Skip to main content

Planning Your Career in Nursing: LVN/LPN, RN, and Everything In Between

Are you interested in helping people? What about moving at a fast pace in a health care setting? Millions of people find careers as nurses to be rewarding and fulfilling. This is a career that you can start with as much or as little education as you want. Learn more about different levels of nursing, nursing school and how to become a nurse.

Different Nursing Career Paths

Unlike many careers where there is one set path to success, nursing is a career where you can become successful at many different levels. Lower levels of nursing require only a year of training. Some people stay as these lower level nurses forever, or you may pursue a higher degree and certification later in your career. Here are different levels of entry-level nursing.

LVN/LPN

Licensed vocational nurses or licensed practical nurses provide basic medical care under the direction of a registered nurse. The major difference between LVNs and LPNs is where they practice. California and Texas use the title “licensed vocational nurse” while other states use “licensed practical nurse.” 

One benefit of a practical or vocational nursing position is that it is a quick way to enter the healthcare field. LPN and LVN are entry-level nursing designations. One can typically become an LPN or LVN through a vocational school or an associate degree program. For example, at Carrington College, students can earn a certificate in practical or vocational nursing in as little as 12 months and an associate degree in as few as 17 months.

Registered Nursing

Registered nursing is the most common level of nursing in America. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) there were 3,096,700 nurses working in the U.S. in 2019. [1]  RNs can have an associate degree in nursing or even a diploma from a hospital program.  [17] 

Registered nurses typically provide patient care and help coordinate medical needs with other experts like doctors and surgeons. Registered nurses oversee practical and vocational nurses. 

The benefit of pursuing an RN degree instead of an LPN or LVN is that you have less supervision and may be able to earn more than the lower counterparts.  

Transitioning from LVN to RN

There is always room for improvement in your nursing career. For example, you may want to get into the workforce fast by becoming an LVN or LPN but later may want to return to your studies and advance to be an RN. Such so-called “nursing bridge” programs, or an LVN to RN program, help take licensed practical or vocational nurses and help them become registered nurses. 

For example, at Carrington College, one can advance from an LVN to an RN degree in as few as 8 months. [2]

Why Become a Nurse?

Nursing is a rewarding profession that allows you to help others and work in a fast-paced and high-impact environment. It is also a fairly secure profession. In 2018, there were more than 4 million jobs in 5 nurse occupations, according to the BLS. [3] This includes LPNs and RNs as well as nurse midwives, nurse anesthetists and nurse practitioners. For lower level nursing, there were 721,700 LPNs and LVNs in 2019, and that employment figure is expected to grow 9% between 2019 and 2029, which is much faster than average for all occupations. according to the BLS. [4]

Similarly, registered nursing is also an in-demand profession. About 175,900 openings for registered nurses are projected each year, on average, over the decade between 2019 and 2029. That’s a projected 7% increase in employment.[5]

One reason nurses may be in such high demand is the nursing shortage the United States is facing. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, researchers project that one million RNs will retire by 2030. [6] This, combined with an aging baby boomer population that requires more medical attention as they grow older, means there is a great need for new nurses in the field. 

Beyond being a stable career, nursing can provide practical benefits such as flexible schedules due to the need for 24-hour healthcare. Shift work, which is common for nurses, [7] means it can be easier to arrange childcare or split childcare duties with a partner. 

According to O*NET online, which is a website managed by the U.S. Department of Labor, registered nursing is a good fit for those who possess: [8]

  • Service Orientation, or a desire to help others
  • Judgement and decision making skills
  • Complex problem solving skills
  • Critical thinking abilities
  • Persuasion skills to influence others’ decisions
  • Time management skills

Nurse Salary

Nursing salaries vary depending on factors such as level of education and years of experience. However, there are some benchmarks you can look at. 

For LPNs and LVNs, the median annual wage was $47,480 in May 2019, according to the BLS. [9] The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10% earned less than $34,560, and the highest 10% earned more than $63,360. [10] The lowest 10% earned less than $52,080, and the highest 10% earned more than $111,220. The median wage in 2019 for all occupations was $39,810.

This trend of increased wages for increased education tracks at higher levels of nursing as well. According to the BLS, nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners, all of which require master’s degrees, earned a median salary of $167,950, $103,770, and $107,030, respectively in 2018. [3]

Best States to Work as a Nurse

Different states around the country have different requirements for nurses at all levels. As mentioned above, in some states like California and Texas, lower level nurses are called licensed vocational nurses, while in other areas they are licensed practical nurses. Beyond such semantics, there are also differences in the number of jobs available and the wages that are paid in different states. Below are the best states to work as a nurse.

Best States to Work as an LPN/LVN [11]

States with the highest employment level of licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses in May 2019:

State Employment Employment per thousand jobs Hourly mean wage Annual mean wage
Texas 70,290 5.65 $22.77 $47,370
California 67,590 3.89 $28.96 $60,240
New York 46,320 4.86 $23.97 $49,860
Florida 45,960 5.23 $21.91 $45,580
Ohio 41,150 7.55 $21.64 $45,020

Top paying States for LVNs and LPNs in May 2019:

State Employment Employment per thousand jobs Hourly mean wage Annual mean wage
Alaska 390 1.24 $30.70 $63,850
Massachusetts 15,910 4.40 $29.01 $60,340
California 67,590 3.89 $28.96 $60,240
Rhode Island 980 2.02 $28.78 $59,860
Nevada 2,920 2.10 $28.11 $58,470

Best States to Work as an RN [12]

States with the highest employment level of registered nurses in May 2019:

State Employment Employment per thousand jobs Hourly mean wage Annual mean wage
California 302,770 17.42 $54.44 $113,240
Texas 218,090 17.54 $35.84 $74,540
Florida 181,670 20.66 $32.50 $67,610
New York 178,320 18.73 $42.23 $87,840
Pennsylvania 148,040 25.08 $34.33 $71,410

Top paying states for RNs in May 2019:

State Employment Employment per thousand jobs Hourly mean wage Annual mean wage
California 302,770 17.42 $54.44 $113,240
Hawaii 11,330 17.83 $50.03 $104,060
District of Columbia 10,890 15.05 $45.59 $94,820
Massachusetts 81,020 22.38 $44.79 $93,160
Oregon 36,660 19.23 $44.69 $92,960

Registered nurses, on the other hand, have more authority and need less supervision while they work. According to the BLS, most registered nurses work as part of a team with physicians and other healthcare specialists. Some registered nurses oversee licensed practical nurses, nursing assistants, and home health aides. [14] Specific job duties will vary by employer and employment setting, for example an RN working in a residential care facility would have different duties than a nurse working in an emergency department. 

Some typical job duties of an RN are: [14]

  • Assess patients’ conditions
  • Record patients’ medical histories and symptoms
  • Observe patients and record the observations
  • Administer patients’ medicines and treatments
  • Set up plans for patients’ care or contribute information to existing plans
  • Consult and collaborate with doctors and other healthcare professionals
  • Operate and monitor medical equipment
  • Help perform diagnostic tests and analyze the results
  • Teach patients and their families how to manage illnesses or injuries
  • Explain what to do at home after treatment

Where do Nurses Work?

Obviously, nurses primarily work in healthcare settings, but their main employers are more varied than one might assume. For example, the majority of LPNs and LVNs work in nursing care facilities [11],  whereas RNs typically work in hospitals. [12]

According to the BLS Industries with the highest levels [11] of employment of LVNs and LPNs are:

State Employment Employment per thousand jobs Hourly mean wage Annual mean wage
California 302,770 17.42 $54.44 $113,240
Hawaii 11,330 17.83 $50.03 $104,060
District of Columbia 10,890 15.05 $45.59 $94,820
Massachusetts 81,020 22.38 $44.79 $93,160
Oregon 36,660 19.23 $44.69 $92,960

For registered nurses, common employers look a bit different, with a higher emphasis on working with doctors, but still with plenty of working with those who need skilled nursing care and the elderly. 

Industries with the highest levels of employment for RNs are: [12]

State Employment Employment per thousand jobs Hourly mean wage Annual mean wage
California 302,770 17.42 $54.44 $113,240
Hawaii 11,330 17.83 $50.03 $104,060
District of Columbia 10,890 15.05 $45.59 $94,820
Massachusetts 81,020 22.38 $44.79 $93,160
Oregon 36,660 19.23 $44.69 $92,960

How to Become an RN

For those who want to get into the field quickly, you may wonder, how to become an RN fast. RNs can have a wide range of schooling, so there are options when choosing how to become an RN. The following are the steps needed to become an RN, though licensure requirements vary by state. [16]

  1. Complete an accredited nursing program. Like with practical nursing, it is important your nursing education meets state requirements. RNs can have as little as an associate degree in nursing, though many also pursue bachelors in nursing (BSN) programs. There are also RN-to-BSN programs to help you obtain your BSN after you have started working. 
  2. Take and pass the NCLEX-RN. Next you will need to take the RN test, similar to the NCLEX-PN. This will test your general nursing knowledge. 
  3. Obtain state licensure. Similar to LPNs, RNs need to be licensed by the state. Check with your state board of nursing for specific requirements. 

Can I Go to Nursing School Online?

While some programs may offer some courses online, ultimately it is not possible to entirely complete nursing school online, at any nursing level. All levels of nursing will require skill labs where you learn hands-on methods of treatment. These labs cannot be recreated in an online school. 

What to Look for in a Nursing School

Choosing the right school to study nursing at is a big decision. The right training can open doors for better jobs and possibly salary down the line. While many institutions may offer nursing degrees, it’s important that you look for the one that fits your goals and lifestyle. 

A few core things to look for when considering nursing programs include:

  • Small class sizes. When learning to be a nurse you want individual attention from your instructor. 
  • Hands-on training. When dealing with tasks like drawing blood and administering care, it’s important that you have time to practice those skills hands-on. 
  • Externships or career training. Most programs include an opportunity to learn in the real world before you even graduate! You’ll earn an impressive experience that looks great on your resume.
  • Cost. Education is a major investment, but it’s an investment in your future. At Carrington College and many other institutions, we participate in most financial assistance programs, both federal and state, as well as private financing. Student loans, grants, and scholarships are available to those who qualify. For complete information on current tuition costs, please see the academic catalog.

What Will I Learn in Carrington College Nursing Programs?

All nursing programs are different, and different levels of nursing will require different classes. Here are some examples of courses you would take at Carrington College’s different nursing programs. 

Registered Nursing

  • BIO 121 Human Anatomy and Physiology I with Lab Students in this course study structure and function of the human body. Topics include cells, tissues and integumentary, skeletal, muscular and nervous systems. Lectures are supported by required lab exercises.

Practical Nursing

  • MATH 104 Math for Dosage Calculations This course focuses on development of the math skills necessary to accurately calculate dosages for medication administration
  • NUR 122 Medication Administration The course focuses on development of the knowledge, skills and attitudes to safely administer medications. Key concepts include therapeutic communication, health teaching, preparation and administration of medication by the topical, oral, nasogastric, intradermal, subcutaneous and intramuscular routes. Students are introduced to the administration of intravenous fluids and medications within the scope of the Nurse Practice Act. Client monitoring and the legal implication of documenting medication administration are incorporated. Focus is placed on meeting the holistic needs of clients throughout the lifespan.
  • NUR 158.1 Community and Mental Health Nursing This course comprises theory and clinical components, incorporating the use of therapeutic communication, cultural aspects, socioeconomic concerns and critical thinking in the nursing care of patients experiencing mental, psychological and psychiatric disorders. Emphasis is placed on utilizing the nursing process to identify and prioritize the health care needs of patients, prevention and working as a member of an interdisciplinary health care team. 

Vocational Nursing

  • VN 103 Foundations of Nursing 2 This course introduces skills related to surgical asepsis, wound care and intervention techniques for assisting clients in meeting basic nutrition, elimination and oxygenation needs. Awareness of personal dignity, cultural and spiritual aspects, ethical or legal significance and required communication are integrated with each skill. Interpretation of drug labels, common medical abbreviations used in dosage calculations and general medication administration principles prepare students to administer medications safely. Guided laboratory experience complements theory. 
  • VN 301 Introduction to Maternity and Pediatric Nursing This course addresses nursing care of pregnant women, women in labor and during birth and newborn care. Application of the nursing process and principles of growth and development of children is also covered. Applicable skills and theoretical concepts are applied in clinical and laboratory settings. 

Nursing Bridge

  • NUR 222 Transition LPN/RN – Professional Nursing Health Assessment In this course, licensed practical nurses (LPNs) acquire knowledge, skills and attitudes to begin the transition to the role of registered nurse (RN). Key concepts include Gordon’s Functional Health Patterns to organize health assessment skills, therapeutic communication, values clarification, principles of adult learning, the nursing process, nursing theory, informatics and trends, evidence-based practice and legal/ethical issues. This course provides further development of the student nurse as a professional provider of care, professional member within the discipline and professional manager of care within the scope of the nursing practice. In the lab, students develop advanced bedside assessment skills and devise nursing care plans for clients with predictable and unpredictable health care needs. Prerequisites: Current Practical Nursing License.

Registered Nursing LVN to RN Bridge

  • RN 150 LVN to RN Transition – Theory This course introduces and familiarizes students with the philosophy and conceptual framework of the LVN to RN Associate Degree Registered Nurse Program. Role expectations for the registered nurse as caregiver, teacher and member of the health care team are discussed. Correct use of the nursing process, critical thinking and technical skills are emphasized in caring for culturally diverse clients throughout the lifespan. 
  • RN 225 Advanced Medical/Surgical Nursing 1 – Clinical This course provides clinical experience in acute care hospitals and agencies and facilitates the application of advanced knowledge to include comprehensive scientific principles and integration of the nursing process. Students utilize the nursing process to provide nursing care, teaching, support and rehabilitation to clients across the lifespan experiencing high risk/unstable conditions. Simulation labs foster the development of critical thinking skills.
  • RN 250 Leadership Management 2 This course is further preparation for students to assume the registered nurse leadership/management role, focusing on professional issues that affect nursing managerial/leadership, interdisciplinary functions, legal/ethical dilemmas and delegatory functions in clinical practice. Application of theoretical concepts, critical thinking and problem-solving are emphasized, as is providing competent nursing care to groups of clients in a variety of health care settings.

Find Carrington Nursing Programs Near Me

If you are ready to start your education as a nurse, or to advance your career as a nurse by advancing to an RN, learn more about the different programs Carrington College has to offer or request more information. 

Registered Nursing (RN)

Registered Nursing LVN to RN

Nursing Bridge (LPN to RN)

Practical Nursing/Vocational Nursing


Request Information

Step 1 of 2

* Required Field