How to Go From an LPN to an RN


Licensed practical nurses provide basic patient care under the supervision of a registered nurse or physician. LPNs who aspire to become RNs have several options: go back to school for an associate degree, nursing diploma or bachelor’s degree, or choose an LPN to RN fast-track, or bridge, program. In each case, the LPN must complete additional training, including clinical experience, and pass a licensing exam after she graduates. Once she has her RN license, she may also choose to become certified in a nursing specialty. Certification is optional for practice.

LPN Education

  • LPNs -- known in Texas and California as licensed vocational nurses, or LVNs -- complete a certificate or diploma program that must meet specific educational requirements. Some states offer LPN training programs in hospitals or high schools, but most programs are offered by community colleges and technical/vocational schools. The programs last about one year, and include subjects such as basic nursing, biology, pharmacology and supervised clinical experience. Subject matter may vary according to the nursing regulations and scope of practice in each state. After graduation, the student must pass the NCLEX-PN exam to become licensed. Certification is not an option for LPNs.

Associate Degrees and Diplomas

  • Associate degree programs are found in community colleges, technical/vocational school and some universities, while nursing diplomas are offered by hospital-associated schools of nursing. Both of these programs take two to three years; the LPN must apply and be accepted to these programs. Typical courses include anatomy, physiology, nutrition, psychology, microbiology and behavioral sciences. Liberal arts courses such as English, history and math are also part of the curriculum. Supervised clinical experience includes specific educational modules such as maternal-child, geriatric, pediatric and psychiatric nursing. Note that some programs have prerequisites that must be completed prior to entry.

Bachelor's Degrees in Nursing

  • Bachelor’s nursing programs usually last for four years and result in a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, or BSN, degree. In addition to the same basic nursing and liberal arts courses found in associate and diploma programs, BSN programs offer courses in physical and social sciences, communication, leadership and critical thinking. Offered by universities and some colleges, these programs may also provide clinical experience in settings outside the traditional hospital environment. A bachelor’s degree is typically required for administrative or teaching positions, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that RNs with a bachelor’s degree may have more employment opportunities. Note that when LPNs apply to these programs, they may need to repeat certain courses to meet upper-division educational requirements.

Other LPN-to-RN Programs

  • Some educational institutions offer LPN-to-RN or LPN-to-BSN programs. Often known as ladder, bridge or fast-track programs, these allow the LPN to capitalize on previous education and experience. In some cases, the LPN enters an associate degree program at the beginning of the second year, completes the program and receives an associate degree.

    These programs may have prerequisites. At Indiana State University, for example, the student must have an active LPN license, pass a background check, and pass both admission exams and tests of nursing knowledge to be admitted. Program length for LPN-to-BSN programs may vary, but most take several years.

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