Nursing is a challenging yet rewarding career. They’re the backbone of the medical profession, providing direct patient care to those in need in facilities like hospitals, nursing homes, and doctor’s offices. It’s a great career path for those with a caring spirit that love working with others.

There are several pathways to joining the healthcare field as a nurse. Two of the most popular are certified nursing assistants (CNA) and licensed practical nurses (LPN). Both can be good career choices that offer the opportunity to learn and grow in healthcare.

But what is a CNA vs. LPN? How are they similar and different, and which path should you choose for your unique situation? Read on to find out. 

The Difference Between a CNA and a LPN

CNAs and LPNs share a good number of similarities. Each offers a different route to the nursing field in terms of education requirements, job responsibilities, and certifications needed. They both work directly with patients in healthcare facilities and nursing homes, and there are many essential differences between the two careers.

A CNA helps the nursing staff with some basic care tasks while working under the supervision of an LPN or RN. LPNs can have more responsibilities in patient care, like administering medical tests and completing administrative tasks. Training programs also differ, with the CNA training program being much shorter than an LPN program. This means that people who want to become CNAs can start working much sooner, but the earning potential is often less than that for LPNs.

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What is a CNA?

A CNA helps patients with different tasks in hospitals, nursing homes, and healthcare facilities. CNAs help the people they care for with daily tasks like bathing, going to the bathroom, getting dressed, etc. They may also assist patients with eating and drinking and ensure they are safe and comfortable.

What is an LPN?

LPNs provide supportive care to patients while working with other healthcare providers, whether clinical, administrative, or a combination of both. LPNs are often “frontline” healthcare providers with direct contact with patients. They’re found in many healthcare facilities like hospitals, long-term care facilities, and nursing homes. 

Comparing Duties Between a CNA and an LPN

Both CNAs and LPNs are important parts of the nursing care team. The main difference between a CNA and an LPN is the kind of care they give. CNAs help patients eat and bathe, which they would typically do independently. LPNs do basic nursing tasks like giving patients their medicine, updating their medical records, and helping other nurses. Even though both CNAs and LPNs must pass tests to get certified or licensed, only LPNs can call themselves nurses.

Certified Nursing Assistant duties include:

  • Roles: Help patients bathe and dress, clean and move them, write down and tell nurses about health problems, keep an eye on vital signs, and serve and help with meals.

 Licensed Practical Nurse duties include:

  • Roles: check patients’ health, give primary medical care, talk with patients about care plans, keep health records, and report to RNs and doctors.

Where Do CNAs Work

CNAs work in healthcare facilities, including hospitals, nursing homes, and rehabilitation centers. They can work with many different types of patients in addition to the work setting. CNAs can specialize in different patient types, like children or seniors. They may work in specialty areas for patients, like maternity wards or continuing care retirement communities.

Where Do LPNs Work

LPNs work in nursing and residential care facilities, hospitals, home healthcare services, and physician offices. LPNs often work in nursing homes and residential facilities where a lot of seniors and people over the age of 65 need medical and personal care. 

LPNs may work in doctors’ offices, and what they do depends on what kind of medicine the doctor practices. An LPN may help patients check in, take notes on their symptoms or illnesses, and give them injections or other medicine. LPNs can also work in doctors’ offices, which are often less busy than hospitals. 

CNA vs. LPN Educational Requirement Differences

The licensing and certification requirements for a CNA and an LPN are different. CNAs must pass a test of their skills in the state where they work before starting their career. Different states have different rules about who can take a CNA exam. Still, in general, you need a high school diploma, to have finished a state-approved nursing assistant program, and to have had a certain number of hours of CNA training.

To become an LPN you must finish an approved practical nursing certificate program to become an LPN. These programs are usually offered at community colleges or trade schools and take about a year to finish. Students can expect to take classes in biology, pharmacology, and nursing. They also provide hands-on clinical experiences. After completing the practical nursing program, applicants must pass the National Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN) to get a license.  

Becoming a CNA or an LPN: Which is Right For Me?

Whether you should become a CNA or an LPN depends on your current situation and your career goals. You should consider your age, how much experience you have overall, how much money you have for school, and how much time you have.

CNA can be a great first job for people who are just starting in their careers and don’t have much experience. Many people start as CNAs to see if they like nursing before becoming LPNs or RNs. CNA programs can be finished in as little as four weeks, while LPN programs can take a year or more.

LPN programs can be more extensive and challenging. But students can expect to learn more healthcare skills and medical knowledge. They have more responsibility, so this could be a better choice if you want to change careers but don’t want to start from the bottom. 

Because of their added training and experience, LPNs are typically paid more than CNAs. The median annual wage for nursing assistants was $30,310 in May 20211, while the average yearly salary for LPNs was $48,0702. Location, type of employer, years of experience, and level of education are all things that can affect salary levels in both of these jobs. In general, CNAs make much less than LPNs, but many nurses use their CNA experience as a stepping stone to more education and a higher-paying nursing job.

Should I Become a CNA Before an LPN

A CNA career is a great stepping stone into a healthcare career and to receive experience working around trained nurses like LPNs and RNs. CNA’s can either go to school to learn more by becoming a nurse or keep working as a CNA. CNAs may be better prepared for more advanced healthcare career opportunities and feel more confident about their future choices.


Next steps after deciding if a CNA or LPN career is right for you

Whether you join the healthcare field as a CNA or an LPN, either is an excellent choice to start your career in healthcare. They offer the opportunity to work with patients that need compassionate nursing care in dynamic healthcare facilities. 

And for those living in Connecticut, the first step towards pursuing your new nursing career could be found with the Nurse Aide Training program at Training Direct. Our program meets the Connecticut Department of Health Services guidelines for eligibility to take the state Certified Nurse Aide (CNA) Exam. To acquire gainful employment as a CNA, certification is required by the State of Connecticut.

If you are ready to begin pursuing CNA certification in Connecticut, the Nurse Aide program at Training Direct can help you get on your way. Request information today to learn more!


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