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Why do RN nurses make more money than LPN nurses?

Job growth prospects for Registered and Licensed Practical Nurses are expected to be good through the end of the decade, but one job pays considerably more.

Behind the pay difference between Registered Nurses and Licensed Practical Nurses

The United States is facing a critical nursing shortage due to a broad range of factors that existed even before the strain placed on the healthcare system by the pandemic. One of those factors is pay, which varies from state to state and depending on what kind of licensure one has.

Licensed Practical Nurses on average earn nearly $30,000 less per year than Registered Nurses. This comes down to the responsibilities each profession has, the scope of the practice and to compensate for the additional requirements to attain licensure.

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Salaries for Registered Nurses vs Licensed Practical Nurses

In 2021 the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the average annual salary for Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVN) and Licensed Practical Nurses (LPN) was $48,070 per year. This works out at $23.11 per hour. At the extremes of the pay scales the highest 10 percent had incomes over $63,790, but the bottom 10 percent less than $37,150 per year.

According to government data, the states with the highest pay in 2021 were California, Alaska, Washington, Massachusetts and Nevada. Besides location, the employer for whom the LVN or LPN works for can make a difference as well. Government employed nurses had a median salary of $52,210, compared to those working for physician offices who made $46,870 on average.

Registered Nurses (RN) on the other hand had a median salary of $77,600 in 2021, working out to $37.31 per hour. The top 10 percent bring home over $120,250 a year and the lowest 10 percent earning less than $59,450.

California again tops the list of highest paying states followed by Hawaii, Oregon, Washington DC and Alaska. Likewise, those working for the government had the highest average salary of $85,970 while the lowest median salary, $61,780 per year, went to nurses working in education services.

Why do RN nurses make more money than LPN nurses?

While duties for both RN nurses and LPN nurses are similar and can overlap an RN nurse has broader scope of practice and more responsibilities. An LPN nurse generally serves as support staff for RN nurses and doctors. RN nurses may also work in more specialized roles dealing with specific types of patients or areas of medicine.

Additionally, becoming an RN nurse requires more training. Those who choose to study for a career as an LPN nurse can generally finish in 12 months. However, to become an RN nurse it will take around 4 years to attain a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), the generally preferred degree among employers.

These factors go into the calculus of RN nurses earning significantly more than LPN nurses on average. Through the end of the decade both professions are expected to grow by roughly 6 percent with about 203,200 RN and 58,800 LPN openings each year.