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Difference Between RN and RPN

nurseRN vs RPN

RN stands for Registered Nurse whereas RPN stands for Registered Practical Nurse. RPN is also known as Licenced Practical Nurse (LPN) in USA.

A registered Nurse (RN) is a nurse who has completed nursing program from a recognized university or college and successfully passed a national licensing examination. RN’s scope of practice vary from country to country, but their practice is determined by their state’s Nurse Practice Act. Their legal practice on what task they can or cannot perform depends on their association that they are registered with.

A Registered Practical Nurse on the other hand, requires less number of years of education in order to practice. Mostly likely 1-2 years of diploma program is enough to practice as a RPN, but it depends on where you live.

In Canada, RN must have a degree in nursing which means 4 years of university education and must successfully complete board exam to practice, whereas RPN requires 2 years of diploma from a recognized college. In Ontario, RPN have greater scope of legal practice compared to rest of the provinces, but they are supervised and follow directions from a Registered Nurse as needed. RPN may not be able to handle patients who are unstable or with complex medical conditions.

In UK, the state enrolled nursing (SEN) qualification is no longer obtained. SRN (State Registered Nurses) are now known as Level One Nurses (similar to RPN). The majority of the nurses are first level nurses. The second Level Nurses are (EN-Enrolled Nurse) or SEN (State Enrolled Nurse) previously trained for 24 months and possess the title as Registered Nurses and have higher pay grade and hold rank of Charge Nurse.

In Australia, RNs (Registered Nurses) are required to finish Bachelor of Nursing. Enrolled nurses (EN) (similar to RPN) require 12 months of training. They can attend university and become Registered Nurses (RN). After 2004, Enrolled Nurses can administer some oral and IV medications and intramuscular and subcutaneous injections. They can conduct ECG and collect specimens under direct supervision of Registered Nurses. RNs on the other hand are required to finish Bachelor of Nursing.

Because RNs go through extended education and have in depth knowledge in clinical practice and theories, they can work in any areas and able to take care of any type of patients with more complex conditions, areas such as ICU, ER and Surgical Units.
In general, RPNs provide basic bedside care for patients such as obtaining vital signs, prepare and give injections with the direction of an RNs, assist patients with daily activities such as help with bathing, dressing, moving and feeding. Same as RNs, RPNs can work at specialized areas such as nursing homes, long term facilities and doctors offices.

RN’s and RPN’s salary depends on the area they work. Obviously, RN’s salary is higher than RPN’s, and in Ontario, Canada RN can start at $22 per hour to $35 per hour. Nurse Managers and NPs (Nurse Practitioners), who have Masters degree can earn higher salaries. RPN salary in Canada vary anywhere from $17 to $23.
1. RN requires Bachelor of Nursing whereas RPN requires 1-2 years of diploma.
2. RPN is directly supervised by RN as needed.
3. RN receives more salary than RPNs.
4. RN is able to care for patients who have more complex disease process and unstable. RPN provide basic bedside care for patients.
5. The scope of practise for both RN and RPN vary from country to country.

College of Nurses of Ontario: http://www.cno.org/en/become-a-nurse/

National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) : https://www.ncsbn.org/1623.htm

Nursing and Midwifery Counsel : http://www.nmc-uk.org/Nurses-and-midwives/

Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia : http://www.nursingmidwiferyboard.gov.au/Codes-Guidelines-Statements.aspx

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  1. Please look into the role of the RPN and RN. These roles are progressive with their scope of practice. The RPNs in Ontario for instance are able to care for PICC lines and give any medication. RPNs in Ontario are working in ER settings and within the ICU. The pay is significantly different however, change is currently underway and is being reconsidered with back pay. The College of Nurses no longer delegates “stable” clients to RPNs rather more complex clients to the RN.The scope of practice for the RPN is such that RPNs are capable and have the critical thinking needed for “unstable” clients. RPNs still reserve the skill and knowledge set for the three controlled acts set out by the CNO. A big difference and perhaps one of the few difference between the RN and the RPN in Ontario is that RNs deal with administration and over see RPNs clients as a whole. RPNs are Directors of Care in Ontario and unfortunately RNs are being laid off once again in Ontario because the RPN skills are as diverse and needed as RNs. I hope this clears up some confusion to any readers.

    • Kim, thankyou for giving a more current and less archaic view of the skill set of the rpn.
      The information on this web page is inaccurate and demeaning to the profession of the registered practical nurse.
      The current rpn program is equivalent to the old rn program. Many rn’s have not taken another course since their graduation day. If an individual is going to make a webpage, giving information, it should be thouroughly researched, before it is presented as gospel; which this information is far from being.

    • My wife is an RN and she is losing work to RPN’s because clinics want to take the cheap way out and hire a RPN instead of a RN.
      The way things are going is there will be no need for RN’s and all jobs will be taken by RPN’s. Someone has to stand up for RN’s rights…I’m going to write to my elected MP first and take it from there..
      And if any RPN’s are offended by this sorry but you should of just went to school to be an RN instead of taking jobs from RN’s that have went to University instead of community college.

      • I had a patient at my first clinical roation, and she asked me what the difference was between a RPN and a RN, as myself and my partner were attempting to explain (with little success) she stopped us and said it didnt matter. She said she had no clue who was RN and RPN and it didnt matter in the least to her, because everyone gave her the same quality of care. my only knowledge of the difference in ontario is in emergency the RPNs are rarely in what is considered the “red zone” other then that (which does have exceptions based on hospital regulations) rpns can go anywhere rns go. if you would like a bit more responsiblity, more pay and alot more paper work then RN is for you. just know coming from a student to other students who are reading this interested in the RN program that it requires ALOT more dedication, the RPN program is much more hands on (my learning style) and less theory based (uck!), i went through bscn (rn) my first year and did not find it to my taste and am now finishing my last year of RPN which i love. Do not assume RPN’s only work in retirement homes because it is not true(although they get alot of great responsibility there so dont hate it before you try it), if you would like to see the work difference look up job postings online and see which stand out to you more. I wish i had a site like this when i was in highschool trying to decide what type of nurse i wanted to be ;p 🙂 (also remember when the baby boomers who are close to retirement do finally need their spots filled both RN and RPN will be in demand and i doubt their will ever stop being a need for either as both roles develop into bigger and better things) i hope any students who see this wont be detered from on level or the other, as far as the patient is concerned we are nurses as a whole.


      • Most RN’s went to community college as well the RPN program now is the RN program in community college just a tidbit of info for you. BSCN is university and nurses with a degree are recognized as BSCN not RN. So saying a RPN is stealing jobs not a chance same patient care only difference is pay.

    • Thank you Kim,

      So much embarrassment in reading this article. We are all nurses. That being said, the RPN has been inadequately represented, in an insulting, and ignorant manner. The RPN scope is far broader and more indepth, especially as the years go on. Many RPNs achieved higher marks in highschool than their RN counterparts. As an NP, who started as an RPN, and worked my way up the ladder, I can say this: It is the individual person to be judged (if we are judging, for whatever reason), not their title (this is discrimination btw, to all the RNs bad-mouthing the RPNs…try to be professional). Their is no “hierarchy” (RPN<RN<NP<MP<Rocket-Gymnast). There is the individual, and how they do their job. In my experience, I have noticed that the "higher up the chain" you are in the convoluded bs of society, the increase in lack of integrity and performance is found in your work. Respect the RPN, as they worked harder, and care more genuinely, than any other nurses I have come across.

      Thank you Kim,

      A proud RPN (:

  2. Thank you Kim for shedding some light on the ridiculousness of this article. With the RPN scope of practice constantly growing, it is no surprise that there is a calling for more RPN’s in the healthcare industry. Even though there are still some areas of Southern Ontario that are light years behind this movement, I believe that eventually they too will become aware of all that the RPN has to offer. History shows us, there have been movements like this before leading to more profitable industries. As “G” has demonstrated above, with this movement there can be some angered employees who feel that their jobs may be in jeopardy. Being a nurse myself, I’ve been seeing the RN moving into more administrative, management, educational and such further advanced positions. Many of my colleagues are very excited for the new opportunities that are now open to them. Although we haven’t seen any job loss at my facility, rather less new RN hires for floor positions, I do understand why some may be worried. One must, however, remember that the healthcare industry is just that, an industry. An industry where efficiency, productivity, profitability, and innovation are key.

  3. Hey G, maybe the smart thing was for her to have become a RPN instead. She went to University, so she should have been smart enough to stop and think that something like this would happen, but dont ask me im just a dumb retard who when to college and became an RPN and have taken jobs from RN’s 😉 . This clarifies that shes an idiot.

    • Wow …..and you call yourself a professional ….speaks for itself

    • Please stop being disrespectful to all RN’s because one person made a comment you didn’t like. I am an RN working with RPN’s and I respect them, however I do NOT appreciate being called “stupid” because I decided to become an RN. We all make choices for personal reasons. Do not judge all of us this way.

  4. Hi, rather than balking at who should have the jobs and who should work harder to increase the pockets of the university morons who have set out to prove that the paper is too expensive for the average. why not look at the beginning when nurses were just that….nurses. No differences between levels or schooling. Like in the beginning with Florence Nightingale or even the grey nuns, these women worked too improve the comfort situations of soldiers and other people suffering with maladies, serious injuries and other complex syndromes. Even working along side doctors to help with the recovery of people from their various ordeals. So many look at the bottom line rather than what can be done to ease the overall suffering of their fellow man. If you wish to call me a bleeding heart go for it but I believe that as we progress in this “practice” we are all learning no matter if we are RPN’s, RN’s, or RNP’s, we all have something to offer.

  5. Kim, thank you for clarifying, or rather giving the correct information on the role of the RPN vs RN.

    I hate to hear people make comments like “RPN’s do all the dirty work, or can not administer medication” As a RPN (proud graduate of the the 2 yr diploma program) I get so offended when people say I have to work under direct “supervision” of a RN or they find a way to make it seem like their are “levels” in nursing and one is more superior than the other.

    I wish people would go to their state or provincial governing board website or simply call and get the right information before posting such ridiculous information. I worked hard for 2 yrs and 4 mths to become and RPN and still continue to educate myself in areas I might feel I need additional training or education. We are an autonomous profession and highly skilled NURSES!

  6. Whatever it is, the important is you served by heart.

  7. I just noticed that this article also fails to state that all RPN’s also have to pass a provincal exam after finishing their college diplomas (just like the RN’s have to do). And all nurses, regardless of what level they are, have to carry malpractice insurance, have to complete a self reflective practice every year, and pay the college of nurses the same amount of money to renew their linences. Most RN’s belong to ONA wich is a province wide union for RN’s. RPN’s however do not have their own union and are quite often put in the same union as the service workers at their facility giving them a not much support/recongition for what they do or the responsablilty they have/ quite often doesn’t allow the RPN’s to have a safe and fair work schedual/ and many times (depending on what area’s the RPN is working in, they have to take care of MORE patients (clients) then their RN counterparts who are making considerably more. May I also remind you that many of the RN’s in the workforce only have their diplomas and not their degrees. This means that they have 8 months more of a college level education then the new RPN’s. Well…that’s my two cents worth. It’s just really frustrating when the general public is not told correctly what RPN’s are and what they do. We are a criticle part of your healthcare team…and we deserve to be treated with the same respect that you would show an RN. Who knows?? Maybe you’ve been treated/looked after by an RPN and you didn’t even know it. YOUR WELCOME!

  8. To G: you are an ignorant prick. Why don’t you better educate yourself.. There are a lot of RN’s in Ontario that have graduated from a 3 year community college and they do not hold a bachelors degree. I work on a floor with 12 RNs and 4 RPNs, 10 of the RN’s have finished college and not university. Couple of my co-workers are RN’s who were internationally educated and in their country they became nurses after taking an extra year in secondary school. After a simple upgrading program in Ontario, they were granted their RN papers when in fact they have WAY less education than any of the RPNs who went to school here.
    Is it all fair? No, but that’s the way it is and bottom line is we are all nurses who work within our scope of practice.
    The RN program used to be only 2 semesters longer than the current RPN diploma. Also, what is wrong with having a college education??
    Obviously the university education hasn’t served you or your wife well.

  9. To whom it may concern: I happen to be an RPN and to the people who think Rpn’s are taking the place of an RN YOU ARE MISINFORMED!!, hospitals are the ones considering using the Rpn’s to their full scope of practice.Why? so they can hire more people in management positions.The government needs to step in and allocate Rpn/Rn ratio’s in different facilities.Furthermore the Rn’s that graduate with a degree should only be working in acute care where their skills will be better used.Too many new grad’s want to work in ltc so they can sit back and order the Rpn’s around!!! All that and have no problem taking almost twenty dollars more per hour! We do the same job, and with 23 years experience I can say I know more than the new grad Rn’s I preceptor.People think if they come to Canada just passing the Rn program is enough.Thank god some institutions still value experience! Next time you go to the hospital watch the RN’s and the Rpn’s, bet you can’t guess who’s who!!!!

  10. It all comes down to money. The RPNs are taught new skills and they are cheaper than RNs . So all though the college had made it seem that they were raising the bar for nursing, I doubt that that is what has occurred.
    The shortest RN program in Ontario ever, was 22 months , that is the equivalent of 3 college years. The current RPN course is 2 college years.
    The older RPNs do not have the background nursing knowledge that the RNs have . If you replace even some of your RNs with RPNs you get cheaper employees. Also at the same time you lower the qualifications of the profession of nursing as a whole. The employer is able to pay more of the work force less and nursing goes the way of teachers in the states to becoming an underpaid and undervalued profession.
    Just an opinion

  11. Let’s stop throwing mud, there is room for all of us, the nursing roles are changing and we all need to change as well. Change can be looked at as negative or positive, if we take it from a positive perspective we can grow not only as nurses but as people in general. When we stop growing and learning we become stagnant and sometimes get complacent and sloppy. So play nice, we need each other.

  12. Absolutely we need each other, but as an RN who’s been working for 35 yrs
    as an RN , I’m getting a little sick of hearing RPNs with a chip on their shoulder. It’s not a competition! RNs and RPNs do some of the same things
    but we are not the same. The college of Nurses of Ontario still requires that
    as a patients stability decreases the RPN must have an RN to available to consult and collaborate with and with very unstable patients the RN takes over. Those are the guidelines according to the CNO!

  13. I am an RPN and I see the frustration from both sides. RPN’s don’t feel appreciated because we aren’t included in the NURSING union even though we are nurses, and are thrown into the union with housekeeping and food service workers. Whenever nurses are recognized it’s always about the RN and the RPN doesn’t get mentioned. There was an article in the paper recently about an RPN who went back to get her RN after 20 years, and the title was “Woman finally a nurse at 55.” What? She was a nurse for 20 years!
    Our role is expanding, and we are doing many of the same things as the RN. We want to be appreciated too.

    However, i can see the frustrations of the RN as well. They went to school for 2 years longer, and do have more education on critical thinking among other things. That’s just a fact. I get pissed when I hear PSW’s say that they are basically nurses and do the same things as us….it’s kind of the same situation as that (I think there’s more of a gap there, but still – an example).

    I wish there was no hierarchy but I think that’s inevitable in any profession with different educational levels.

  14. wow,I agree..

  15. Hello everyone i want to do rpn i search so much on internent what i didn’t get satifactory answer aboy that how much the minimum or maximum salary or per hour rpn can get and how many work hour per week and job is full time or contact base

  16. Mr. G,
    you must be an iot to post this comment about you wife loosing jobs to RPNs. If your wife is loosing jobs, maybe she should look at herdelf a little closer, she may need to change something about her attitude. The mere fact that she is loosing to an RPN who went to college should tell you that attending college or university for nursing isn’t the reason to be negative to RPNs, it only goes to show that the key is knowledge.

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