Becoming a Nurse - RN or LPN?

There are two broad categories of nurse jobs in America. That's because there are two kinds of nursing designations in America. The one most people are familiar with is the Registered Nurse, or RN. The other one is the Licensed Practical Nurse, or LPN. LPNs in some states are known as Licensed Vocational Nurses, or LVNs. (For all practical purposes, LPN is pretty much the same as LVN, and we’ll use LPN to refer to both, as it‘s more common.) RN is the more advanced designation, as it takes two to four years of study to earn. Some hospitals have diploma programs where they train people for nursing on the job. This sort of training used to be a lot more widespread, but these days most people become a registered nurse by getting an Associates Degree in Nursing, or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. The associates degree takes two years to earn, while the bachelor’s program usually runs four years. Of course, you’ll need a high school diploma or GED in order to enroll; and you may be required to take and pass the National League for Nursing Exam before being accepted. There are special programs at some schools where people who already have a bachelor’s degree can get a Nursing degree in a shorter period of time, without having to take the entire course of study.

Example: LPN to RN Nursing Program

The NCLEX Exam

To qualify as a registered nurse, once a person graduates with either degree, they must then pass the national exam for registered nurses, the NCLEX-RN. NCLEX stands for National Council Licensure Examination. Once a person has their degree in nursing, and has passed the NCLEX-RN, they’re qualified to practice as a registered nurse. To become an LPN usually only takes a year of study, and a degree is not required, although a diploma or certificate will be issued. Some hospitals offer LPN training, and there are many schools across the country where a person can get LPN training. Once they‘ve graduated from the training program, the prospective nurse will need to pass the NCLEX-PN (Practical Nurse) test before being certified. That’s the difference in the educational paths to becoming either an RN or an LPN. Of course, most nursing courses of study, whether LPN or RN, are usually somewhat selective, and you’ll have to demonstrate some aptitude for nursing skills and their related academic courses before being accepted. And once you’ve got your diploma or degree, you’ll want to spend some time preparing for the licensing test. The NCLEX is quite a challenge no matter which version you’re taking, and it will require a good grasp of nursing concepts, and a lot of study time in order to pass. A good study guide is essential to preparing for either version of the NCLEX.

Last Updated: 08/20/2013

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