LVN vs. LPN Salary: What's the Difference?
Updated March 3, 2023
If you enjoy helping others and working as part of a team, you might like a career as an LVN or an LPN. LPNs and LVNs help provide high-quality patient care while working closely with doctors, more advanced nurses and other health care professionals. Although LPNs and LVNs share similar responsibilities, there are some differences between these two nursing credentials, including their salaries.
In this article, we discuss the definitions of LVNs and LPNs, explore the difference in an LVN versus LPN salary, provide suggestions for how to raise your earning potential and offer advice on how to choose the best nursing credentials for you.
What is an LVN?
An LVN is a type of nurse, and it stands for licensed vocational nurse. A nurse with the title of LVN has a license that permits them to practice in their state of residence. California and Texas are the only states that issue LVN licenses.
Read more: Guide to LVNs
What is an LPN?
An LPN is another type of nurse. The letters in LPN stand for licensed practical nurse. With an LPN license, a nurse can perform their health care responsibilities within the state where they live. All states apart from California and Texas offer LPN licenses.
Read more: Learn How To Become an LPN
What does an LVN do?
An LVN provides basic medical care to patients. Their duties may include changing bandages, monitoring vital signs and assisting patients with personal care tasks. LVNs also perform clerical responsibilities, like updating or maintaining patient health care records. They work closely with nurses, doctors and other medical professionals to provide comprehensive health care to their patients.
An LVN can also conduct certain medical duties under the supervision of a registered nurse (RN) or physician. For example, under supervision, an LVN can insert urinary catheters, provide CPR or help care for wounds.
What does an LPN do?
An LPN performs the same general responsibilities as LVNs. Tasks can include taking vital signs, helping patients understand their treatment plan, modifying patient medical records as needed and reporting changes in their patients' conditions to physicians. LPNs can also perform certain duties under the supervision of an RN or doctor, like caring for wounds or monitoring catheter use.
The primary differences between LPNs and LVNs are the title of their nursing license and the state where they practice as a nurse. While specific duties may vary depending on factors like their work environment and years of experience, there are no other fundamental distinctions between the job responsibilities of LVNs and LPNs.
LVN vs. LPN salary
The average salary for licensed practical nurses is $49,127 per year. In contrast, the average salary for a licensed vocational nurse is $67,720 per year. The difference in salaries for LVNs versus LPNs may in part be because of their geographic differences. As one factor that may affect individual salaries is location, LVNs might have a higher average salary because they practice in a smaller range of regions or due to potentially higher costs of living. Other factors, such as years of experience and certifications, can also affect how much a nurse earns annually.
Ways to earn more money as an LPN or LVN
Whether you become an LPN or an LVN, there are multiple ways to increase your earning potential, such as:
Move to a new region
Consider moving to a new city, county or even state. The salaries of both LPNs and LVNs can vary depending on where you live and practice nursing. Be sure to check the nursing licensure requirements before you move to a new state.
Read more: Nursing Jobs Outlook and Salaries by State
Find a specialty
Earn a certificate in an LPN or LVN specialization. Having in-depth knowledge and advanced skills in a particular area can help raise your earning potential. Specializations for LPNs and LVNs include wound care, hospice and urology.
Become a travel nurse
Think about being a travel nurse. As a travel nurse, you get to work at hospitals or other medical facilities temporarily. A travel nurse can decide if they'd like to only travel within a particular region or if they're comfortable crossing state lines. Travel nurses may get paid more than regularly LVNs and LPNs because they often receive extra compensation, such as for meals and housing, in addition to their regular salary or wages.
Other types of nursing credentials
Besides LVN and LPN, there are several other types of nursing credentials available. The type of nursing license or certificate you earn affects the job responsibilities you receive. Nurses with more advanced licenses have the legal authorization to perform more medically advanced tasks or in more of a leadership position. Here are the primary types of nursing credentials, the responsibilities nurses with this type of license or certificate often have and some of the career options available to each licensure type:
Certified nursing assistants
A certified nursing assistant (CNA) is the easiest type of nurse to become. Also referred to as nursing assistants, you can become a CNA by undergoing a state-approved training program for approximately three to eight weeks. After accomplishing the program, CNAs must pass an exam that gives them certification to practice within their state. The average salary for CNAs is $35,830 per year.
Many of a CNA's responsibilities focus on providing or assisting patients with their personal care. This may include helping a patient bathe, eat, dress or brush their teeth. A CNA also might help with mobility-related care, such as moving a patient from a bed to a wheelchair. With a CNA certification, you can choose from multiple health care careers, including:
Pharmacy technician: Pharmacy technicians help pharmacists measure, mix and dispense prescription medications to patients. A pharmacy technician also performs clerical responsibilities, like processing insurance claims, phoning doctors for refill requests or taking patient payments.
Restorative nurse aide: Restorative nurse aides (RNA) receive specialized training in caring for patients trying to recover bodily functions, such as the ability to talk or the use of their hands. An RNA helps patients safely practice the exercises they've learned in occupational, physical or speech therapy.
Phlebotomist: A phlebotomist draws blood from patients for blood donations, transfusions, tests or research purposes. Phlebotomists must know how to handle medical tools like needles, vials and syringes.
Home health aide: Home health aides are essentially CNAs that work in private residences. They typically work with patients who need more assistance with personal care tasks.
Read more: What Is a CNA?
Registered nurses (RNs) perform similar duties to LPNs and LVNs, like taking patient vital signs, updating medical records and helping patients with personal care. However, as RNs have more advanced nursing qualifications, they also have more responsibilities than LPNs and LVNs. An RN can conduct health care tasks such as administering medications through IV machines, conducting diagnostic tests and supervising medical professionals like LVNs and LPNs. An RN earns an average salary of $78,306 per year.
To become an RN, you first need an associate or bachelor's degree in nursing. An aspiring RN then must pass a national exam in order to receive their license. There are multiple specializations or advanced opportunities you can pursue with an RN license, such as:
Geriatric registered nurse: A geriatric registered nurse specializes in providing care to the elderly.
Nurse manager: A nurse manager is a health care professional who oversees a team of LPNs, RNs and other nurses. Most nurse managers gain multiple years of experience as an RN before advancing to this position.
Emergency room registered nurse: Emergency room (ER) registered nurses provide critical or acute care to their patients. Emergency room RNs must have the ability to respond quickly to various changes or challenges in order to provide quality patient care.
Nurse educator: A nurse educator teaches nursing students. While some nurse educators help students learn about the fundamentals of nursing, others specialize in a specific field.
Mental health nurse: Mental health nurses diagnose and treat a variety of mental health issues. A mental health nurse also typically has counseling skills to help their patients learn to cope mentally and emotionally.
Related: LPN vs. RN
Advanced practice registered nurses
An advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) has the most advanced type of nursing credentials. Most APRNs begin their careers as RNs. They then earn a master's degree in nursing and pass a national exam to receive an APRN license. APRNs receive an average salary of $99,731 per year.
APRNs can provide the same basic patient care measures as other types of nurses, such as monitoring vital signs, aiding with personal care tasks and keeping medical records updated. In addition, advanced practice registered nurses also evaluate, diagnose and create treatment plans for patients. A nurse with an APRN license has many career options, including:
Nurse practitioner: A nurse practitioner can examine, diagnose, treat and prescribe medications to patients without the direct supervision of a physician. Responsibilities can include ordering and analyzing medical diagnostic results, conducting physical examinations like of a patient's heart or eyes and designing individualized treatment plans for patients based on their unique medical needs and conditions.
Clinical nurse leader: A clinical nurse leader oversees patient safety practices in medical facilities. Their goal is to reduce the number of preventable health care injuries and optimize patient care procedures for safety.
Pediatric nurse practitioner: A pediatric nurse practitioner is a type of nurse practitioner who specializes in medical care for children.
Certified registered nurse anesthetist: Nurse anesthetists administer anesthesia to patients. A nurse anesthetist delivers patients with the correct dosage of anesthesia and monitors their condition throughout their medical procedure.
Certified nurse midwife: A nurse midwife focuses on women's health issues related to pregnancy. In addition to helping with childbirth, nurse midwives can evaluate and treat women's reproductive health concerns.
Tips for choosing a nursing license
Here is some advice for choosing what type of nursing credentials to pursue:
Think about where you hope to practice
Consider what state you want to practice as a nurse. Nursing licensure or certification requirements differ from state to state. The state requirements for both LVNs and LPNs vary. For example, some states may ask you to undergo a background check or pay a licensure fee. If you want to move to a new state after earning your nursing license in a different state, you need to reapply for licensure in your new state of residence.
Decide how quickly you want to become a nurse
Determine when you want to begin practicing as a nurse. In general, more advanced nursing credentials take a longer time to earn. For example, an LPN or LVN training program often lasts about a year. By contrast, since RNs must receive an associate's or bachelor's degree, it can take RN students longer to begin their medical practice.
Consider your nursing preferences
Think about if you have any nursing preferences. A nurse's responsibilities vary based on many factors, including their work environment, education level and specialization. For example, you might realize that you'd like to work with children and would prefer to pursue a career as a pediatric RN or pediatric APRN. As another example, if you'd like to focus on helping patients recover or maintain mobility, you might want to earn an LPN or LVN license to become a restorative nurse aide.
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