What is the Difference Between a Practical Nurse and a Registered Nurse?

If you are considering nursing school, you’ve got options!

Are you considering nursing school? If you want to become a nurse, what exactly does that mean? There are several different types of nurses, and it helps to understand what levels of training you need for each. Here are some options you might choose, depending on the amount of education you want to pursue.

Home health aide 

You can get home health aide training at some nursing schools. It is typically a short program that can be completed in a month or two. You will learn basic nursing skills in order to care for people in their homes.

Nursing assistant

A nursing assistant program can usually be completed in a few months’ time. Nursing assistants learn more skills than home health aides, and are qualified to work in nursing homes, long-term care facilities, skilled care centers, rehab facilities, as well as other healthcare locations. Their chief responsibilities are taking care of a patient’s basic needs, such as helping them bathe, get dressed, eat, and walk.

Note: Nursing assistants can also be called CNAs (Certified Nursing Assistants), LNAs (Licensed Nursing Assistants) or Nurse’s Aides. Patient Care Technicians are similar to nursing assistants, but can perform more duties on the job.

Practical nurse

Practical nurses undergo more training than nursing assistants. Their training programs can typically be completed in less than one year. Practical nurses are trained to provide a higher level of clinical care to patients. They typically work in nursing homes and long-term care facilities, as well as hospitals and doctors’ offices.

Note: Practical nurses are also called LPNs (Licensed Practical Nurse) or LVNs (Licensed Vocational Nurse).

Registered Nurse (RN)

Registered nurses must earn at least a 2-year associate’s degree in nursing (ADN). This qualifies them to hold RN positions, and to perform more procedures with patients. In order to earn more responsibilities and to improve earning potential, some RNs decide to earn a 4-year bachelor’s degree (BSN), or even pursue a master’s degree in nursing (MSN).

Beyond becoming a registered nurse, you can choose to specialize in a particular field. Like all nurses, specialized nurses need to keep up their continuing education and certifications. Some examples of specialized nurses include:

  • Nurse anesthetist
  • NICU nurse
  • Labor and delivery nurse
  • Neonatal nurse
  • Emergency department nurse
  • Pediatric nurse

How to apply for nursing schools

If you are interested in pursuing any type of nursing, now is the time to look at nursing schools. To get started, visit the website for your State Board of Nursing. These websites should contain a list of licensed nursing schools in your state. This will help you narrow down where you want to attend school.

Once you have a list of possibilities, contact the schools to find out what programs they offer, what prerequisites you need, how to apply, and whether they offer financial aid. For more information about making the right choice, refer to What to Look for in a Nursing School.

Now that you understand the different levels of nursing, we hope you feel more prepared to make this important decision in your life. Here’s wishing you the best of luck with your future career!


This article was provided by the Salter School of Allied Health and Nursing, located in Manchester, New Hampshire. Find out about our nursing programs or contact us online for more information.

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