If your career goal is to become a nurse, you’ll have to decide what nursing title you want to work toward. After all, the job duties, degree programs, job growth, licensing process, and salary differ depending on the type of nurse you want to be. For example, the career path of a licensed practical nurse (LPN) will be different from that of a certified nursing assistant (CNA). If you’re wondering why that is and how they differ from each other, here’s what to know about the CNA vs LPN titles in the nursing field.
Job Duties of CNA vs LPN
Among the major differences between CNA vs LPN is the scope of practice — each title comes with varying job duties.
LPNs are supposed to give patients basic medical care, no matter what healthcare settings they’re working in. Whether they’re providing nursing care in hospitals, doctor offices, long-term care facilities, or nursing homes, they typically do the following:
- Feeding patients
- Giving medication
- Performing wound care
- Inserting catheters
- Changing bandages
- Helping patients bathe and get dressed
- Monitoring temperatures and blood pressure
- Reporting vital signs and symptoms to the medical care team
- Carrying out approved nursing care plans under the supervision of a registered nurse (RN)
A certified nursing assistant has slightly different job duties. In general, CNAs offer basic patient care, typically under the supervision of a registered nurse or licensed practical nurse. They can work in hospitals, but many CNAs work in long-term care facilities, nursing homes, and home health care settings, helping patients with the activities of daily living. Some examples of the patient care a CNA offers include:
- Answering call lights from patient rooms
- Transporting patients
- Feeding patients
- Helping with bathing and dressing
- Cleaning patient rooms
- Reporting important changes or new symptoms in patients to the medical care team
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Education Requirements of CNA vs LPN
The type of training program that’s required varies for CNA vs LPN. In general, it takes longer to become a licensed practical nurse than a certified nursing assistant, as the job duties for LPNs require more medical knowledge.
To become an LPN, you need to find an approved practical nursing program to enroll in. LPN programs usually consist of 1,350 hours of training, combining coursework with hands-on clinical experience. Depending on how many classes you take at once—and whether you choose a diploma program or earn an associate degree at a community college—you can finish this type of nursing school within one to two years.
Keep in mind that if you live in Texas or California, LPNs are called LVNs, or licensed vocational nurses. This means you’ll need to look for LVN degree programs in your state, but the name is the only detail that’s different from LPN programs.
Becoming a CNA takes less medical training—and therefore less time—than becoming an LPN. In particular, the federal minimum is 75 hours of CNA training, though some states require slightly more hours than this. You can usually complete these hours within 4 to 12 weeks.
Before you seek CNA training, you need a high school diploma or GED. You can then look into CNA programs at community colleges near you. You’ll find that most programs focus on a combination of clinical practice and classes that include anatomy, physiology, and basic patient care skills.
Licensing & Certification for CNA vs LPN
No matter what type of nursing career you have in mind, you typically have to get licensed and certified to get a job at a healthcare facility. The path toward this is different depending on whether you want to be a CNA vs LPN.
When you complete a practical nursing program, you’ll have the certification you need. But before you can get a job as an LPN, you need to seek licensure. This means you need to pass the NCLEX-PN exam, which is the test specifically for practical nurses. Once you pass this exam, you can start your nursing career.
CNAs don’t have to take the NCLEX exam to start looking for entry-level jobs in this field. But they do need to pass a competency exam in the state they’re in. Every state has its own testing requirements, but in most cases, you’ll need a high school diploma or GED and proof that you completed an approved nursing assistant program.
You’ll also need to present your immunization record and pass a background check before you can take the competency exam. But once you complete these requirements and pass the test, you’ll be ready to start your nursing career as a CNA.
CNA vs LPN Salary
Another difference to be aware of between CNA vs LPN is the expected annual salary. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has reported that the average annual salary of an LPN is $48,820, which works out to $23.47 per hour. Also according to the BLS, the median annual salary for a nursing assistant is $30,850. This is $14.82 per hour.
Job Growth for CNA vs LPN
The job outlook for health care professionals, in general, is positive, so you can’t go wrong with either career path right now if you want a good chance of getting a job. According to the BLS, demand for LPNs and LVNs is expected to increase by 9% from 2019 to 2029. This is faster than the average job growth for all occupations. The job outlook for CNAs is similarly high, as demand for this type of healthcare professional is expected to grow by 8% between 2019 and 2029.
Clearly, the career path of an LPN differs from that of a CNA. The requirements regarding training, certification, licensure, and daily tasks vary, as does the expected salary. But no matter which route you take, you’ll be facing a great job outlook. You’ll also be able to help people of all ages in a variety of healthcare settings. If the higher salary of an LPN appeals to you, start looking at the LPN programs available to you on this page today!