LPN-to-RN bridge programs give licensed practical nurses (LPNs) the additional training necessary to become a registered nurse (RN). An LPN -- known as a licensed vocational nurse (LVN) in California, Texas, and Vermont -- usually obtains a license after 1-2 years of training. As part of that process, students must pass the appropriate National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).
LPNs monitor and record vital signs, prepare and administer prescribed medications, dress wounds, and assist patients. They may work in long-term care facilities, hospitals, clinics, doctor's offices, or other medical settings. LPNs typically report to RNs or doctors and may assist with various procedures, but don't make patient-care decisions. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), LPNs earn a median annual salary of $46,240, though salary can vary depending on location, setting, and experience.
RNs supervise LPNs and can perform all the same duties; however, RNs also develop care plans, oversee patient admissions and discharges, perform life support procedures, and manage a facility or hospital floor. These supervisory and administrative capabilities require more education and can increase earning potential. RNs must earn either an associate degree or bachelor of science in nursing and must pass the NCLEX-RN, which typically takes 2-3 years. RNs earn a median annual salary of $71,730.
Types of LPN-to-RN Programs
LPNs seeking career advancement can enroll in LPN-to-RN (or LVN-to-RN) bridge programs, which can be taken in person or online. Both on-campus and online LPN-to-RN programs prepare students for RN licensure by completing an associate degree in nursing. These programs typically take two years, and their course load is not as strenuous as that of a more advanced degree. LPN-to-RN online programs are ideal for students who already work as nurses, as they can complete the coursework around their schedule.
An associate degree qualifies RNs for entry-level positions, and a bachelor's degree allows them to advance to supervisor or administrator roles. Many medical facilities are beginning to phase out RNs who only have an ADN, encouraging nurses to earn bachelor's degrees.
If a bachelor's degree lines up with your career goals, you can choose a program that leads to a bachelor of science in nursing. These LPN-to-BSN (or LVN-to-BSN) programs typically take four years from start to finish, though you can become an LPN and begin working as a nurse while still completing your BSN.
The coursework is more intensive than in an ADN program, but the BSN grants more career mobility. You can move into specialized roles, positions with greater responsibility, or staff management jobs, which come with higher salaries. Earning a BSN also allows you to pursue a master's in nursing, which opens advanced career opportunities.
Is an Online LPN-to-RN Program Right for Me?
It's worth comparing the typical job responsibilities, daily challenges, and career prospects of LPNs and RNs. Legally, LPNs must be supervised by RNs. Therefore, most routine patient care activities are performed by LPNs, including taking vital signs, dispensing medication, changing bedpans, dressing wounds, and assisting patients with feeding and dressing themselves. In settings like nursing homes, long-term care facilities, or hospitals, LPNs often work long shifts -- including nights, weekends, and holidays -- and spend much of that time on their feet.
Meanwhile, RNs perform mostly administrative tasks to manage these operations. They create work schedules for nursing staff and handle patient-facing duties that require more advanced medical expertise. An RN's additional education allows for greater opportunities for career advancement. RNs may also work in higher-paid specialized critical care areas, like operating rooms, intensive care units, emergency rooms, and labor and delivery wards.
LPN-to-RN bridge programs are designed to train current LPNs to pass the NCLEX-RN. Since students are already LPNs, they can pick up where they left off academically. Applicants usually have professional experience working as LPNs, and most students are currently employed.
LPN-to-RN online or in-person programs require the applicant to present proof of prior education in an accredited practical nursing program or a current practical or vocational nursing license from the relevant state. Applicants must also pass a criminal background check and drug screening, and must be in good standing.
Applicants may need to complete prerequisite courses before being admitted to an LPN-to-RN program. Most programs require test scores demonstrating proficiency in math and science. Some programs allow students to request academic credit for training or professional experience they received as an LPN.
Job and Salary Outlook for RNs
An RN with an associate degree typically out-earns LPNs but is limited to entry-level roles. To qualify for better-paying roles, including management positions, RNs need bachelor's degrees. Many nurses go on to earn MSNs, preparing them for even more advanced positions, including leadership and educator roles.
A pediatric nurse usually needs a BSN because their work requires specialized training. They work specifically with children, usually in pediatric ICUs or at children's hospitals.
Annual Mean Wage: $60,575
Office nurses are typically RNs with at least an ADN. They work in a doctor's office, taking vital signs and getting health information from patients, and may help doctors perform procedures.
Annual Mean Wage: $51,196
Since RN licensure varies by state, nurses should check with state licensing boards for their state's requirements. All aspiring RNs must graduate from an approved nursing program and pass the NCLEX-RN. License renewal requirements and fees vary by state, but most states expect RNs to renew their license every two years. Additionally, re-licensure usually includes continuing education and practice requirements. Some RNs are also required to pass a criminal background check.
In some states, nurses can apply for nurse licensure compact (NLC) -- one license that allows them to practice in any participating state. NLC nurses can cross state lines to practice or offer telehealth services to patients across the country without needing additional licenses. They can also easily cross state borders to deliver nursing care in times of crisis without having to wait for a state of emergency declaration. The NLC also expands healthcare services to underserved communities.
Some RNs earn additional certifications through professional associations specializing in areas like gerontology, pediatrics, or ambulatory care. These certifications help them find more specialized work, which often means higher pay.
What to Expect From an LPN-to-RN Online Program
How Long Does it Take to Complete a Program?
Most LPN-to-ADN bridge programs for RN licensure consist of 60-72 credits and take 12-18 months. Timing depends on how many credits you need when you begin and whether you attend full time. If you work full time, you may only be able to take classes part time. An LPN-to-RN online program is often more convenient for busy professionals.
A regular BSN usually takes 4-5 years when attending full time and consists of 120 credits. For an LPN-to-BSN, the number of credits you transfer will determine how many you take -- typically around 60 credits. An LPN-to-BSN bridge program takes about three years, though if you work full time while studying part time, a program can take 5-6 years.
Courses in an Online LPN-to-RN Program
LPN-to-RN online programs cover the additional material and field training LPNs need to pass the NCLEX-RN. Most courses can be completed online, but the required clinical hours must be completed in person at an approved facility. Here are some courses you might expect to find in an LPN-to-RN online curriculum.
Pharmacology focuses on how drugs affect human body systems. Nursing students need an in-depth knowledge of pharmacology and drug interactions so they understand how to prepare and administer medications for patients.
Mental Health Nursing
Mental health is a growing sector of medicine that requires highly trained nurses. This course covers common methods and best practices in mental health counseling and may require clinical hours in a mental health treatment facility.
This course is a must for nurses who wish to work in emergency or surgical departments, assisting in surgery or treating post-operative patients. During the course, students learn about the special requirements and protocols of the surgical environment.
This course covers the basics involved in managing other nurses, going beyond routine duties, and focusing on skills needed to supervise an effective nursing staff.
A clinical internship prepares nursing students for their future role as RNs. A nursing student needs substantial practical medical training in a professional environment under observation by experienced professionals.
While enrolled in an LPN-to-RN online program, you can complete most of your coursework at home; however, programs also require an in-person clinical internship to gain practical experience. The number of required clinical hours required varies by program, but ranges from 200-500 hours. It is helpful to intern at a facility that is close to home; schools should have networks to help connect you with appropriate nearby facilities.
Career Advancement Options for CNAs
There are plenty of options for nurses seeking career advancement. A common strategy is to pursue higher education through online programs. For example, earning a master of science degree in nursing allows nurses to take on roles with greater clinical responsibility.
Similarly, online RN-to-MSN programs help RNs already working in the field earn new credentials faster. In these programs, nurses can also acquire specialty skills for roles like nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, or nurse anesthetist. For those interested in the highest level of nursing education, there are also online doctor of nursing practice (DNP) programs, which focus on research that helps advance the field of nursing.
Accredited Online LPN-to-RN Programs
As you research LPN-to-RN online programs, it is important to verify accreditation. To become accredited, schools must pass evaluation by experts from recognized accreditation organizations. Graduating from an accredited program ensures that you received an education that meets academic standards and prepares you for a career. This proves your qualifications to future employers, governmental licensing agencies, and other schools where you might pursue another degree.
Schools can earn two types of accreditation: regional and national. Regional accreditation is the most prestigious and usually goes to qualifying nonprofit colleges and universities. National accreditation typically applies to for-profit institutions and trade schools.
Individual programs may also receive accreditation from specialty organizations in their field of study. The two main accreditation organizations for nursing programs are the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). Be sure any LPN-to-RN online program you consider is accredited by one of these organizations.
Online LPN-to-RN Programs