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licensed practical nurse At first glance, it seems like getting started in the nursing field would be pretty simple—you get into college, complete a program, meet any employer requirements and then get a job. Seems straightforward enough, right? While those steps are generally on the right track, there’s a little more you’ll need to get sorted out before taking the first step toward becoming a nurse. Near the top of that list? Making sense of your nursing education options.

It’s important to understand that there are many different types of nursing careers—and different levels of nursing education to go along with them. Before you can embark on a nursing career, you need to understand what your options are. If you’re strongly considering becoming a licensed practical nurse (LPN) and wondering about the differences between a degree versus a diploma, it may be time to take a step back so you have a clearer picture of the options.

Practical Nursing Diploma vs. Associate’s degree in Nursing: What’s the difference?

Two of the most common career starting points in nursing are becoming either a registered nurse (RN) or a licensed practical nurse (LPN), and as you might expect, there are some significant differences between the two.

First, let’s clarify the difference between an LPN and an RN. Licensed practical nurses—sometimes called vocational nurses—have a smaller scope of practice than RNs. Their duties typically include helping patients with basic tasks of daily life—like bathing and dressing—as well administering medications, aiding in wound care and monitoring patient vital signs for changes in status.

Registered nurses (RN) are responsible for a wider range of job duties, such as developing care plans, administering medications (including intravenous medications) and treatments to patients, consulting with physicians, and educating patients about a diagnosis.

To start a nursing career as an LPN, you’ll need to earn a Practical Nursing Diploma, pass the NCLEX-PN exam and meet all other state licensure requirements. To work as a registered nurse, you have the option to pursue either an Associate’s degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Once successfully completed, would-be RNs will also need to pass the NCLEX-RN exam and meet all other state licensure requirements.

Both LPN and ADN programs will offer the courses you need to feel confident in working with patients. Whichever education path you choose, you can expect to graduate with a solid foundation in patient-centered nursing and practical skills in line with the scope of practice for whichever nursing role you’re pursuing.

Though both programs will put you on track to begin a nursing career, choosing the option that’s right for you will depend on your career goals as well as other factors, like how long you’re willing to wait to begin your medical career. Next, we’ll explore the pros and cons of both to help you make your decision.


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