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LPN to RN Guide

Licensed Practical Nurses and Registered Nurses each play critical roles in the medical system: both provide essential care and indispensable practical knowledge. But if you are an LPN, taking the next step and earning an RN degree offers a lot of advantages. RNs have higher earning potential, more options for positions and specializations, more opportunity for advancement and long-term job security. They also have the possibility of far greater job responsibilities and duties, including the development of care plans, managing LPNs or others in a facility, and providing a more in-depth level of care.

The information in this educational guide will explain the benefits that an RN degree provides, as well as the path you need to pursue in order to advance to the next level in your career.

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The Benefits of Getting a Registered Nurse Degree as a Licensed Practical Nurse

Taking your career further and pursuing a degree as a Registered Nurse offers many benefits, including:

  • Higher earnings potential. Registered Nurses earn an average of $25,000 more per year than Licensed Practical Nurses. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for a Licensed Practical Nurse in 2017 was $45,030 per year or $21.65 per hour, while for a Registered Nurse that rose to $70,000 per year or $33.65 per hour. 
  • More choices in both position and specialization. As a registered nurse, you will have greater opportunity to work in an area that matches your personal interest and specialize in specific health conditions, specific work environments or a specific patient population.
  • Greater autonomy. While LPNs work under the supervision of either an RN or a physician, RNs have greater authority to make decisions and take action based on their knowledge and experience.
  • More opportunity for advancement. RNs have far greater opportunities available to them to further their careers: they can move on to supervisory and management positions, as well as earn their Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree, become a Nurse Practitioner or Nurse Educator, and more.
  • Greater long-term job security. Nursing is one of the few professions in which there is greater demand at higher levels of practice. The skills and knowledge of Registered Nurses are both valued and needed.

What is a Registered Nurse Degree?

You can earn either of two types of Registered Nurse degrees: an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. Both teach the core competencies of nursing and patient care, but an ADN takes less time to complete, usually 12-24 months as compared to the 4-year degree that a BSN entails. A BSN degree exposes the student to a broader range of programs and includes courses on management, public health and physical and social sciences. Because of this, those earning a BSN degree may have greater opportunities for leadership positions or careers that are oriented towards research, policy or education.

Careers and Salaries

The demand for Registered Nurses is already high, and is expected to continue to grow, with more than half a million new positions anticipated through the year 2026 and another half million RNs that will be needed to replace those who leave the field. Much of the new opportunity comes from our aging population, which will require more care as longevity increases despite illness and the need for care, particularly for those with chronic diseases.  There will also be increasing need for RNs as healthcare becomes more focused on wellness and preventive care. As a result, the need for RNs is expected to jump by 19% as compared to an 11% average growth rate for all other occupations.

Registered Nurses have a wide range of environments in which they can work, including:

  • Hospitals
  • Physicians’ offices
  • Nursing care facilities
  • Home healthcare services
  • Government agencies
  • Educational services
  • Support services
  • Schools
  • Community centers
  • Urgent care centers
  • Offices
  • Patients’ homes
  • Pharmacies

Registered Nurses have the opportunity to work in every healthcare specialty, including:

  • Family medicine
  • Pediatrics
  • Oncology
  • Home Health
  • Substance abuse
  • Geriatric care
  • Emergency
  • Hospice
  • Rehabilitation 
  • Surgery
  • Labor and Delivery
  • Anesthesia
  • Psychiatry
  • Public health
  • Radiology

According to Medscape’s RN/LPN Compensation Report, 2018, the average earning of a full time RN in 2017 was $81,000, while the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) reports an average salary of $70,000 in the same year. Salary variations depend upon a number of factors, including the type of setting that an RN works in, the field that they specialize in, and the geographic region in which they are employed. Importantly, RN wages have shown a steady increase in the last five years, while average LPN salaries have shown little or no change.

Types of Programs

There are two paths available to LPNs who choose to pursue an RN degree: they can enroll in an LPN-to-ADN program or an LPN-to-RN program. Both are considered bridge programs that build on the education and experience that LPNs have already received, and both types of programs are available online or in person. This means that an LPN can continue to earn a living while completing their coursework. Many LPNs find that their experience and previous education provide a significant advantage in their RN program studies.

  • LPN-to-ADN. Licensed Practical Nurses (or Licensed Vocational Nurses in California and Texas) who pursue an Associate’s Degree in Nursing can generally complete their program in one to two years, and upon completion be eligible for entry level Registered Nurse positions.  They also have the opportunity to later pursue a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree. These programs are frequently available at vocational schools, community colleges, and online.
  • LPN-to-BSN. Licensed Practical Nurses (or License Vocational Nurses in California and Texas) who pursue a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree can generally complete their program in two to four years, and upon completion be eligible for a wider range of career opportunities. Though these programs involve a more rigorous course of study, graduates have more choices in the specialties that they are able to work within, as well as a higher likelihood of advancing into management and leadership positions. They also have the opportunity to later pursue a Master of Science in Nursing degree. These programs are available through 4-year colleges and universities.

Online LPN-to-RN Programs

Most LPNs who choose to advance their career by pursuing an RN degree are already working, supporting themselves and their families. Online programs offer the opportunity to continue earning a living while earning an RN degree in approximately half the time it would take in a traditional educational environment. Just be sure the online program is accredited, it offers the same qualifications and prepares you to take the National Council Licensure Exam for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN).

One of the biggest advantages of enrolling in an online LPN-to-RN program is the ability to test out of general education classes by taking examinations for class credit. Doing so can expedite the process, allowing LPNs to cut down on the time that it takes to earn their degree by eliminating the need to spend hours on courses that do not directly contribute to the practical aspects of nursing care.

Online LPN-to-RN programs offer distinctive advantages. They are:

  • Flexible, offering the ability to learn while accommodating existing work schedules and busy lifestyles
  • Eligible for federal financial aid
  • Efficient, offering the ability to earn your RN degree in less time
  • No waiting list, as admissions are “rolling” throughout the year
  • No commute
  • Full and part-time programs available
  • Accessible no matter where you live
  • Less expensive than degrees earned in traditional educational settings

There are a number of factors for you to consider when choosing the program that is right for you. In addition to the program’s reputation and cost, you need to determine whether a program will work for your individual needs and convenience. An online LPN-to-RN program that requires you to attend a percentage of classes in person may not make sense: likewise, a program that is not in your immediate area and that requires you to participate in clinical hours at a specific facility may also pose a challenge. 

It is also very important when searching for an LPN-to-RN program that you make sure that the program you select has been accredited. Accreditation assures both you and future employers that the program from which you have graduated meets current, evidence-based standards. There are two accrediting bodies for RN programs: the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN), which accredits all levels of nursing degrees, and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), which provides accreditation for programs offering Bachelor’s degrees and higher.

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LPN-to-RN Program Requirements 

Requirements for LPN-to-RN programs vary based on the individual school, but prospective students can assume that the basic prerequisites will include many of the following:

  • Proof of either a high school diploma or GED and from an accredited LPN program: many schools will require you to have earned a minimum GPA.
  • An LPN license in good standing
  • Proof of a minimum number of clinical experience hours, depending upon the requirements imposed by both the school and the individual location’s state Board of Registered Nursing. Most programs will require a minimum of one-year working experience as an LPN.
  • Proof of a current BLS/CPR certification
  • Proof of completion of specific general education courses. Depending upon the institution these can include a variety of science classes and math classes, psychology classes, sociology classes, and English writing.
  • Proof of completion of specific nursing courses
  • Passing score on entrance exams, which may include the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS) exam, which tests for knowledge of algebra, grammar, life sciences and scientific reason, or the National League for Nursing Pre-Admission Examination, which tests for knowledge of geometry and algebra, science topics including biology and earth science, and first aid and health

Classes, Curriculum and Clinical Hours

The bridge programs created for LPNs who wish to earn RN degrees are specifically designed to provide an expedited path to the degree. This approach acknowledges the education that students have already gained, both through their LPN programs and their hands-on experience. Many programs offer you the opportunity to take tests for areas that you already are familiar with. Good scores earn credits on these tests that count towards satisfying your degree requirements.

LPN-to-RN programs prepare you to pass the NCLEX-RN exam and to meet any other requirements set forth by the state’s Board of Nursing, and courses will vary based on state requirements and the school’s goals and philosophies. LPN-to-ADN programs generally consist of between 60 and 72 credit hours and LPN-to-BSN programs consist of 120 credit hours. Required courses may include anatomy, chemistry, nursing courses ranging from clinical assessment to nursing theory, management and leadership classes, basics of research, pediatric and/or geriatric nursing, writing and psychology. Some online programs do require their students to spend a minimal amount of time on campus while others permit all learning to take place online.

All programs require clinical hours, ranging between 200 and 500 hours. Some schools predetermine approved sites or facilitate internships and hands-on learning opportunities for their students, while others require students to arrange these hours for themselves. Clinical experience may also be gained through labs or practicums offered on campus during required on-site hours.

LPN-to-RN Program Cost

The costs to attend an LPN-to-RN bridge program range depending upon whether you are pursuing an ADN or BSN degree.  Other factors that contribute to price include where the school is located, whether you choose to enroll in a community college program, a private college or a state school, and if the latter, whether you are attending as an in-state student or an out-of-state student. Some programs offer the ability to pay per-credit pricing while others permit students to pay a per-semester price and sign up for as many courses as they wish.

Though cost is always an important consideration, it is also important that you remember the significant benefits and increased earnings that follow earning your RN degree. 

How to Pay for an LPN-to-RN Program

Transitioning from a career as a Licensed Practical Nurse to a Registered Nurse will advance your career opportunities and your earnings potential, but in order to achieve this goal you need to be able to pay for the LPN-to-RN program that you choose to attend.  Fortunately, there are many options available to help, including grants, scholarships and loans. Here are just a few:

  • Scholarships. A number of organizations offer scholarships that are specifically dedicated to encouraging students to pursue degrees in nursing, whether they have never taken a nursing course or are looking to advance in their career. Searching online reveals numerous options. A few notable examples include: 
    • The AfterCollege/AACN Scholarship Fund, which is available to students who are attending an AACN-accredited school and who are pursuing bridge to BSN programs. The program awards several scholarships each year valued at $2,500.
    • Named for the principal organizer of the Red Cross Nursing Service, the Jane Delano Student Nurse Scholarship makes $3,000 available to a limited number of students who have volunteered with the Red Cross. To be considered, applicants are asked to write an essay about both the lessons they learned while volunteering with the organization and what contributions they envision themselves making to the nursing field and patient care.
    • The Caroline E. Holt Nursing Scholarship is given to three students each year by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). To qualify, students must be enrolled in an accredited nursing school, must have demonstrated financial need and provide letters of recommendation as well as a statement of their goals. Each student chosen for the award will receive $2,500. The DAR makes other nursing scholarships available to residents of specific localities, including the District of Columbia and Lowell, Massachusetts, as well as to nursing students who are members, descendant of members or eligible for membership in NSDAR.
    • The National Student Nurses Association Foundation gives out scholarships ranging from $1,000 up to $7,500 to students taking at least six credits per semester at either an undergraduate nursing program or a BSN bridge program. Students must have demonstrated both financial need and academic achievement, as well as involvement in community health activities or a student nursing program.
    • The Behavioral Health Academic Scholarship was created by American Addiction Centers to support students enrolled in degree programs targeting behavioral health and/or substance abuse. Nursing students are eligible to receive one of three scholarships given out each year, which range in value from $5,000 to $2,500. Selection is based on academic achievement and submission of a personal essay.
    • The National CPR foundation provides scholarships for students pursuing careers in healthcare. Scholarships are distributed monthly to students who submit 500-to-750-word essays on why they want to pursue a healthcare degree. Each scholarship is valued at $500.
    • The Oncology Nursing Foundation created the Bachelor’s in Nursing Degree Scholarship to provide financial assistance to nursing students interested in pursuing a career in oncology nursing. Scholarships are awarded annually and range from $3,000 to $5,000. Candidates must be enrolled in an accredited nursing school.
  • Grants. A variety of grants are given out to students who demonstrate financial need. These are offered by the federal government, as well as by states and individual colleges. Like scholarships, grants do not require that you repay them. The selection of students who qualify is based on information submitted on the FAFSA form (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Once you’ve filled out the form, you will receive notification of a financial aid award, either with your acceptance letter or at some point thereafter. The amount of these awards varies based on availability of funds and on perceived ability of the student’s family to pay, but the average amount distributed is $5,000 per student. Pell Grants are also available, but generally are limited to students with needs that are considered most urgent based on annual family income.
  • Student loans. Though student loans will eventually need to be repaid, students who enroll in LPN-to-RN programs do so with the knowledge that once they’ve earned their degree, they are likely to earn significantly more money. The best source of a student loan is the federal government, which provides both more protection and lower interest rates. Applying for these loans requires filling out the same form that you use to apply for a grant — the FAFSA. Students who have significant need may qualify for loans that do not accrue interest until after they have earned their degree. Private loans are also available through banks, credit unions and other sources. Make sure that you read all terms carefully, as there are unethical organizations that can include misleading terms, hidden fees, and high interest rates.
  • Payment plans. If you are going to pay cash for your tuition, the LPN-to-RN program that you enroll in may allow you to set up a payment plan. Many schools also offer financial aid, so contact the school directly to ask what options are available.
  • Tuition reimbursement. If you are currently working as an LPN, the organization where you are employed may offer tuition reimbursement. These benefits are offered in a variety of ways and may require that you remain with the employer for a specific amount of time in exchange for the additional compensation.

Is an RN Degree Right for Me?

Choosing to pursue a Registered Nurse degree is a big decision that should be based on your own personal goals, dreams and needs. If you’re not certain about whether to move forward, it’s a good idea to consider what your job responsibilities are now and compare them to how having an RN degree would change those duties.

  • Rather than being supervised, as an RN you can be responsible for supervising others
  • Rather than being asked to observe patients, you can be responsible for making decisions about their treatment, and able to provide patients with essential education about their health and specific conditions
  • Rather than simply following instructions, you will be able to use your education and professional judgment to make decisions integral to the patient’s well-being and care 

Additionally, as an RN you will have more extensive knowledge, greater earning power and personal and professional growth, and the ability to specialize in areas that are of interest to you. The job market for RNs is experiencing tremendous growth, and by equipping yourself with an RN degree you will open the door to limitless opportunities.

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