Practical Nursing vs. Associate Degree in Nursing: Which Is Right for You?

For anyone passionate about pursuing a career in nursing, deciding between a practical nursing program and an associate degree in nursing can seem daunting. This post will compare the two options, highlighting the differences in education, job responsibilities, and career prospects. Understanding these distinctions can help aspiring nurses make informed decisions about which path best suits their goals and aspirations.

Education and Training: Practical Nursing vs. Associate Degree in Nursing

When it comes to pursuing a career in nursing, one of the first decisions you’ll need to make is whether to enroll in a practical nursing (PN) or an associate degree in nursing (ADN) program. Both options can lead to becoming a licensed nurse, but they have some key differences in terms of education and training.

Practical Nursing

Practical nursing programs can be completed in about one year and are offered by vocational schools and community colleges. These programs focus on providing students with the essential knowledge and skills required for entry-level nursing positions.

The curriculum in a practical nursing program covers fundamental nursing concepts, basic medical procedures, pharmacology, anatomy and physiology, and patient care techniques. Students get hands-on experience through internships and clinical rotations in various healthcare settings.

After completing a practical nursing program, graduates are eligible to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN). Depending on the state, this results in becoming a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or a licensed vocational nurse (LVN).

Associate Degree in Nursing

On the other hand, an associate degree in nursing (ADN) program runs for two years, and is also usually offered by a community college or university. ADN programs provide a more comprehensive education that combines nursing coursework with general education requirements.

The coursework in an ADN program covers a broader range of subjects, including nursing theory, medical-surgical nursing, pediatric nursing, obstetric nursing, mental health nursing, and community health nursing. These students also gain hands-on experience in various healthcare environments.

Upon completing an ADN program, graduates can go on to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) to become a registered nurse (RN). An ADN program is the fastest way to become an RN, compared to the BSN, which is a longer and more expensive program. 

Job Responsibilities: Contrasting Roles and Scope of Practice

The job scopes and responsibilities of Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) and Associate Degree Nurses (ADNs) differ due to differences in their education, training, and licensure.

LPNs have a more limited job scope compared to ADNs. LPNs typically perform basic nursing duties, such as collecting medical histories and monitoring patient vital signs. They are also responsible for documenting patient care and communicating with doctors and RNs. In contrast, ADNs have a broader scope of practice and work independently more frequently than LPNs. ADNs can perform complex assessments, develop care plans, and administer some medications.

Career Advancement and Opportunities: Exploring Future Paths

LPNs and ADNs have different career opportunities and growth due to differences in their job scopes and responsibilities, education, and licensure requirements. 

LPNs typically work in acute care settings such as hospitals, nursing homes, and clinics. Nursing and residential care facilities are the most common work setting for LPNs, accounting for more than a third of LPN employers. ADNs have more diverse career opportunities that include acute care settings, as well as community health and wellness programs, administrative management positions, and research facilities.

Where do LPNs work?, Image Source

LPNs, despite having a more limited scope of work, can also specialize in different areas of healthcare, such as pediatrics, gerontology, long-term care, and surgery with on-the-job training. This diversity of options has led to unemployment rates being kept relatively low over the past decade, dropping to 3.1% in 2021

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ADNs have the potential for career advancement through obtaining additional education and certifications to become an RN. Once they become a registered nurse, they have a broader scope of practice than LPNs and can work in many different healthcare settings, including hospitals, clinics, and laboratories. 

Which Path Is Right for You?

When comparing practical nursing and an associate degree in nursing, the choice ultimately comes down to personal circumstances and goals. For individuals seeking a quicker entry into the nursing field and who are willing to work under the supervision of other nurses, practical nursing can be a viable option. 

On the other hand, for those who desire a more comprehensive education and increased career opportunities, pursuing an associate degree in nursing is the recommended path. It’s important to carefully consider factors such as time commitment, financial resources, and long-term career prospects. 

Ultimately, both programs offer valuable opportunities for a successful career where you can make a meaningful difference in patients’ lives.

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