The Difference Between an AD, RN, & LPN


Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and registered nurses (RNs) often work together in a hospital setting, each providing different services for patients. RNs generally have more training and greater educational experience than LPNs, who are often on the career path to becoming RNs themselves. An associate's degree (A.D.) in nursing can be helpful training for an LPN, but it is only required of RNs who do not already have a bachelor's degree in nursing.

Associate's Degree in Nursing

  • An associate's degree in nursing does not qualify you to be a nurse, but it is often used as a first step toward entering the nursing field. In addition to courses such as human anatomy and physiology, microbiology and pharmacology, students in nursing A.D. programs learn technical, hands-on nursing skills and patient care techniques.

Licensed Practical Nurse

  • An LPN, also called a licensed vocational nurse (LVN), works under the supervision of a registered nurse and provides hands-on care to low-risk patients. While certifications and a one-year course of study are generally required to become an LPN, a degree is not, in most cases. Common tasks for an LPN are treating bedsores, preparing and giving injections, inserting catheters, feeding patients, assisting patients with basic health and hygiene, and taking vital signs. Generally, LPNs are not allowed to administer IVs or perform blood transfusions. For many nurses, time as an LPN is a precursor to becoming an RN.

Registered Nurse

  • RNs generally provide more advanced care to patients than LPNs do and must also act as administrators who develop plans of care for their patients. RNs frequently supervise nursing assistants and aides serving under them. An RN may assist physicians during examinations, administer medications, instruct families and patients in proper care and assist in rehabilitation and convalescence.

Licensing Exams

  • In addition to other requirements, if you want to become a registered nurse you must successfully pass the National Council Licensing Exam for Registered Nursing, or NCLEX-RN. LPN students must pass a similar test for certification, the NCLEX-LPN.

Career Path

  • Nursing students usually earn associate's degrees in nursing or become certified nursing assistants (CNA) before gaining work experience in the field. Associate's degree students often use LPN certification and work as a stepping stone to becoming RNs, while students earning nursing degrees from four-year institutions often proceed directly to becoming RNs. While some nurses remain RNs for the rest of their professional careers, others continue on to earn master's degrees in nursing, which often prepares them for higher-level management positions within the nursing or health management industries.

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