Practical Nursing vs. Professional Nursing: Understanding the Differences

Practical Nursing Two paths, one destination—becoming a nurse. Nursing is a broad field that’s comprised of many roles, but which one is right for you? You have the heart and motivation to become a nurse, but first, you need to decide between the field’s two primary paths for entry: practical nursing or professional nursing.

Both are great places to start but require different education levels and ultimately lead to different job duties, so depending on your life circumstances and career goals, one path might be better for you. The only way to decide is to get to know both. We broke down the definitions and details of both professional and practical nursing so you can make that decision for yourself.

What is practical nursing?

Practical nurses include licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and licensed vocational nurses (LVNs). Practical nurses are referred to as LVNs in Texas and California, while LPNs are the norm in every other state. Both LVNs and LPNs provide direct patient care to patients in a variety of healthcare settings, though you may find minor differences in duties or scope of practice from state to state. No matter where you’re from, practical nurses play an invaluable role on a health care team.

If you decide to pursue practical nursing route, you can earn a Practical nursing diploma in as few as 12 months.1 After, you’ll take the National Council Licensure Exam for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN) to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN).

What do LPNs do?

LPNs are responsible for taking vitals, feeding, dressing and transporting patients, assisting with tests and procedures, and taking blood samples. LPNs spend a lot of time with patients and get to know them on a personal level. They also observe patients and keep close tabs on medical histories and current symptoms. LPNs typically work under the supervision of physicians and registered nurses (RNs), though there is still a great deal of autonomy.

Where can LPNs work?

Most people assume all LPNs work in nursing homes, which is not the case. In fact, only about 38 percent of LPNs work in this setting, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).2 Though there has been an uptick in the LPNs working outside of hospitals as patients seek their healthcare closer to home, LPNs can also find employment in physicians’ offices, home health care agencies, rehabilitation clinics, hospitals or ambulatory surgical centers.

How to become an LPN

There are several steps involved in becoming an LPN. First you’ll want to complete a nursing program to earn your diploma. LPN programs include both theoretical learning in the classroom and practical learning in nursing labs or clinicals. Clinical rotations allow you to shadow working nurses and try your hand at the duties you’ll perform every day as an LPN while you’re still a student nurse. Examples of Practical Nursing courses at Rasmussen University include:

  • Nutritional Principles in Nursing
  • Family Nursing
  • Psychosocial Nursing

After graduation, you’ll need to take the national licensure exam, the NCLEX-PN. Once you pass the NCLEX, you’ll officially be an LPN and you’ll finally get to put in to practice everything you’ve learned!

LPN career path

Once established as an LPN, there are many opportunities to further develop your career. Some may stay at the LPN level and pursue specialized care positions or team lead roles. Otherwise, LPNs can go on to pursue their Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). These degree programs prepare you for a career as an RN and provide you with the necessary tools and knowledge to sit for the NCLEX-RN.


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