The primary differences between a registered nurse and a licensed practical nurse are required education, assigned responsibilities and salary. Licensed practical nurses must complete a certificate or diploma program, usually one year in length, while qualifying as a registered nurse requires a four-year bachelor's of science degree in nursing or an associate degree in nursing, two years in length. Registered nurses are involved in patient care at a higher level and receive higher pay than licensed practical nurses.
The responsibilities of the licensed practical nurse include checking and recording vital signs, such as blood pressure, heart rate and temperature; ensuring patient comfort by providing assistance with dressing and bathing; and administering basic patient care, such as changing dressings and inserting catheters. The duties of the registered nurse include administering medications, developing and coordinating care plans, performing diagnostic tests and assisting physicians in diagnoses. Registered nurses operate and monitor medical equipment, record medical histories and instruct patients regarding their illnesses or injuries and what to expect post-treatment. The duties assigned to the licensed practical nurse vary according to state regulations, and the responsibilities of the registered nurse may vary based on her place of employment and patient group, such as the elderly, children or those with traumatic injuries.
Both licensed and registered nurses must take and pass their respective National Council Licensure Exam prior to attaining state licensing. The median average salary for licensed practical nurses in May 2012 was $41,540 compared to a median annual salary of $65,470 for registered nurses, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2012, over 60 percent of registered nurses worked in hospitals, while 30 percent of practical nurses worked in skilled nursing facilities, 20 percent in hospitals and 12 percent in physicians' offices.