LVN (Licensed Vocational Nurse) vs. RN (Registered Nurse) Average Salary

Nursing is generally a well-paid profession, but there are strata in any field, and there are certain nursing jobs that earn significantly higher salaries than others. Where licensed vocational nurses require only a year or two of education, and can pass with a certificate rather than an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, so they tend to have less responsibilities and lower pay than registered nurses or advanced practice nurses.

Fortunately, there are many educational programs specifically tailored to help LVNs gain the knowledge to become RNs who can handle more duties and earn better wages.

LVN and RN Average Salary

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the annual average salary of an LVN as $42,040 as of May, 2011. That figure is higher than the average income across all careers, but not by much. However, there are other factors that can lead LVNs to earn substantially more money. Location and work-setting (i.e. hospital versus private practice) can affect nurse salaries significantly.

The biggest way that an LVN can increase his or her salary is to get more education and get a higher nursing credential. RNs earn an average salary of $69,110 according to The BLS, over $25,000 more than LVNs. Getting the additional education to be licensed as an RN can be time consuming and expensive, but with the potential for that significant a pay raise, the effort is likely worthwhile for most LVNs.

Job Prospects for Registered Nurses

In addition to reporting salary data, The BLS also makes predictions about the growth or loss of jobs in certain fields, and how heavy the competition will be for desirable positions. Their predictions for the nursing field are decidedly bullish. The registered nurse career is expected to see 26 percent growth between 2020, almost double the average growth across all career fields. Much of this increase will be driven by two factors:

  • The current nursing workforce is skewed towards retirement age. Many current RNs will retire in the next decade and need to be replaced.
  • People are living longer than ever now, and older adults are tapping into medical resources for long term, ongoing care more than ever. The aging of the baby boomer generation may be the biggest single driver of career growth for nurses.

Predicted LVN job growth is only a few points lower, at 22 percent, than that for RNs. With the amazing increase in mobility and salary that comes with becoming an RN, there are few scenarios where making the upgrade is a bad career move.

Other Factors Influencing Nursing Salaries

The amount of education a nurse has is the biggest influence on their salary, by far. Nurses with bachelor’s degrees and RN licenses earn more than those with less education, but location and the type of community a nurse works in can also have a huge effect on their salary. A nurse working in a cityor state with great demand can earn tens of thousands of dollars more than one in an area where nurses are plentiful. The graph below shows the top five best paying states for RNs to work in, most of which have salary offerings that far outstrip the national average.

Clearly, where you live can influence your salary, but most nurses don’t get into the career just for money. The instinct to help people be healthy and teach them to live better lives or stay comfortable throughout a sickness or trauma is a major part of nursing. There are areas in the U.S. that are severely underserved by the medical establishment. The problem has grown so large that the government offers grants and loan repayment options for nurses who will work in rural or inner city areas where there are not enough medical professionals to meet the community’s needs.

Travel Opportunities, Career Mobility, and High Need Areas

The need for new nurses is not restricted to the U.S. There are global opportunities for motivated nurses to provide care in underserved areas, and nurses with the experience level to provide primary care in the absence of a physician are in the most demand.

Though RNs can’t prescribe medication, they can provide many other necessary services that a doctor might provide, but at a much lower cost. By advancing their education even further, RNs can become advanced practice registered nurses (APRN), who can prescribe medication and open their own practices without the collaboration of a physician. This type of nurse will have the most control over his or her daily responsibilities, and will have a great deal of career mobility. It is easier to change locations or move up the chain of command in a hospital or clinic if you have a master’s degree and a broad base of experience as well as a niche expertise.

One way for nurses to build up some experience and do a lot of good in the world is to participate in a program that sends nurses to underserved areas for a set amount of time in exchange for loan repayment or financial assistance for future schooling. One such program is the National Health Service Corps, a government funded initiative that attempts to solve two problems in one by offsetting student debt and encouraging nurses to work in underserved areas.

Where Does an RN Go From Here?

An RN is a generalist by definition. Any kind of nursing work that needs to be done in a hospital or clinic can probably be done by an RN. The next step for someone in this position is to seek specialization. Becoming the most knowledgeable person in a niche of nursing, no matter how small, can make you an indispensable asset in the right setting. The way that RNs usually pursue specialization is by going back to school for a master’s degree.

A master’s degree can prepare a nurse to work as a family nurse practitioner or in another niche specialty of nursing, as well as qualifying them to teach certain subjects or take on leadership roles in their line of work. Specialization and leadership advancement are two standard paths to a higher salary in most fields, and nursing is no exception to that rule. Some of the possible specialties for a nurse to pursue in their education and career are:

  • Pediatrics: Nurses in this field work with children until they turn 18, or at some practices, 21 years old.
  • Geriatrics: Nurses in geriatrics work with elderly and aging patients to cope with the acute and chronic health issues that arise in old age.
  • Anesthesiology: Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists work with MDs to administer general and local anesthesia to patients who need surgery.
  • Family Nursing Practice: Family nurse practitioners work with families, but can take clients of any age or demographic.
  • Clinical Nursing: Clinical nursing specialists usually work to improve the overall efficiency of the facility where they work, in addition to providing direct care to patients and collaborating with other nurses and doctors.

Of course there are other niches and sub-niches within nursing that may be in high demand in specialized medical facilities, but the above is a sample of the most popular niches in the job market and in educational programs.

Choosing the Best LVN to RN Program

Education programs that are built to help students transition between two careers or even tiers within a career, such as LVN to RN programs, typically offer super-flexible scheduling plans, because it makes the most sense financially to continue working while in school.

There are still variations within programs though, and it is worthwhile to do some research into the different options that are available before committing to a program and possibly paying an application fee. This site can help you do that research. The colleges linked to around this page are all accredited providers of nursing education with assorted course offerings and price plans. A click and a bit of info provided can get you most of what you need to know about any particular college, and if that isn’t quite enough, you can always call and talk to someone in person.

RN Education: Tough But Worth It

Nursing school is a lot of work, and working as a nurse can take a toll as well. Some nurses work long shifts and have to help patients with difficult and painful conditions. However, the ability to help people is a powerful reward, and the paycheck is usually great too, so heading back to school to become an RN is almost guaranteed to up your quality of life, no matter what you’re doing right now.

Online Nursing Bridge Programs

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