incomes.

RN? LVN? We have opportunities for you!

At 365 Healthcare Staffing Services, we specialize in the recruitment and placement of healthcare professionals in per diem, travel, and permanent assignments in healthcare facilities across the country. Whether you are an RN or an LVN, we’d love to work with you to help you find the perfect opportunity. Give us a call at 310.436.3650 today!