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Registered vs Vocational Nurse: The Differences Explained

A career in nursing is one of the most stable, well-paying, and rewarding professions one can choose. Nurses are always in demand, no matter where you live, and it gives you the freedom to choose among many different specialties and environments.

There are many ways to become a nurse. Finding the right one depends on your unique goals and life circumstances. It can be difficult to know where to start.

A good place is to determine if you should become a registered or vocational nurse. When choosing a career path, it is important to have all the information.

This article lays out the basic differences between these options. It will help you determine which is the best fit for your career goals.

Level of Education

One of the big differences between a vocational and a registered nurse is the level of education and training. A registered nurse (RN) generally needs at least an associate’s degree to gain certification.

vocational nurse (VN), sometimes called a “licensed vocational nurse” (LVN), usually completes a one-year practical nursing program. The length depends on the program and how much the student can take on at one time.

This shorter training period can be a huge advantage for some. If you are not able to go back to school full-time or would like to start your nursing career sooner, this is a big plus. It also will likely cost much less than an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.

Also, becoming a vocational nurse does not prohibit you from pursuing further education down the road, including as an RN. Starting out as a VN can be a good way to ease into the profession to see if it is a good fit.

Scope of Practice

Another main difference between an RN and a VN is the scope of tasks they can perform. RNs have a broader range of practice and can generally do more advanced tasks.

These include performing physical assessments and developing patient care plans. They also can manage other healthcare staff, including vocational nurses.

VNs can perform more basic tasks. These include taking vital signs and assisting patients with daily activities, like bathing or dressing. They can administer some medications as well.


A final major difference between RNs and VNs relates to licensing. While RNs can practice in all 50 states, VN licensing can vary among locations.

This does not mean that you cannot practice in another state where you were trained, but only that the tasks you are allowed to perform could differ. For instance, some states allow VNs to administer intravenous medications, while others do not.


As you might have expected, RNs earn slightly more than VNs. The average salary for an RN is more than $90,000 a year.

However, the average VN salary is very respectable as well. You can expect to earn $70,000 or more, depending on your location and the type of job you have. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the average VN salary to grow by 6 percent from 2021 to 2031, a sign that this is a lucrative career choice for the foreseeable future.

Learn More About Becoming a Registered or Vocational Nurse

Now that you understand the distinctions between a registered and a vocational nurse, you can determine which one is right for you. Weigh all the options, then decide which career in healthcare best fits your goals.

Healthcare Career College has been providing quality healthcare job training since 1990. Our mission is to transform students into successful professionals with a passion for helping others. If you are interested in nursing or other vocational jobs in California, reach out to us or book a free information session today.