Licensed vocational nurses, or licensed practical nurses as they're known in most states, provide hands-on nursing care in a variety of health care settings. It can become a full and satisfying career in its own right, but some LVNs prefer to upgrade their training and become registered nurses. It takes a minimum of one year to transition from LVN to RN, though many programs take longer.
LVN to RN
The minimum standard for registered nurses is graduation from an accredited associate degree program. This typically takes two years to complete, and includes nursing-oriented science courses as well as the practical details and ethical commitments of the profession. Associate degree programs also include hands-on supervised practice in a clinical setting. The first year of an associate degree program corresponds closely to an LVN's one year of training, so upgrade or "bridge" programs build on that foundation. They typically take one year to complete, and provide the remaining course work to educate an LVN to the associate degree level. Programs are often available on a distance or part-time basis for working LVNs.
LVN to BSN
Although it's possible to become an RN with just a two-year degree, nurses with a bachelor's degree enjoy more career potential. Schools with bachelor's degrees in nursing often offer similar bridge programs for ambitious LVNs or LPNs. Again, eligible course work from the LVN's year of training is counted against the number of credits needed for the degree. These programs typically take three years to complete, though some schools offer accelerated programs for nurses who'd prefer a shorter, more intense course of instruction. Bachelor's degree programs include more course work oriented around leadership and administration, and provide better preparation for supervisory positions.
RN to BSN
For some working nurses, allocating time and tuition money for the three-year upgrade to a B.S. in nursing can be problematic. Taking the process in stages provides a third upgrade path. In this approach, the LVN upgrades to RN through an associate degree bridge program. This provides a raise to RN wages, which can help pay the costs of the next upgrade to a bachelor's degree. Many nursing schools offer accelerated or part-time programs for associate-degreed RNs wanting to earn their BSN, helping make it a more practical option. Some schools even offer integrated programs, training LVNs or LPNs and then upgrading them in stages to a BSN.
Further Career Growth
After graduating from an associate or bachelor's degree program each newly-trained RN must pass the National Council Licensure Exam for Registered Nurses, or NCLEX-RN, then get licensed by their state's board of nursing. From that point, a full range of RN career options is available to the former LVN. Many earn additional certifications in areas such as obstetrics, palliative care or perioperative care. Others can go on to earn graduate degrees and become advanced practice nurses, such as anesthetists or nurse practitioners. Employment prospects are excellent, on any career path. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 26 percent job growth for registered nurses by the year 2020.