Not everyone who works in the field of nursing has to obtain a 4-year degree. In fact, there are two great options you can choose from that let you provide essential healthcare to patients in a wide range of medical settings. You can become a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) or an LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse). You may be wondering what is the difference between CNA and LPN career opportunities. The following guide will help you to understand the key differences so you can decide which option is best for you.
The demand for nurses is growing, and that also means that the need for CNAs and LPNs is also growing. Whether you want to choose one of these career options as a stepping stone toward becoming a registered nurse or you simply want to become a CNA or LPN as your chosen profession, there are many benefits to these career opportunities.
Certified Nursing Assistant
A certified nursing assistant, or CAN, provides support for registered nurses or licensed practical nurses, working under their supervision. A CNA’s main responsibility is often to tend to patient comfort and personal needs, such as bathing, dressing, and toileting. They may provide assistance with some medical procedures and answer patient calls in hospital settings.
While medical procedures are limited, the role of a CNA is still a critical one for patients. This job can provide a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, and it can also provide patients with a chance to foster a connection with those providing care for them. In a home health care setting, a CNA may offer companionship for the elderly or infirm in addition to helping with daily living skills. In a hospital setting, a CNA can provide a sympathetic ear for patients and their families while also ensuring that the hospital stay is as comfortable as possible.
Some people who become CNAs choose to use the work experience to continue their education and become an LPN or RN, while others enjoy playing a critical support role.
Licensed Practical Nurse
A licensed practical nurse, or LPN, provides basic, routine medical care for patients. In California and Texas, these nurses are referred to as licensed vocational nurses, but the job duties are the same as LPNs. They work under the supervision of physicians or registered nurses.
Often, an LPN will record vital signs, monitor patient conditions, and gather medical histories. They can also administer injections, provide wound care services, and provide education for family members needing to provide continued care in a home setting. LPNs can work in hospitals, nursing homes, medical practices, or in public health clinics, among other settings.
An LPN has more advanced training than a CNA, and they can perform a host of medical treatments and tests that CNAs are not trained to do. Some LPNs will go on to become registered nurses to advance their careers. Others choose to gain certifications or credentials for specialty areas of medical care. They can also take on the role of a charge nurse responsible for overseeing a team of LPNs in a hospital setting.
CNAs and LPNs go through different educational programs to obtain their certifications and licensure. While these programs are markedly different, they can both be completed in a relatively short period of time.
CNA: A CNA will need a high school diploma or GED to enroll in a certification program. These programs are typically offered at local community colleges or trade schools. While each state’s requirements may be slightly different, CNA candidates can expect to complete between 80 and 120 hours of training both in classrooms and in medical settings. Completion of this coursework typically takes around 12 weeks.
Upon completion of the program, CNA candidates will need to take the state certification exam. They may also be required to go back to school every few years to take refresher courses before renewing their certifications.
LPN: An LPN will also need a diploma or GED before beginning an educational training program. Diploma programs are available at local community colleges, and the coursework is a bit more involved that that required for CNA certification. Students can expect to take courses in infection control, pharmacology, and medical terminology in addition to basic nursing classes.
Typically, the coursework required to receive a diploma takes around 12 months to complete. Upon completion of coursework, LPN candidates need to pass an exam to receive their LPN licensure. The LPN licensure qualifies candidates to begin applying for LPN nursing positions.
Licensing and Examinations
Before being able to apply for and obtain a job as either a CNA or LPN, candidates must pass an exam. The exam you take may depend on the state you live in if you are planning to become a CNA. LPN candidates all sit for the same exam.
Expected Job Duties
The job duties for CNAs and LPNs share some similarities, including taking vital signs, providing personal care, and offering basic nursing care. However, these jobs are different when it comes to the extent of skilled nursing care provided.
CNAs perform limited applied nursing services. They may help with rehabilitative exercises and positioning for bed-bound patients, and they may collect specimens for testing. In general, the role of a CNA is that of personal support, and it can include preparing meals, assisting with daily living skills, and providing emotional support. CNAs are ideal candidates for home healthcare aides, caregivers at nursing homes, and support staff at hospitals.
LPNs can perform all of the same duties as CNAs, but they also provide more advanced nursing services. They can start IV drips, insert catheters, perform laboratory tests, and maintain medical equipment. They can assist physicians and RNs during routine medical procedures, and they can also care for infants in the maternity ward. An LPN can also act in a supervisory capacity to manage CNAs or other LPNs after gaining experience in the field.
The demand for both CNAs and LPNs is expected to rise consistently over the next decade, making study for either field an excellent opportunity for job placement and career advancement.
CNAs can work in a number of settings, but they are most often hired to work in nursing home, medical rehabilitation centers, and home healthcare settings. Some CNAs choose to specialize in medical administration and technology, taking jobs in billing departments, medical records departments, or insurance billing.
LPNs often work in the same settings as CNAs, but they can also find great job opportunities in hospitals, medical practices, and schools. As an LPN, you can also specialize in specific areas of medicine, such as pediatrics or labor and delivery. While your job duties may still be similar to those of general LPNs, you’ll get unique hands-on experience in your specialty area, which can be used to advance your career.
There is a bit of a pay gap between CNAs and LPNs, but depending on your income needs, both options can provide a living wage and then some. The salary you can expect to make may depend on the hours you work. For example, a CNA working third shift may see a bit more income than one working first shift. The same can also be true for LPNs. An LPN with a specialty can also expect to make slightly more than the national average. Here’s a look at the average salary for both positions.
Paths to Further Career Advancement
Whether you choose to start out as a CNA or an LPN, there are many opportunities to advance your career. Some schools offer a CNA bridge program to help you complete an LPN or RN program. An RN program at a community college can be completed in less than 2 years, particularly if you already hold a CNA certificate or LPN license. You can also opt to pursue a BSN, which is a baccalaureate-level degree in nursing. Click here to learn more about the best BSN programs in the country.
Should you decide to go back to school to become an RN, check with the admissions office to discuss possible credit transfers. In some cases, you may be able to leverage your certification or licensure as well as the courses you’ve already taken for credit toward your 2- or 4-year degree.
Where to Study
There are many ways to become a CNA or LPN. Students still in high school can speak with a guidance counselor about joining a work-study program that provides courses and credits toward either program. If you already have a diploma or GED, you can enroll in a program at a local trade school or community college. Remember to make sure that any program you enroll in offers transferable credits, as this will come in handy should you decide later on to pursue an RN degree or other advanced degree.
Both LPNs and CNAs can have incredibly rewarding, fulfilling careers. The chance to help people during the most important times in their lives can leave a lasting impression on the people you care for. If you are interested in pursuing a career in nursing, click here for more information about different degree programs you may want to consider.