You have become a certified as a nurses’ assistant and you are justifiably proud. You are employed in meaningful work that helps other people. What’s next? Many nursing assistants plan on making their own niche as certified nurses’ assistant their life’s work, and some elect to take on more challenging responsibilities as a registered nurse or licensed vocational nurse, also called a licensed practical nurse.
Types of Nurses: The difference between registered nurses and licensed vocational nurses is that the registered nurses usually have more responsibility and can take on more supervisory roles. The hospital’s director of nurses is always an RN, usually with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Supervisors of wards and floors are also RN’s. LVN’s, or LPN’s, can perform more procedures than certified nurses’ aides, but they seldom supervise.
Training Programs: Educational programs differ. The LVN program is usually a one-year program at a community college. It entitles the graduate to take the practical nurses’ licensing exam. RN programs can be two-year programs at community colleges or four-year programs at universities. The two-year program leads to an associate degree in nursing (A D N) and entitles the graduate to sit for the registration exam. The four-year program leads to a baccalaureate degree (BSN) and also allows the graduate to sit for the RN licensing exam. The Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is usually earned after the BSN and is also oriented toward supervisory or teaching roles.
What You Will Learn: In training, RN and LPN candidates learn to perform most of the same procedures. The difference is that, while both kinds of students are taught the correct way of doing things, RN’s are taught why things are done the way they are. For instance, both LVN and RN candidates are taught that a patient should always lie on the right side for an enema. RN’s are taught that this is because the sigmoid (descending) colon is on the left side. In university programs BSN candidates usually get training that is more oriented toward supervision.
What Are Your Goals: Where do you see yourself at the peak of your career? Do you like the idea of being able to do more for your patients without having to supervise others? Then LPN training is probably the right path for you. You will be able to pass medications to your patients and instead of just telling the nurse when a patient complains of pain, you will be able to go to the med room and get a dose of medication that will help. Do you like the idea of being the head of a team, supervising patient care for a larger number of patients while working with aides and LVN’s? Then RN training would probably be the thing for you. If you have curiosity as to why things are done as they are, then the RN training will be more satisfying than LPN training. RN’s also have more opportunities to go into specialties, such as emergency rooms, and critical care units. If you see yourself as someday being responsible for an entire nursing department, then the BSN degree is for you. The BSN degree can also open other doors. Specialized training programs leading to jobs such as Nurse Anesthetist are also available to nurses with bachelor’s degrees. Teaching at a community college or four-year college is an option for nurses with four-year degrees and graduate level degrees. PhD’s in nursing are also available, and are oriented toward teaching and research.
Expert Author: Kathryn Goldin, R.N., M.D., M.S.P.H.