The Caring Support Blog

RPN vs. RN - What are the differences?

February 11, 2021

Outside the nursing world, there is often confusion about what means what, who is who, and why there are different denominations or nurses. These concepts could be easy and crystal clear for people in the field, but for patients, students and even other healthcare workers, things are not as simple. So, this article is intended to help you understand, once and for all, the differences between a registered practical nurse (RPN) vs a registered nurse (RN).

Main Differences Between RPN and RN

According to the College of Nurses of Ontario (CNO), "the main difference between RNs and RPNs is foundational education. While RNs and RPNs study from the same body of nursing knowledge, RNs study for a longer period of time, allowing for a greater depth and breadth of foundational knowledge.

Furthermore, the CNO establishes that the nursing practice is "a broad profession constantly expanding its scope of practice" and in the near future, RNs will be permitted to prescribe medication and communicate diagnoses for the purpose of prescribing medication for certain non-complex conditions. This will set them more apart from RPNs, but the organization still believes that years of foundational education will continue to be the distinguishing difference between the two designations of nurses in Ontario.

Another relevant source, this time the Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario (RNAO), agrees that the differences between RPNs and RNs are training and education. "Because an RN’s education is more comprehensive, they have a deeper knowledge base to draw on in areas such as clinical practice, critical thinking, and research utilization. RNs can care for patients with more complex needs in unpredictable situations. An RPN’s education is less comprehensive and more focused, so RPNs’ careers are most appropriately suited to patients with less complex needs and patients with stable and predictable conditions."

prn vs rn

How to Identify an RPN from an RN

Since education is what sets RNs and RPNs apart, the easiest way to identify one nurse from another is by their academic credentials.

According to the RNAO, since 2005, RNs must have a baccalaureate degree from a collaborative college-university nursing program or a four-year university nursing program — both leading to a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree (BScN) or Bachelor of Nursing degree (BN). These nurses can also specialize in a field of their own choosing, like emergency care, neonatal, cardio, and others. On the other hand, the academic requirement for all RPNs in Ontario is to earn a diploma in Practical Nursing by taking a program consisting of four semesters over two years in a college program leading to a diploma in Practical Nursing.

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Another way to identify RPNs and RNs is by their place of work. RPNs commonly work in hospitals, schools, clinics, and the community to provide safe and general care to people of all ages. As previously stated, they usually treat patients whose condition is stable, predictable, or non-severe. RNs, in turn, provide care in healthcare settings such as hospitals, emergency crisis centres and ERs, clinics, etc. In these places, they treat patients with more complex health issues.

Job Opportunities for RPNs and RNs

Now that we have established the differences between a registered practical nurse (RPN) vs a registered nurse (RN), and we have determined the easiest way to identify who is who in healthcare settings, it's time for the good news: both RPN and RN can find employment on the Caring Support platform!

At Caring Support we work hard to partner with top healthcare employers that offer the best job opportunities in the healthcare field in Ontario and soon in the rest of Canada and North America. We have dozens of new roles on our job board that both registered practical nurses and registered nurses can apply to advance in their careers.

If you are a nurse working in Canada and you haven't already, sign up to our platform to create a FREE healthcare worker account. Once you've signed up and filled out your profile, you'll have access to numerous opportunities to develop your full potential in the nursing field. And if you are a nursing student getting ready to start your career, you can create an account too to explore future opportunities or practicums with the help of our platform and your school.

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