What's the Difference Between a RN & a PN?


Nursing is a high-demand healthcare profession that is dedicated to the total care and well-being of individuals as well as communities. They help their patients to maintain an optimal status of health.

In the United States, there are registered nurses(RN's) and practical nurses (PN's). In Texas and California, practical nurses are called "vocational nurses" (VN's).


  • In 1633, St. Vincent De Paul and Louise De Marillac founded the Daughters of Charity Servants of the Sick Poor in Paris. Single, young women were recruited from the country to take formal training in caring for the sick in hospitals and their homes.

    Florence Nightingale received her nursing training from the Daughters of Charity Servants of the Sick Poor in the early 1800's. Afterwards, she started a modernized system of nursing care called Evidence Based Nursing. The beginnings of a nursing hierarchy appeared: student nurses, staff nurses and matrons (highest level attainable).


  • There are actually several kinds of nursing positions. Some of them are:

    Certified Nurses Assistant(CNA)--Receives the least amount of training. Provides basic patient care and is supervised by both practical and registered nurses.

    Licensed Practical Nurse/Licensed Vocational Nurse(LPN/LVN)--Receives twice as much training as the assistant. Although they perform many of the same duties as the registered nurse, they are supervised by a RN.

    Registered Nurse(RN)--Receives significantly more education and training than a PN. Supervises the PN/VN and assistant.

    Clinical Nurse Specialst(CNS)--Is a registered nurse who receives more education and training, typically a master's degree. They may specialize in a particular area of nursing, such as critical care, peditrics or public health.

    Nurse Practitioner(NP)--Is a registered nurse who receives a graduate-level education and by this time has many years of experience. the scope of practice widens significantly, as they are able to perform many of the same duties of an MD, like diagnosing and writing prescriptions. They may also specialize.


  • While registered nurses are able to perform certain duties or provide treatments that practical nurses cannot, such as administering blood, this is not what primarily sets them apart. The most notable difference is in the education they receive.

    As far as the scope of practice is concerned, each state has a separate nursing board which governs what nurses are legally able to do. Furthermore, there are individual boards for each type of nurse. For instance, in the state of California there is the Board of Registered Nursing as well as the Board of Licensed Vocational Nursing and Psychiatric Technicians.

    So while in general, both types of nurses perform similar if not identical duties, the small differences exist because of where the individual nurse is practicing. In some states, practical nurses are allowed to push IV medications, but cannot do so in other states.


  • The education a registered nurse receives varies greatly with that of a practical or vocational nurse. A registered nursing program not only teaches the student basic nursing care, but emphasizes theoretical principles and leadership. Having taken a series of preparatory courses, an RN program expects and assumes students to be well prepared before entering into the nursing program. Some of the courses required to enter nursing school are: mathematics, anatomy, physiology, physics, microbiology and organic chemistry.

    RN students are actually completing a degree, usually an associate's or bachelor's in nursing, while the PN is completing a basic course in vocational training only.


  • An ADN program, although is two years in length, typically takes anywhere from 3-4 years to complete. This is because of the pre-nursing coursework. The two years are spent receiving actual nursing training. The same is true for a BSN; it takes approximately 6 years to complete.

    There are, however, accelerated degree programs designed for those who have a considerable amount of education and/or experience. These programs can be completed much sooner. An example of this would be the LVN/PN-BSN programs.

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