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Know Your Nursing: RPN vs RN Differences

October 23, 2023

If you ask anyone outside of the field of nursing, there's often a lot of confusion about what certain terms mean, who does which tasks, and why there are different denominations or nurses. These concepts could be crystal clear for people in the field, but for patients, students and even other healthcare workers, things are not as simple. For those who aren't familiar, RPN stands for Registered Practical Nurse, while RN stands for Registered Nurse. These are two distinct titles within the nursing profession, and both professions play a crucial role in patient care and healthcare settings.

In this article, we will discuss the key differences between a registered practical nurse (RPN) versus a registered nurse (RN). Find out what each of these nursing professions do, and which of these is better for you and your goals in the future.

What are the Main Differences Between RPN and RN?

According to the College of Nurses of Ontario (CNO), the best way to tell RNs and RPNs apart is the type of foundational education involved. While it's established that RNs and RPNs study from the same body of nursing knowledge, RNs typically study for a longer period of time, allowing for a greater depth and breadth of foundational knowledge.

Furthermore, the nursing practice is known to be a profession that doesn't limit its scope of practice and expands to different areas instead. In the near future, RNs are slated to both prescribe medication and make assessments and diagnoses for certain non-complex conditions. This will set them 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.

Meanwhile, 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."

rpn vs rn

Difference Between RPN and RN

Since it's been discussed above that 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, it's been established since 2005 that 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.

Another Way to Tell an RPN vs RN

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.

healthcare career

Job Opportunities for RPNs and RNs

There are myriad job opportunities for both Registered Practical Nurses (RPNs) and Registered Nurses (RNs). Both RPNs and RNs hold essential and crucial roles within the healthcare industry, and they have a wide range of job opportunities available to them. When it comes to where they work, RPNs often operate in various healthcare settings such as hospitals, long-term care facilities, and community clinics. They provide direct patient care under the supervision of RNs or physicians. They also administer medications, perform medical procedures, manage patient charts, and provide health education to patients and their families.

On the other hand, RNs possess advanced knowledge and skills that allow them to assume leadership positions within healthcare organizations. They can work in diverse specialties such as pediatrics, gerontology, critical care, or public health. RNs coordinate patient care plans, administer treatments independently, provide guidance to other healthcare professionals including RPNs or nursing assistants, and often serve as advocates for patients by promoting their rights and safety.

With further education and specialization options available, both nursing professionals can shape their careers according to their individual interests, aspirations, and the type of work environment they prefer, especially within the ever-evolving landscape of healthcare.

Find Your Dream Job in Healthcare with Caring Support

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. If you are a nursing student getting ready to start your career, you can create an account to explore future opportunities or practicums with the help of our platform and your school.

About The Author
Kate Piamonte
Content Writer

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