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One of the major issues we have in caring for the elderly is understanding their unique needs. Each individual case has unique markers and each individual person has unique and specialized needs. Advancements in the medical field and overall health and wellness have ensured that people are living longer. In fact, current life expectancy remains on the rise, as it has for many years. With that trend, however, there are serious and significant changes in how we have to manage the health of the aging population.

In any given hospital or care center, there are many medical professionals of varying specialties and responsibilities dedicated to caring for elderly patients; however the two types of healthcare professionals families will interact with the most are licensed practical nurses (LPN) and licensed vocational nurses (LVN). Because these roles work so closely with the patients and their families, we are going to breakdown what a career as an LPN or LVN entails.

LPN: The Licensed Practical Nurse

Licensed practical nurses are what you would traditionally encounter in any hospital setting. According to, LPNs generally work under the authority of doctors and registered nurses, but they may be present for a myriad of different medical situations and scenarios. Often times, LPNs serve as the first line of defense when entering an emergency room setting and they are tasked with the most basic of medical care.

LPNs need to complete a nursing degree and have the practical knowledge necessary to perform basic medical triage. In many cases, LPNs may work in emergency rooms or general hospital wards as well as other healthcare settings. If you’ve entered a hospital triage center, one of the first people you talk to has likely been an LPN. Unless, of course, you are in California, where LVNs are utilized in these scenarios.

LVN: The Licensed Vocational Nurse

Now that you know what an LPN is, you are likely curious about what an LVN is, and how the two differ. The basic fact of the matter is there is very little difference other than the initials and the geographical location at which these terms are used. LVNs are generally found in California and other western states. Their distinction and responsibilities are not much different from those of LPNs, and they are licensed to work in the same settings that one would find an LPN.

LVNs, in California and Texas, can be found in emergency rooms, general hospital wards, nursing homes, and other care facilities. They may also be employed as visiting nurses who are tasked with the basic care and maintenance of patients inside their home. In the case of emergency, an LVN would be expected to call in other medical professionals to administer more specialized care.

Educational Differences

In short, there are no differences in what education, training and skill sets is required of LPNs and LVNs. According to the National Bureau of Labor Statistics, both nurses attend the same type of schooling and are required to complete the same number of practical hours before being licensed to work in a health care setting. Licensing for such nurses goes through the state board, so one who is licensed as an LVN in California, is not automatically licensed in, say, New York as an LPN.

With that being said, an LVN can apply for licensing in a different state with the practical hours and education they completed. Both licensed practical nurses and licensed vocational nurses have the option to complete further education to become registered nurses. This type of training requires more schooling and more practical setting hours, as well as new licensing.

The difference between licensed practical nurses and licensed vocational, and licensed registered nurses, are vast. Registered nurses are tasked with more high-end medical care, and can specialize in specific fields, if they choose. Registered nurses generally report directly to doctors, and they may be tasked with more sophisticated and complicated medical cases as they move through the healthcare system.

The Bottom Line

Because families are most concerned with their sick loved one, figuring out the subtle difference between the job titles can help families to better understand how you can help take some of the stress off their shoulders. It is important to task yourself with the proper information and knowledge as you move through the system and deal with the specialized needs of your specific patient. LVNs and LPNs can be hard to distinguish between because their roles, education and skills are essentially the same. The only thing that will really denote whether you wish to become an LVN or an LPN is where you are located.

A graduate gerontology degree, paired with your LVN or LPN experience, can prepare you to make an impact on the lives of older adults. Learn more about the Master of Arts in Gerontology online program at USC.



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