What is the Difference Between a CNA and an LPN?

There are many important differences between a certified nursing assistant (CNA) and a licensed practical nurse (LPN), although the details regarding licensing and job responsibilities are dictated by individual state laws. Both types of nurses work alongside doctors in a variety of settings and often spend a lot of time interacting with patients. There are a lot of opportunities for advancement and continuing education in the nursing field, so it’s possible to become a CNA as a stepping stone towards a career as an LPN or registered nurse (RN).

Education and Experience Requirements

Typically, neither type of certification requires applicants to have a college degree, although this can depend on state licensing requirements. Becoming certified as a nurse’s assistant is faster and easier than getting a license, and the standard training program only takes a couple months in most cases. Licensed nurses must complete a longer qualifying program, which usually takes one or two years, and pass the National Council Licensure Examination.

Working as a CNA

As their occupational title suggests, nursing assistants spend most of their time supporting the work of doctors and licensed nurses in a healthcare setting. CNAs are also called patient care assistants (PCA) since they are directly involved with providing basic aid to patients, including maintaining personal hygiene, grooming, feeding and monitoring vital signs. Nursing assistants can also fill important duties outside of direct patient care, like sterilizing examination rooms, organizing supplies and assisting with other areas of clinic or hospital operations.

LPN Role and Responsibilities

Licensed nurses are qualified for all the duties of a CNA and are able to perform other essential medical tasks depending on their state’s specific regulations. Generally, LPNs are qualified to check patient vital signs, administer medicine and conduct injections under the supervision of senior staff members. In hospitals and other large organizations, licensed nurses often work as part of a team under the direction of a RN or doctor. They can also serve as in-home nurses or work with elderly patients at a long-term care facility.

Comparison of Nursing Careers

Many people who pursue a nursing career find it incredibly rewarding and challenging, but it can also be taxing on a physical and emotional level. LPNs often have more flexibility and ability to manage work schedule, but both licensed nurses and certified assistants can face long hours in a demanding work environment during their career. Licensed nurses reportedly earned a mean annual salary of $45,000 in 2017 compared to the $27,000 earned by nursing assistants, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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As an occupation, nursing continues to grow and provide diverse career opportunities for qualified professionals. There is also a steady and clear progression beginning with entry level positions as a certified assistant, which makes it more accessible without the need to commit to a long-term training program. The difference between a CNA and LPN can also fluctuate with local law and a specific employer’s needs, so nurses have plenty of options for broadening their horizons and honing their professional skills.