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5 Levels of Nursing?

I'€™ve been doing a lot of reading about nursing school and I'm very confused. What is the difference between an LPN, an LVN, an RN, an ADN and a BSN? Is one better than the other? I'€™m in high school and want to be a nurse, but I can'€™t figure out what is what. Thanks. Tanya.


Dear Tanya,
Thanks for your question. It's true: a nursing education can be confusing to people who are new to the field, so your question is not unusual. Let's start by saying that all of the types of nurses you listed are nurses and work with patients. The difference is in the length of education and what and where they can work after they have graduated.

Licensed Practical Nurses and Licensed Vocational Nurses

Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) are the same thing. Most states use the term LPN, while others use LVN.

The LPN/LVN education is the shortest of the nursing programs. Training can last anywhere between a year or two, depending on the school, and focuses on the hands-on care that the LPNs/LVNs will be giving the patients. LPNs and LVNs must pass a nation-wide licensing exam, the NCLEX-LPN, to be certified to work in their state.

It used to be that LPNs/LVNs only did the actual nursing tasks, such as taking vital signs, changing dressings, feeding patients, and giving medications. However, now in some states, LPNs/LVNs may hang and change IVs (intravenous) and do other advanced nursing tasks.

While an experienced LPN/LVN may be put in charge of other LPNs/LVNs and aides or assistants, they don't generally climb the management ladder.

Registered Nurses

Registered nurses are nurses who have completed a diploma, associate degree (ADN), bachelor's degree in nursing (BSN), or a master's degree in nursing (MSN) AND they have written and passed the national licensing exam, the NCLEX-RN.

Registered nurses have more in-depth education than do LPNs/LVNs and are taught assessment and critical thinking skills in addition to the tasks nurses must perform.

Associate Degree in Nursing

Nurses who attend a two-year college degree program for an ADN will be prepared to write the NCLEX exam and to work at the patients'€™ bedside. They will earn more money (in general) than LPNs or LVNs and are supposed to have more responsibility. However, nurses with an ADN may find it difficult to land certain types of advanced nursing jobs (such as in critical care) or in management, if that is their goal.

Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing

Nurses who go on to a four-year university to obtain an BSN also must write the same licensing exam as those who study for their associate degree. However, nurses with a BSN have a broader area open to them, from the more advanced types of nursing, to management and even teaching in certain area.

So, Which Is Right for You?

Regardless of which level of education you have, the goal is the same: to help the patients. So, which one you go for depends on what your needs and wants are.
* Do you want to work as soon as possible? If so, LPN may be the right route for you. You can always go back to school and upgrade if you want.

* Do you want to be a bit more advanced than an LPN but you don'€™t have the time or marks to get into a four-year university? Then the associate degree may be right. Again, you can always go back to school to get your degree.

*Do you know that you want to go on to a master's degree in nursing or do critical care nursing? If that's the case and you can afford to, going straight for you BSN may be the right option for you.

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