LPN vs. LVN: What’s the Difference?

TBS Staff Writers
Updated October 17, 2023
This article explores what a registered nurse (RN) does and how you can become one. Learn about nurse practitioner salaries, job duties, specializations

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Licensed practical nurses and licensed vocational nurses are trained healthcare professionals who provide basic medical care, typically under the supervision of a registered nurse.

What is an LPN? Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) provide patient care in collaboration with other healthcare professionals. An LPN/LVN works under the supervision of registered nurses (RNs) and physicians. Working as an LPN or LVN serves as an entry-level nursing position for individuals who want to help others while exploring the healthcare profession. Responsibilities, tasks, and salaries reflect the amount of education and experience associated with each role.

What Is an LPN or LVN?

Some states refer to LPNs as LVNs. These nurses provide basic medical care for patients in hospitals, long-term care facilities, and doctors’ offices. They check blood pressure, monitor vital signs, offer basic patient care like changing bandages, and help patients with daily tasks, including bathing and dressing.

They also communicate with patients about their concerns and report back to RNs and doctors. They must keep accurate patient records and provide high-quality patient care.

Specific LPN/LVN duties vary depending on the state and work setting. In some states, they can collect medical samples and conduct routine laboratory tests. Some states also let them administer medication and start IV drips. LPNs and LVNs work closely with RNs and physicians and can provide certain care under RN supervision in most states.

Alternate Job Titles

  • LP nurse
  • LPN
  • LVN
  • Licensed practical nurse
  • Licensed vocational nurse
  • Pediatric licensed practical nurse
  • Triage licensed practical nurse

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LPNs and LVNs must earn certificates or diplomas and pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN) to earn state licensure. These nurses share the same responsibilities, with the only notable difference relating to location. While California and Texas use the title licensed vocational nurse, other states use the title licensed practical nurse.

LPN vs. RN

When making LPN vs. RN comparisons, prospective professionals should recognize that RNs must complete additional training, pass a different exam, and hold a different license. While an LPN/LVN only needs a one-year certificate or diploma, an RN needs at least an associate degree and an RN license to practice.

RNs coordinate with physicians to provide patient care, such as recording medical symptoms, observing patients, and administering treatments. RNs also supervise LPNs/LVNs. Due to increased training and responsibilities, RNs typically make more than LPNs/LVNs. RNs earned a median salary of $75,330 as of May 2020, while LPNs and LVNs took home a median salary of $48,850 in the same period.


LPNs/LVNs hold either certificates or diplomas in nursing from vocational schools or community colleges. These programs include coursework and clinical experience to prepare LPNs and LVNs to work with patients.

Certified nurse assistants (CNAs) participate in training programs offered through educational institutions, professional organizations, or government bodies. These similarly include classes and clinical components but span a shorter amount of time.

LPNs/LVNs and CNAs work under the supervision of fellow nurses and physicians, but an LPN/LVN often oversees the duties of a CNA, too. LPNs/LVNs and CNAs interact with patients, but CNAs cannot administer medical care. CNAs often focus on administering basic care, such as bathing, feeding, and transporting patients. LVNs and LPNs perform medical tasks such as taking vitals, drawing blood, or assisting physicians during procedures. LPNs and LVNs earn higher annual salaries than CNAs.

Where Do LPNs/LVNs Work?

Most LPN and LVNs find work in nursing homes, residential care facilities, and hospitals. In these 24-hour facilities, LPNs and LVNs often work outside of typical business hours. Some LPNs and LVNs provide care in patients’ homes, which may also require irregular hours. LPNs/LVNs who work in doctors’ offices may work regular business hours.

How to Become an LPN/LVN

It takes 1-2 years to become an LPN or LVN, depending on the program. An aspiring LPN/LVN can complete foundational coursework and clinical training ahead of earning their certification by earning a certificate or diploma. Prospective LPN/LVNs must pass the NCLEX-PN to receive licensure.

1. Complete a program accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing

Students should make sure they complete nursing programs accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing. This ensures the certificate of diploma adheres to educational and practical standards in nursing. Courses in biology, English, and psychology accompany classes in nursing for professional nursing, introduction to pharmacology, and physical assessment in nursing. Students also participate in practical nursing labs and clinical requirements.

LPNs/LVNs do not need an associate degree in nursing, making certificates and diplomas less time consuming and demanding than other nursing programs. LPN and LVN diplomas and certificates, offered through vocational and community colleges, may include optional specializations. Areas of emphasis include basic life support, wound care, and hospice and palliative care.

2. Pass the NCLEX-PN exam and earn your nursing license

LPN/LVN programs prepare students for the NCLEX-PN exam. This test assesses knowledge and understanding of effective care, health promotion and maintenance, and psychosocial and physiological integrity.

The exam contains as many as 200 questions. Once a student passes, the individual can apply for licensure. Failing the exam results in a performance report, which candidates can use as a study guide to retake the test.

3. Optional – Earn additional certifications

Once licensed, an LPN/LVN can earn additional certifications through bodies such as the National Association of Practical Nurse Education and Service (NAPNES). NAPNES offers certifications in:

  • IV therapy
  • Long-term care
  • Pharmacology

Other bodies, like the Nephrology Nursing Certification Commission and the National Alliance of Wound Care and Ostomy, offer certifications for LPNs, as well.

4. Earn continuing education credits

LPNs/LVNs must complete a certain amount of continuing education every two years. Each state maintains different requirements for continuing education, which includes coursework, clinical hours, and online options. Continuing education requirements also open opportunities to explore pursuing a degree or specialization in nursing.

LPN/LVN Salary Overview

The median salary for LPNs and LVNs in 2020 fell just shy of $50,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS,. The BLS estimates above-average growth in employment for LPNs/LVNs from 2019-2029, with top-paying positions in government and healthcare settings. The projected growth bodes well for aspiring and current LPN/LVNs.

LPN/LVN Career Information

Median Annual Salary (2020)

Employment Growth Forecast (2019-2029)

Highest-Paying Industries

  1. Government ($51,700)
  2. Nursing and residential care facilities ($50,100)
  3. Home healthcare services ($49,430)
  4. Hospitals: state, local, and private ($46,560)
  5. Offices of physicians ($44,830)

Source: BLS

Common Questions About LPNs/LVNs

Portrait of Melissa Sartore

Melissa Sartore

Melissa Sartore holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her BA and MA in history are from Western Illinois University. A medievalist by training, she has published on outlawry in medieval England with additional publications on outlaws in popular culture and across geographic and historical boundaries.

Portrait of Reviewed by: Brandy Gleason, MSN, MHA, BC-NC

Reviewed by: Brandy Gleason, MSN, MHA, BC-NC

As an assistant professor of nursing and entrepreneur with nearly twenty years of varied nursing experience, Brandy Gleason offers a unique perspective. She currently teaches within a prelicensure nursing program and coaches masters students through their culminating projects. Brandy brings additional expertise as a bedside nurse and a nurse leader, having held past roles at the supervisory, managerial, and senior leadership levels. Her passion and area of research centers around coaching nurses and nursing students to build resilience and avoid burnout. Brandy is also an avid change agent when it comes to creating environments and systems that contribute to the wellbeing of students and healthcare professionals.

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