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Should I Become An LPN Or A CNA?

Should you become an LPN or a CNA? What are the benefits of these programs, is one better than the other, and what opportunities will they provide you with?

Some of the most common questions from nursing students revolve around these two certifications. There is clearly a lot of confusion and as they are very similar, it’s easy to see why. 

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) vs Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

Both certified nursing assistant (CNA) programs and licensed practical nurse (LPN) programs prepare applicants for the challenges of the nursing profession. 

They both work under the supervision of a registered nurse and provide assistance with basic care and daily living tasks (eating, bathing, exercising), but there are slight differences in the scope of the work and the depth of the studies needed to complete the programs.

What are Certified Nursing Assistants?

There are over 1.3 million CNAs operating in the United States right now. That number is expected to climb by another quarter of a million as the population increases and a greater demand is placed on the healthcare industry.

The Role

Certified nursing assistants assume a direct care role and assist patients under the supervision of a registered nurse. Often known as nursing assistants, CNAs are an essential part of the healthcare process and a CNA certification can also be used to move onto bigger roles within the nursing profession.

The Education

You don’t need a college degree to become a CNA, but you will need to have a GED or a high school diploma. Training is also required before certification will be granted, and these credentials are issued by the state, with requirements differing from state to state.

You can find CNA programs at community colleges, healthcare facilities, and trade schools, among other locations. Once training has been completed, applicants are required to complete an exam consisting of both a written component and a practical component.

The Salary

The average salary for a CNA is around $30,000 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, but that applies across the United States and your actual salary will depend on your role, experience, and location.

For example, home health nurses and nurses working in residential care facilities earn a few grand less than those working in medical and surgical hospitals. 

The Workplace

CNAs work in nursing homes, hospices, assisted living facilities, correctional institutions, and hospitals. They provide basic patient care in all of these locations and learn on the job. While working in these healthcare settings, CNAs can acquire the experience and skills that they need to progress. Alternatively, they can continue working at the same level.

What are Licensed Practical Nurses?

There are currently over 900,000 licensed practical nurses/licensed vocational nurses in the United States. As with many other nursing professions, the demand is expected to increase, with many experts projecting a 9% rise within the next 10 years.

The Role

Licensed practical nurses are often tasked with monitoring the health of a patient and administering basic medical care. They also bridge the gap between patient and physician, gathering vital information from the former and delivering it to the latter.

The ultimate goal of an LPN is to maximize patient comfort and report on their health, whether that means confirming that everything is okay or ensuring that they get assistance when it's not.

The Education

The basic requirement for an LPN is a high school diploma or GED, after which they can enter an LPN program. It takes between 1 and 2 years to complete an LPN program and it will include coursework in an educational setting and on-the-job supervised training. 

The areas covered by the LPN coursework include:

  • Anatomy
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Child Growth and Development
  • Emergency Medical Technology
  • First Aid
  • Food and Nutrition
  • Physical Education
  • Psychology

Such a wide range of subject material ensures that LPNs are properly prepared for a number of tasks and can enter many different nursing professions.

The Salary

The national average salary for an LPN is just under $49,000 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, but it can differ greatly from state to state and will also depend on the job experience level.

The Workplace

Residential care facilities are the biggest employer of LPNs in the United States, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting that 38% of all LPNs work in nursing and residential care facilities.

In a residential care facility, the job duties of an LPN may include:

  • Assisting residents with getting into and out of bed
  • Creating care plans for the residents
  • Keeping nursing equipment clean and properly sanitized
  • Providing post-mortem care
  • Making beds
  • Assisting with daily living tasks
  • Monitoring patient medications 

Approximately 14% of LPNs work in hospitals, the second-largest employer of nurses with this qualification. In a hospital an LPN may be tasked with dressing and cleaning wounds, collecting samples, administering medications, checking vital signs, and recording medical histories.

FAQs About CNAs vs LPNs

If you still have questions about how CNAs compare to LPNs, check out the following FAQs:

How Long Does it Take for a CNA to Become an LPN?

It can take anywhere up to 1 year to become an LPN, and you can train at vocational schools, junior schools, and technical schools. 

What is the Best and Fastest Way to Become an LPN?

The fastest route to becoming an LPN is to enroll in a vocational school and study full-time. You'll learn rapidly and may be ready to start working in just a few months.

Is An LPN At a Higher Level Than a CNA?

Yes, an LPN certification is considered to be more advanced than a CNA and an LPN will be tasked with providing a higher level of care than a CNA.

How Much Does an LPN Make Per Hour?

It varies, but the average is around $24 an hour according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

How Much Does a CNA Make an Hour?

It also varies, with experience playing a major role, but CNAs can expect to earn about $15 an hour according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

How Long to Become an RN After an LPN?

It depends on whether you're aiming for a bachelor's degree or an associate’s degree, but it usually takes anywhere from 2 to 4 years to reach that level.

Summary: Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) vs Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

The differences between LPNs and CNAs can be confusing if you're a nursing student. Even after reading the above guide, you may still be unsure how these certifications compare.

Here is a quick summary to simplify the differences between CNAs and LPNs:

  • LPNs are given more duties than CNAs.
  • LPNs deal with direct patient care and may be tasked with administering medications and monitoring catheters. CNAs are assigned more basic duties, including bathing, feeding, and dressing.
  • An LPN can perform all of the duties of a CNA; a CNA cannot perform all of the duties of an LPN.
  • Becoming an LPN requires one year of study and practical nursing. Becoming a CNA takes just a few weeks of basic lessons.

Both LPNs and CNAs play an important role in the nursing profession and they can both lead to additional certifications. 

find nursing schools near you

find nursing schools near you