Students interested in becoming nurses should know that two main categories of professional nurses work in the medical field in the United States: registered nurses (RN) and practical nurses (PN), also known as vocational nurses. Although these nurses may have similar job descriptions and work in some of the same settings, RNs generally command higher salaries than PNs. This is due to the fact that becoming an RN requires more advanced education and training. These two types of nursing also have different competency exams for licensure. To become an RN, you must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN), whereas individuals interested in becoming vocational or practical nurses must earn a passing score on the NCLEX-PN.

Sitting for the NCLEX is a necessary step to licensure for any prospective nurse. Earning a passing score demonstrates to state licensing boards and employers that a nursing candidate has a thorough understanding of the fundamentals of nursing, including ethics, patient care, and medical procedures. Completion of the exam and subsequent licensing qualifies a nurse for employment in a variety of medical settings, such as hospitals, doctors offices, medical clinics, nursing homes, hospices, and home health services.


Individuals can take two different versions of the NCLEX exam: the NCLEX-RN and the NCLEX-PN. The NCLEX-RN is designed for nursing students who wish to become licensed as registered nurses in their state. Alternatively, the NCLEX-PN is for students who want to become practical or vocational nurses. There is considerable overlap between the content of the two exams, although the NCLEX-PN is typically considered to be less difficult.

To become a registered nurse, you first need to earn a professional nursing degree. This can be done by completing a diploma program at a hospital, a two-year associate program in nursing, or a four-year bachelor of science in nursing program. A registered nurse who completes their educational program and licensing requirements may choose to further their education by earning a BSN or MSN after their RN certification is complete.

A practical or vocational nurse generally has less educational and training experience than a registered nurse. PNs usually complete a year-long program that culminates in a nursing certificate. Both registered nurses and practical nurses find employment in an array of settings, although their responsibilities differ. RNs generally do more critical thinking on the job, complete more advanced duties, and hold a higher level of responsibility. Additionally, PNs often report to RNs.

While both of these occupations continue to experience job growth, there is a higher demand for registered nurses because these professionals can carry out a greater variety of tasks.

To learn more about the NCLEX exam visit

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