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How to Transition from LPN to RN — and Why!

By Sarah Wengert

Many different titles and credentials exist in the healthcare field, and each comes with its own requirements for education, testing, and on-the-job experience. In nursing, the most common titles are certified nursing assistant (CNA), licensed practical nurse (LPN)/licensed vocational nurse (LVN), and registered nurse (RN). As a travel nursing and allied health agency, we often get questions about how working nurses can best transition from one title to another.

One of the most common questions is how to transition from LPN to RN. In short, transitioning from LPN to RN requires additional education, testing, licensure, and certification. People also ask: What are the benefits of transitioning from LPN to RN, and why should they choose that path? Common reasons why LPNs transition to RNs include higher pay, more job options, and greater responsibilities.

Gather ’round aspiring RNs and let’s take a look at the process of going from LPN/LVN to RN status.

What’s the Difference Between LPN and LVN?

First, let’s clear up the distinction between licensed practical nurses and licensed vocational nurses. Two states — California and Texas — use the term LVN, and the remainder use LPN. That’s why job listings in this area are typically listed as LPN/LVN as a catch-all for both. It’s really more of a title distinction than a difference in roles, and anyone looking to transition to RN from either LPN or LVN will follow the same path. To keep things brief, we’ll use just the term LPN throughout the rest of this article.

What’s the Difference Between LPN and RN?

The difference here is much broader. These two titles differ in duties, capabilities, education, and testing. LPNs typically must take the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN), whereas RNs must have passed the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN, usually referred to as simply “NCLEX”).

LPNs work under the supervision of RNs and/or doctors. As for duties, LPNs typically provide basic nursing care, monitor vitals and take blood pressure, clean wounds and change dressings, assist with feeding, help patients bathe and dress, relay patient feedback to RNs and doctors, and other such duties. Both LPNs and RNs provide critical emotional support to patients and families.

RNs may do all of the above, as needed, but also assess patients and suggest and/or establish patient care plans, administer medications, insert IVs and collect samples, perform tests, run and monitor equipment, work closely with doctors and advanced practice team members, educate patients and their families on aftercare plans and how to execute them, and so much more. Registered nurses also have specialties — for example, ER, ICU, pediatrics.

Why Transition from LPN to RN?

The main reason many LPNs decide to become RNs is that registered nurses typically make more money than LPNs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for LPNs in 2021 was $48, 070 per year, and the median pay for RNs in 2021 was $77,600. However, as with most careers, you can expect your pay will almost always vary depending on education, skills, experience, performance, geographic location, employer, and other such factors.

Also, RNs often have more opportunities and options than LPNs as far as the types of facility they can work at. While RNs tend to have a wide variety of settings and facilities they can choose from, most LPN jobs are found in long-term acute care (LTAC) facilities, skilled nursing facilities (SNFs), and home health.

Finally, many healthcare professionals make the switch from LPN to RN because they want to have greater responsibilities on the job. Becoming an RN allows former LPNs to enhance their practice, skill set, and experience.

How to Transition from LPN to RN

Step 1: Find an LPN-to-RN Program
It probably sounds obvious, but in order to start an LPN-to-RN bridge program you must already be an LPN. First you’ll want to decide if you plan to pursue an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing (BSN). Either way you can become an RN, which is ultimately achieved by passing your National Licensure Examination (NCLEX).

Depending on your existing level of education and whether you choose the LPN-to-ADN or LPN-to-BSN path, attaining the education to go from LPN to RN can typically take anywhere from one year to four years. Nurses with their BSN spend more time and money on their education but also usually earn higher pay, may be more marketable when interviewing, and may have better future paths to advancement. However, the world needs RNs of all kinds and there’s no one right answer here! You should simply determine the best path for you. And remember, if you choose the ADN path now, you can still decide to do an RN-to-BSN program down the road.

Step 2: Study Hard and Stay Positive
Nursing school is known to be famously hard for a reason — it can be tough! That’s why it’s important when you decide to transition from LPN to RN that you remain focused on your studies, stay positive, and take care of yourself along the way. It can be a major benefit during nursing school to have experience working as an LPN because you’ve already worked in the nursing field, as well as with and under RNs.

Step 3: Take and Pass the NCLEX
The NCLEX is a notoriously tough test — but you’re tougher! You’ve already worked as an LPN, made it through the rigors of nursing school, and now you’re going to sharpen your pencil, show up with a smile on your face, and ultimately emerge both victorious and as a registered nurse. Go get ’em!

Step 4: Earn New Certifications and Licenses
Now that you’re an RN, you’ll want to earn new certifications like ACLS, PALS, and perhaps even TNCC. Your specialty, facility (type and requirements), and the specific nature of your work will often dictate which nursing certs you should get. Certifications are typically run through various bodies, each of which governs specific certification(s) related to its mission. The American Nurses Association and its American Nurses Credentialing Center are great resources in this area. Use your school counselor and mentors as a resource when determining which certifications can benefit you as you launch your career in registered nursing.

You’ll also need to become licensed in the state(s) where you plan to practice. Depending on your intended state of practice, you might want to look into the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC) — especially if you’re interested in travel nursing.

One great benefit about working with Aureus Medical Group is that we offer our current travelers a certification and licensure reimbursement perk to help you invest in your professional development.

Step 5: Becoming a Travel RN
Even if you’ve previously worked as a travel LPN, most facilities will expect you to gain at least a year’s experience (sometimes two years) as a staff RN before they’ll hire you to a travel RN job. As with all travel jobs, this requirement is so you can practice your newly acquired skills as an RN to the point where they’re completely solid and you can hit the ground running in every travel nursing assignment you take in the future.

If you’re currently working as a travel LPN or have in the past, your recruiter is a fantastic resource as you make the transition to an RN! Be sure to tell them about your goals and timeline. They can offer great advice for your journey, and even if it means you can’t work together for a couple of years, a good recruiter will be supportive and very happy to welcome you back to the travel world if you decide later to explore travel nursing jobs.

Considering going from LPN to RN is a very personal choice. Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all right answer here — you just have to determine the right path for you. If you’re currently an LPN but not ready to transition, and want to travel, we’ve got tons of great-paying, resume-building LPN/LVN jobs available. If you do decide to take the leap, good luck with your transition from LPN to RN!

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