A certified nursing assistant (CNA) is an entry-level position responsible for basic patient care and supervised by LPNs. A licensed practical nurse (LPN) takes on more specialized duties and is supervised by the next link in the hierarchy, a resident nurse (RN).
If you’re thinking about entering the field of health care, you should know the differences between a CNA and LPN, from education requirements to salary to on-the-job duties that come with each profession.
One thing to know right away is that becoming an LPN is a slightly more arduous process than a CNA’s due to the more rigorous educational requirements.
CNA programs normally last anywhere from one to three months, although you can take certain steps to shorten that time frame.
These programs include a required number of hours for both classroom work and real-life training, as defined by the state in which you live. You also need to have a simple high school diploma, undergo a background check and pass an official certification exam, among other potential requirements to start working.
Classes are usually offered at a variety of local venues, including community colleges, vocational schools, medical centers and beyond. This can also include a mix of in-person and online classroom formats.
One reason becoming a CNA is so popular is due to the flexibility of schooling. Thanks to the rise in online courses, you get the opportunity to design your lesson plan around your schedule, adjusting the time frame as it works for you.
An LPN educational program, on the other hand, takes a more in-depth approach to learning patient care. Normally, students attend school for one to two years, with a combination of training both in the class and on the job. While a CNAs coursework includes more basic lesson plans – human anatomy, basic care, patient rights, hygiene, nutrition, and more – an LPNs coursework is much more detailed. For example, you may see subjects like medication administration, pathophysiology, ethical and legal care standards, and other specializations.
LPN programs can also be found at many community colleges and vocational schools, as well as more traditional universities. Once a program is completed, an LPN needs to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN) in order to work.
If you are a CNA who wishes to become an LPN, one of the quickest ways to do so is to enroll in a CNA to LPN bridge program, which provides those with experience an accelerated path to advance a step higher in the nursing world. With this, you can expect the program to last anywhere from nine to 18 months.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2019 CNAs earned a median annual salary of $29,640 while LPNs earned a median salary of $47,480.
However, keep in mind that the education of LPN is more expensive, so factor that in when determining if the move is worth it. It costs, on average, $10,000 – 15,000 to go through an LPN program versus $1,000 – $3,000 for a CNA program.
The job outlook of a CNA is also positive, and in high demand thanks to an aging population. Plus, with a projected job market growth estimated at eight percent according to the BLS, you can feel secure knowing that the future of the profession remains steady.
A future as an LPN also looks good, with job market growth estimated at nine percent over the next 10 years.
Job Duties & Responsibilities
While each type of nurse is involved in facilitating care to a diverse range of patients, the specific job duties of a CNA vs. LPN, and what each one can and cannot do, are clearly defined.
Typically, CNAs work in mental health facilities, nursing homes, hospice care, private home settings, and sometimes hospitals and medical centers. LPNs are often found in the same places, but are also more common in clinical settings like emergency rooms, physician centers and urgent care.
Unlike LPNs, however, CNAs are not officially considered “nurses”. According to the American Nurses Association (ANA), “A nurse is a person who has completed required education, clinical training, has successfully passed a national examination and is licensed in the state in which they practice. A licensed nurse is a Licensed Vocational (or Practical) Nurse or a Registered Nurse.”
Since CNAs operate under the direct supervision of LPNs or RNs, they are considered assistants to nurses and cannot be legally held responsible for the medical care of patients. But, that doesn’t mean they don’t provide crucial support to the medical staff, including doctors.
As a CNA, you can expect to perform some of the following duties while helping patients:
- Managing basic hygiene
- Facilitating day-to-day exercise
- Monitoring vital signs
- Feeding meals and water
- Providing comfort
- Communicating expectations with patient and family
In contrast, LPN’s duties are more complex, thus more risky for the patient. In order to deliver safe care, an LPN is supplied with more in-depth training during their educational program and training, where they learn to do the following things:
- Administer medication
- Craft and manage patient care plans
- Obtain vital signs
- Conduct patient interviews, record medical history
- Collect samples
CNA Vs. LPN: Final Thoughts
Overall, it’s up to you on whether to become a CNA or an LPN. Either provides a rewarding and stable career path, though there are a few things to consider before taking the plunge into either option. Ask yourself a few things:
What’s your ideal timeline? If you want to jump into the medical field quickly, attending a CNA program is the quickest way. If you’ve got a year or more to spare, then becoming an LPN is a feasible choice.
What’s your available budget (or financing) for education? At the end of the day, it may come down to how much you can or want to spend on your education. If you’re comfortable with financing, there are loan opportunities everywhere. Otherwise, saving up a few thousand dollars for a basic CNA certification is an achievable goal for many.
What’s your desired salary and career goals? Look into the future – if you see yourself with an impressive job title and comfortable salary, either a CNA or LPN is a great place to start.
And finally, if you’re not completely sure on which route to take, consider that becoming a CNA can be a stepping stone if you decide you want to further your education and take the next step into becoming an LPN.
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