Nurse Practitioner vs. LPN: Comparing Two Nursing Careers

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The demand for nurses is expanding at a dizzying pace. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects nursing positions to grow at a much faster rate than the average for all occupations. While the average growth rate for all careers is 4%, the BLS estimates nurse practitioner jobs will grow a whopping 52% between 2019 and 2029.

Numerous states are experiencing nursing shortages. As the population grows older and demands more health services, and large numbers of the nursing workforce retire, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing expects the shortages to worsen. For aspiring nurses, this can open many opportunities.

Learning the difference between various nursing positions, such as a nurse practitioner vs. a licensed practical nurse (LPN), can provide useful direction to those who are planning their careers. Students who are interested in pursuing advanced roles in this fast-growing field may consider earning a graduate degree, such as a Bachelor of Science in Nursing to Doctor of Nursing Practice (BSN to DNP) degree.

A nurse practitioner examines a young patient.

The Roles of Nurse Practitioners vs. LPNs

Nurse practitioners and LPNs have unique responsibilities. Nurse practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses who have the autonomy to provide primary care for patients in hospitals, medical offices, and other healthcare facilities. LPNs, on the other hand, are responsible for providing patient care under the supervision of doctors and registered nurses in medical facilities. To better clarify the two positions, it’s useful to examine their job descriptions.

Nurse Practitioner Job Description

Nurse practitioners assume responsibility for a wide scope of patient care. They may deliver primary or specialized care, which includes ordering and evaluating tests as well as diagnosing and treating patients. Nurse practitioners also refer patients to specialists. The level of autonomy of a nurse practitioner varies by state, with some duties requiring physician supervision. Typical nurse practitioner tasks include the following:

  • Recording patient symptoms and medical histories
  • Conducting physical exams
  • Developing or building on patient care plans
  • Performing diagnostic tests
  • Analyzing test results and modifying treatment plans accordingly
  • Prescribing medicines and treatments
  • Collaborating with other healthcare professionals
  • Educating patients and their families about their illnesses and how to stay healthy
  • Conducting research

LPN Job Description

LPNs deliver basic medical care to patients. The duties LPNs perform can vary from state to state. For example, in some places, they can receive training to administer medicines and give IVs. Additionally, states determine the extent to which registered nurses and doctors must monitor and supervise LPNs. Typical LPN tasks include the following:

  • Monitoring patients’ health, such as taking their blood pressure
  • Delivering basic treatment, such as changing wound dressings or inserting catheters
  • Providing comfort and assistance with routine physical tasks
  • Talking with patients about their care
  • Reporting patients’ status to registered nurses and physicians
  • Recording details about a patient’s health

Similarities Between Nurse Practitioners and LPNs

Nurse practitioners and LPNs both play vital roles in delivering patient care. While the nature of their work can differ, these nurses share several elements in common.

Shared Job Responsibilities Between Nurse Practitioners and LPNs

Often nurse practitioners and LPNs have overlapping professional duties. For example, both nurse practitioners and LPNs may perform the following:

  • Monitor patients and provide care
  • Communicate with doctors and healthcare administrators
  • Update patient records
  • Communicate with the families of patients

Shared Skills Between Nurse Practitioners and LPNs

Additionally, both nurse practitioners and LPNs have an educational background in nursing and share similar soft skills and competencies.

Communication

Nurse practitioners and LPNs must effectively communicate with patients, patient families, and other healthcare professionals to deliver quality care.

Compassion

Nurse practitioners and LPNs need to demonstrate empathy, care, and concern for their patients who may be experiencing pain, fear, and uncertainty.

Interpersonal Relations

Nurse practitioners and LPNs work in teams. This means they need to collaborate well with other healthcare professionals and build trusted professional relationships.

Attention to Detail

Nurse practitioners and LPNs track and record patient data that is critical to effective care. This requires attention to detail, as does monitoring the status of patients.

Differences Between Nurse Practitioners vs. LPNs

While both nurse practitioners and LPNs actively participate in patient care, the two positions have notable distinctions.

Level of Education and Certification

LPNs earn a certificate or diploma from a one- to two-year program, usually at a community college or a technical school. After completing their coursework, they must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN) exam to gain a state license. They can then choose to become certified in specialized areas, such as intravenous therapy, through professional associations.

The process for nurse practitioners takes considerably longer and requires significantly more experience. First, they typically earn an associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing (ADN or BSN), pass the NCLEX-RN exam, and become a licensed registered nurse. This involves classroom work and supervised clinical experience. Next, they must earn a master’s or doctorate in nursing (MSN or DNP), with some advanced degree programs requiring applicants to have nursing experience. A program such as Maryville University’s online BSN to DNP degree provides an accelerated path to a doctorate-level education. Additionally, nurse practitioners must obtain a license, from which there are several to choose depending on the nurse’s area of specialization.

Salaries and Job Outlooks

By the nature of their work and the level of their responsibilities, nurse practitioners command larger salaries than LPNs. According to the BLS, nurse practitioners earn an annual median salary of $109,820, while LPNs earn an annual median salary of $47,480. Additionally, as mentioned earlier, the BLS expects a 52% job growth rate for nurse practitioners. Positions for LPNs are expected to grow 9% by 2029.

Prepare to Advance Your Nursing Career by Enrolling in a BSN to DNP Program

While nurses may work in various capacities and settings, they all play an essential role in delivering excellent healthcare. Understanding the job descriptions of nurse practitioners vs. LPNs — as well as the differences in education, salary, and career outlook — provides important information for those who are interested in launching or advancing their nursing careers.

Discover more about Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Science in Nursing to Doctor of Nursing Practice (BSN to DNP) degree program and how it helps aspiring nurse leaders bravely pursue their professional goals. The BSN to DNP curriculum allows students to choose from several concentrations including adult-gerontology nurse practitioner, pediatric nurse practitioner, and family nurse practitioner.

Recommended Readings

Comparing Nursing Degree Certificate: Practical Nurse vs. RN

LVN vs. BSN: Explore Key Differences in These Nursing Roles

Types of Nursing Degrees: Which Nurse Path is Right For You?

Sources

American Association of Colleges of Nursing, “Nursing Shortage”

My American Nurse, “Essential Nursing Skills Checklist”

The Balance Careers, “What Does a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) Do?”

The Balance Careers, “What Does a Nurse Practitioner (NP) Do?”

The New York Times, “The Nursing Shortage is Threatening Our Care”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses