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Who Makes More Money: An LPN or RN?

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Licensed practical nurses and registered nurses are both vital members of the health care industry. LPNs, also called licensed vocational nurses in some states, provide basic patient care such as checking blood pressure, changing bandages, helping patients bathe or dress, and monitoring patients' conditions. To practice, they must complete an accredited postsecondary program that takes about a year, and be licensed in their respective states. RNs can obtain a certificate, an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree in nursing, and must also be licensed. As a result, registered nurses have a greater range of duties -- including performing diagnostic tests and consulting with physicians -- and tend to earn much higher salaries than LPNs.

LPN Average Salaries

The average salary for a licensed practical nurse in the United States was $42,400 a year as of May 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That's below the $45,790 annual wage earned by the average U.S. worker. The median wage for LPNs was $41,540 a year. The top 10 percent of earners made $57,360 or more, while the bottom 10 percent earned $30,970 or less.

RN Average Salaries

The BLS reports that registered nurses earned a mean annual wage of $67,930 in 2012. The median annual wage was $54,470. The top 10 percent of RNs earned $94,720 or more. The bottom 10 percent made $45,040 or less.

LPN Salary Variations

Skilled nursing care facilities employed the most LPNs in 2012 and paid an average of $43,570 a year. General medical and surgical hospitals ranked second in employment and paid an average of $41,330 a year. The highest wages by industry were paid by junior colleges, at an average of $49,320 a year. However, employment in this field was very low. Among the states, LPNs in Connecticut earned the highest average incomes at $53,460 a year. The second- and third-highest paying states were Nevada and Alaska, with average yearly wages of $52,850 and $52,480, respectively.

RN Salary Variations

The majority of RN jobs in 2012 were at general medical and surgical hospitals, which paid an average of $69,490 a year. Physicians' offices ranked second in employment and paid $62,120 a year on average. Registered nurses earned the highest average, $87,510 a year, in the wholesale electronic markets, agents and brokers industry. The second highest paying industry was transit and ground passenger transportation, which paid $82,330. California ranked first among the states in average pay for RNs, at $94,120 a year Hawaii placed second at $84,750, and Massachusetts rounded out the top three at an average of $83,370 a year.


Terri Williams began writing professionally in 1997, working with a large nonprofit organization. Her articles have appeared in various online publications including Yahoo, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report University Directory, and the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago. Williams has a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

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Thomas Northcut/Digital Vision/Getty Images