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LVN vs. BSN: Explore Key Differences in These Nursing Roles


Does the rapidly growing field of nursing excite you? Are you encouraged by the prospect of helping others? There are many ways to enter this field, including opportunities to advance your education and move up in the healthcare industry, which can allow you to work in specialized practice or take on managerial responsibilities. Aspiring healthcare providers can pursue the entry-level position of licensed vocational nurse (LVN) — or licensed practical nurse (LPN) in some states — after as few as two years of preparation. Alternatively, many registered nurses (RNs) hold a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (or BSN), which, like most undergraduate degrees, takes three to four years to complete.


If you’re interested in pursuing a career in nursing, a close consideration of the LVN vs. BSN as a degree will uncover many differences pertaining to the roles and requirements. There is also plenty of overlap between the two, with the core principles of compassion and competent medical care at the center of each.

LVN Overview

LVNs work in a wide range of professional settings, such as hospitals, clinics, extended care facilities, and private practices. Typically, aspiring LVNs must complete an approved training course, which can take as little as a year to complete — a major difference between LVNs and BSNs. Next, they must take a state-issued certification test. The LVN curriculum and examination vary from state to state. Like most jobs in healthcare, opportunities for LVNs will likely climb in the coming years, with 12% growth between 2016 and 2026 projected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

What Do LVN Graduates Do?

LVNs give basic care to patients in a variety of settings. For example, they might take the temperature, pulse, and blood pressure of incoming patients. They may also prepare and administer injections, apply dressings to wounds, and monitor blood transfusions. LVNs always work under RNs and doctors in their offices, and their responsibilities don’t often extend beyond these basic procedures. The LVN is often one of the first points of contact a patient has at the doctor’s office. As such, LVNs benefit from possessing good communication and listening skills to put their clients at ease.

Types of careers:

  • Licensed vocational nurse (LVN): LVNs provide basic care. Their responsibilities include taking vital signs, reading blood pressure, and measuring weight and height.
  • Licensed practical nurse (LPN): An LPN is essentially the same as an LVN; the terms LPN and LVN vary from state to state. The core responsibilities of an LPN are the same as an LVN’s.

BSN Overview

A Bachelor of Science in Nursing offers aspiring nurses a foundational education that explores core courses, such as English and math, while emphasizing the skills and knowledge that nurses need for success on the job. Like most bachelor’s degrees, a BSN typically takes four years to complete. Since nursing relies a great deal on experience working with patients, these programs commonly feature both a classroom component and clinical work. Courses cover medical ethics, management, healthcare systems, and physiology. When looking at a BSN vs. an LVN certification, the difference often comes down to time, cost, and professional aspirations, as a BSN may offer more opportunities after graduation.

What Do BSN Graduates Do?

The BSN degree is one path for students  to become registered nurses (RNs). These professionals have many responsibilities and enjoy job stability. RNs have a more expansive role than LVNs. RNs are responsible for coordinating many aspects of patient care, as well as delivering essential information to individuals and their families — and even to the public through education and outreach programs. RNs are often most people’s direct route to healthcare and health counseling. Many students find a BSN desirable because graduates can easily build upon this education with certifications, specialized training, or advanced degrees. With a BSN, RNs can go on to pursue leadership, managerial, and nurse practitioner roles.

  • Registered nurse: RNs are responsible for setting up, coordinating, and providing patient care. They educate patients on their options and often monitor health outcomes.
  • Health educator: Health educators teach the public about behaviors that can improve their health outcomes. They might promote exercise and diet, sexual health and safety, and smoking cessation, for example.
  • Case manager: Case managers develop, implement, and monitor individual health plans based on each patient’s needs.
  • Public health nurse: Public health nurses are educators who address public health issues and improve community access to healthcare.
  • Critical care nurse: Critical care nurses work in hospital intensive care units with patients who have life-threatening illnesses or injuries.

Similarities Between LVN and BSN

LVN and BSN graduates have similar objectives: helping others, working in a healthcare environment, and being a direct point of contact with patients. Both LVNs and those with a BSN often find work in hospitals, clinics, or private practices, where they conduct intake assessments that include checking vitals and guiding patients through paperwork and initial assessment questions. LVNs and those with a BSN working as an RN must possess some similar qualities, such as good listening and communication skills, which are helpful when they need to obtain accurate information and put patients at ease in an often stressful environment. Both LVN and BSN graduates who would like to go on to become RNs must pass state-sponsored exams to earn a license.

Differences Between LVN and BSN

While BSN graduates and LVNs share many things in common, such as work environment, basic skills, and the responsibility for simple procedures, there are many differences between LVN and BSN graduates as well. While tangential to one another, the differences in the education requirements, daily responsibilities, and growth potential of LVNs and BSNs are worth considering.

Education Requirements

Generally, the coursework, timelines, and demands of BSN students are more exhaustive than those for students who pursue an LVN certification. A BSN is a four-year degree that requires students to complete courses in core undergraduate disciplines, such as math and English, as well as a foundational curriculum in nursing. Nursing courses often include biology, physiology, and medical ethics. Later on in a BSN program, students may tailor courses to suit their particular interests and choose a specialization, such as gerontology, public health, or critical care. LVNs have more limited responsibilities in their organizations, so they often complete academic programs of 12 to 18 months that address similar topics as in a BSN but with a more limited scope.

Daily Work

A key difference between LVN and BSN holders is the nature of their daily routines. While they often work in similar environments, LVNs are always supervised by an RN or doctor. In contrast, BSN graduates who become RNs have much more autonomy in the workplace. They can perform more in-depth procedures, give advice, and make medical decisions for patients in their care.

Growth Potential

As RNs start out on their career paths, they typically earn a higher salary than LVNs. This is commensurate with their experience and more expansive education. According to the latest statistics from the BLS, the median LVN salary is $46,240 annually, while an RN’s median salary is $71,730. In addition to being better compensated, RNs typically have more options to advance their education and grow within the healthcare system. Many LVNs find it worthwhile to earn a BSN to boost their income and pursue more opportunities.

LVN vs. BSN: Which Is Right for You?

Healthcare is a booming field that offers more and more possibilities for nurses. Whatever role you choose to pursue, there are many opportunities to build upon your expertise and knowledge to more effectively help those in need, earn a better salary, and take on greater responsibility in a field that needs leaders. Taking a step to broaden the scope of your work and potential through the RN to BSN online at Maryville University can offer personal and professional growth. Discover more about this degree program, its flexibility, and how it can further your career in nursing.


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