View Full Version : Abbreviations / Acronyms

03-28-2008, 11:25 AM
Having just read a thread on whether someone should become an LPN or RN it occurs to me that it would be a good idea to have a place where we can describe what these things all mean. This site is a place for nurses across the world and as such we sometimes use different terminology from each other. Now while I know what an RN is (I am one) perhaps we could kick off by someone telling me what an LPN is?

If we get enough interest in this thread, I'll make it sticky so that it stays at the top of the Topic.

03-28-2008, 12:31 PM
LPN = Licensed Practical Nurse
LVN = Licensed Vocational Nurse

My understanding is that the two are in fact the same thing, but have different names in different parts of the US (no idea what the international thought/equivalent is).

The scope of LVN vs RN is given in detail (for CA at least) at

The big distinction that I understand is that although many of the task or skill activities may be performed by either LVN or RN, the assessment and analysis type of things are not in the scope of the LVN.

Note: this is different from saying LVNs can't make good decisions. I speak only to the scope of practice defined. There are many LVNs I'd rather have caring for me than RNs I have little professional respect for.

03-28-2008, 02:52 PM
My understanding is that the two are in fact the same thing, but have different names in different parts of the US (no idea what the international thought/equivalent is).

Thanks Markie, in the UK this would be a Health Care Assistant (HCA). Though at present HCA's are not licensed and are at all times under the direction of a RN.

03-28-2008, 04:41 PM
Thanks Markie, in the UK this would be a Health Care Assistant (HCA). Though at present HCA's are not licensed and are at all times under the direction of a RN.

Julie, while I didn't look at what a Health Care Assistant is, it sounds more like what we call Certified Nurses' Aids (CNA).

One thing to note, is that LPN/LVNs are sometimes in positions that technically are RN level -- I know in rural Oregon, there are LPNs who are case managers in some hospices b/c there are no RNs available to hire.

CNAs get a very limited course of training, and then can take a test to be certified. LPNs have a 1-year educational program and take a version of the NCLEX, the same testing program that RNs take.

I found this site ( to have pretty good definitions:

Nursing aides, also known as nursing assistants, geriatric aides, unlicensed assistive personnel, or hospital attendants, perform routine tasks under the supervision of nursing and medical staff. They answer patients’ call bells, deliver messages, serve meals, make beds, and help patients eat, dress, and bathe. Aides may also provide skin care to patients; take temperatures, pulse, respiration, and blood pressure; and help patients get in and out of bed and walk. They may also escort patients to operating and examining rooms, keep patients’ rooms neat, set up equipment, or store and move supplies. Aides observe patients’ physical, mental, and emotional conditions and report any change to the nursing or medical staff.

Nursing aides employed in nursing homes are often the principal caregivers, having far more contact with residents than other members of the staff. Since some residents may stay in a nursing home for months or even years, aides develop ongoing relationships with them and interact with them in a positive, caring way.

Psychiatric aides are also known as mental health assistants and psychiatric nursing assistants. They care for mentally impaired or emotionally disturbed individuals. They work under a team that may include psychiatrists, psychologists, psychiatric nurses, social workers, and therapists. In addition to helping patients dress, bathe, groom, and eat, psychiatric aides socialize with them and lead them in educational and recreational activities. Psychiatric aides may play games such as cards with the patients, watch television with them, or participate in group activities such as sports or field trips. They observe patients and report any physical or behavioral signs which might be important for the professional staff to know. They accompany patients to and from wards for examination and treatment. Because they have the closest contact with patients, psychiatric aides have a great deal of influence on their outlook and treatment.


Licensed practical nurses (LPNs), or licensed vocational nurses as they are called in Texas and California, care for the sick, injured, convalescent, and disabled under the direction of physicians and registered nurses.

Most LPNs provide basic bedside care. They take vital signs such as temperature, blood pressure, pulse, and respiration. They also treat bedsores, prepare and give injections and enemas, apply dressings, give alcohol rubs and massages, apply ice packs and hot water bottles, and insert catheters. LPNs observe patients and report adverse reactions to medications or treatments. They collect samples from patients for testing, perform routine laboratory tests, feed them, and record food and liquid intake and output. They help patients with bathing, dressing, and personal hygiene, keep them comfortable, and care for their emotional needs. In States where the law allows, they may administer prescribed medicines or start intravenous fluids. Some LPNs help deliver, care for, and feed infants. Some experienced L.P.N.s supervise nursing assistants and aides.

L.P.N.s in nursing homes, in addition to providing routine bedside care, may also help evaluate residents’ needs, develop care plans, and supervise the care provided by nursing aides. In doctors’ offices and clinics, they may also make appointments, keep records, and perform other clerical duties. L.P.N.s who work in private homes may also prepare meals and teach family members simple nursing tasks.


Registered nurses (RNs) work to promote health, prevent disease, and help patients cope with illness. They are advocates and health educators for patients, families, and communities. When providing direct patient care, they observe, assess, and record symptoms, reactions, and progress; assist physicians during treatments and examinations; administer medications; and assist in convalescence and rehabilitation. RNs also develop and manage nursing care plans; instruct patients and their families in proper care; and help individuals and groups take steps to improve or maintain their health. While State laws govern the tasks RNs may perform, it is usually the work setting, which determines their day-to-day job duties.

Hospital nurses form the largest group of nurses. Most are staff nurses, who provide bedside nursing care and carry out medical regimens. They may also supervise licensed practical nurses and aides. Hospital nurses usually are assigned to one area such as surgery, maternity, pediatrics, emergency room, intensive care, or treatment of cancer patients. Some may rotate among departments.

Office nurses care for outpatients in physicians’ offices, clinics, surgicenters, and emergency medical centers. They prepare patients for and assist with examinations, administer injections and medications, dress wounds and incisions, assist with minor surgery, and maintain records. Some also perform routine laboratory and office work.

Nursing home nurses manage nursing care for residents with conditions ranging from a fracture to Alzheimer's disease. Although they usually spend most of their time on administrative and supervisory tasks, RNs also assess residents’ medical condition, develop treatment plans, supervise licensed practical nurses and nursing aides, and perform difficult procedures such as starting intravenous fluids. They also work in specialty-care departments, such as long-term rehabilitation units for strokes and head-injuries.

Home health nurses provide periodic services, prescribed by a physician, to patients at home. After assessing patients’ home environments, they care for and instruct patients and their families. Home health nurses care for a broad range of patients, such as those recovering from illnesses and accidents, cancer, and child birth. They must be able to work independently and may supervise home health aides.

Public health nurses work in government and private agencies and clinics, schools, retirement communities and other community settings. They focus on populations, working with individuals, groups, and families to improve the overall health of communities. They also work as partners with communities to plan and implement programs. Public health nurses instruct individuals, families, and other groups in health education, disease prevention, nutrition, and child care. They arrange for immunizations, blood pressure testing, and other health screening. These nurses also work with community leaders, teachers, parents, and physicians in community health education.

Occupational health or industrial nurses provide nursing care at worksites to employees, customers, and others with minor injuries and illnesses. They provide emergency care, prepare accident reports, and arrange for further care if necessary. They also offer health counseling, assist with health examinations and inoculations, and assess work environments to identify potential health or safety problems.

Head nurses or nurse supervisors direct nursing activities. They plan work schedules and assign duties to nurses and aides, provide or arrange for training, and visit patients to observe nurses and to insure that care is proper. They may also insure records are maintained and equipment and supplies are ordered.

At the advanced level, nurse practitioners provide basic primary health care. They diagnose and treat common acute illnesses and injuries. Nurse practitioners can prescribe medications in all States and the District of Columbia. Other advanced practice nurses include clinical nurse specialists, certified registered nurse anesthetists, and certified nurse-midwives. Advanced practice nurses have met higher educational and clinical practice requirements beyond the basic nursing education and licensing required of all RNs.

03-29-2008, 05:33 AM
Thanks for that comprehensive description Marachne. I think having read through that LPN's are very much like our Enrolled Nurses who were registered (licensed) and who did a shorter training than RNs and who did much more practical work. They have been phased out over the last few years with many now having 'converted' to RN. Trouble is it has led to a massive void, with the gap being filled by HCAs who in some instances have been expected to do things that should have been done by a nurse.

03-29-2008, 02:04 PM
Glad to help. Sorry to be so long winded, but sometimes it's easier than using links.

LPNs are still around in US, but their use is becoming, I think, a lot more circumscribed.

08-04-2008, 02:31 AM
New zealand has
Registered Nurse; depending when they trained they may be hospital trained (no longer trained this way), diploma (again no longer able to train at this level), or degree (3 yr Bachelor of Nursing all registered nurses are currently trained at this level).
Enrolled nurse; shorter training (couple of lengths)with less extensive scope of practice to work under RN supervision, able to give oral meds but must have an RN second check them. training at this level no longer available hasn't been for some years.
Nurse assistant; new training course started 2003 or 2004, a 1 yr course to reintroduce a asecond level nurse originaly to be called enrolled nurse like the old course it replaces but it's a shorter course, its' scope of practice differs and they aren't intended to work in acute care. the name was changed to nurse assistant by our nursing council after the course started leading to much grief, disetion and discussion.
Nurse aide; unlicenced assistant some have a simple training but it is not required.
a list of scopes of practices may be available through NZ nursing council web site
hope this is helpful to someone

08-05-2008, 10:56 AM
Wow, this is good to know. I never realised each 'title' has so many different versions around the world. Great info to have on hand!

Mr Ian
08-11-2008, 10:11 AM
US has long had degree trained nurses and this is where the differences stem from I think.
RN is uni - LPN is not.
This is same in AUS/NZ:
RN uni - EN college or TAFE (Further Ed)
RN (UK) is now all uni - but EN's have gone which was stupid move.
Now tho we have HCAs who are either aides - or have undergone NVQ level II or III (vocational) training in health care and are slightly under the competence of EN (ie can't do drugs but do just about everything else including vitals; simple dressings; neurosurgery.... or is that NVQ-IV?) but are not able to get onto the NMC (nursing & midwifery council - UK) roll/register.

The issue with UK and NVQ is that when they started the whole thing the (then) UKCC (now NMC) wanted all RNs to be considered as level V (5 - five) but the academics said no, as they didn't meet the knowledge/skills/attitudes in their professional activity (research driven practice; autonomy; etc) and said they would give them a III or IV. So the UKCC said - well go screw yourselves then and, since they are not part of the NVQ process, refused to accept NVQ of any level onto the register/roll. So we now have a good system for training vocational nurses much like ENs were - yet no acceptance for them to become licensed (enrolled) in any way on the NMC roll.

So now - NVQ lead bodies in health and NMC are avowed enemies until eternity disappears up it's own rectum - or someone grows up and resolves the issue.

[That was a bit off topic, sorry.]

Now back to abbreviations and acronyms....

03-03-2009, 04:47 AM
WOW!!! I didn't know that CNA,LPN,and RN means differnt around the world. I thought it means the same that it means in the USA. Thank you for that information. That is intersting. :)

03-03-2009, 12:33 PM
Even within the RN scope there are some differing delegations-though it doesn't really effect the work you do.
In Canada the majority of RN's being trained now are BScN-meaning they went to university and got their Nursing degree. They got rid of hospital diploma programs a while back but are slowly realizing that having a university only program available severly limits the amount of nurses coming out and being able to work. Hopefully they'll bring back the hospital based diploma program but its a shot in the dark at the moment I think.

As I understand it in the States you can go a couple of routes to becoming an RN, the University way (BScN) which seems to be preferred as you have a wider choice of options without doing huge amounts of upgrading (unless you want to), the ADN (Associates degree)-which seems more limited scope and then diploma nursing (though I'm not sure this is still an active realm of nursing just like in Canada)