Should I Become an LPN or CNA?

by Brittney Wilson RN BSN, NurseJournal.org   

LPN or CNAChoosing a career in nursing is not straightforward. There are many different types of nurses and many different educational paths as well. Two of these options are the Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) and the Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN). But which one should you choose? Let’s explore what these two nursing career paths are and their pros and cons.

Certified Nursing Assistant

In order to become a CNA, you will need to take a class to receive certification. This generally takes between 8 and 16 weeks to complete. Once employed, you will be supervised by a Registered Nurse (RN) or an LPN. Your role will be to help patients with the small things they need every day during their care. The job is demanding and requires a special kind of person to complete.

Very often, if you want to become a nurse, you may want to take a CNA class first because it is a good way to determine whether or not the field of nursing is right for you or not. The certification itself usually takes some classroom learning, some hands-on training in a practice lab and a few clinical rotations. Once you have completed that training, you will need to take an exam to become certified.

The job itself is incredibly important, as you are delivering a true service to patients in terms of making their life, or end of life, as comfortable as possible. It will give you a lot of satisfaction, but you have to be prepared for the challenges it brings as well.

In terms of the salary, you can expect to earn between $10 and $14 per hour. It is likely that you will start to work in a nursing home, although you can get to work in a hospital as well.

There are a number of advantages to being a CNA, including:

  • You only need a GED or high school diploma in order to become a CNA.
  • The training is very short, which means you can get to work very soon after completing your certification.
  • You can work in a huge variety of settings.
  • The CNA certification is a first step towards a rewarding nursing career, and you can use it to study on towards becoming a more qualified nurse later on.
  • Becoming a CNA is highly affordable and you may even receive a full scholarship to cover what little costs you do have to pay.
  • According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there is an expected growth of 20% in the field of nursing by 2020, which means you are almost certain to be able to get a job.
  • There is a substantial shortage of CNAs in the labor market at present, which means you may be paid well above the average as well. Indeed, many CNAs earn between $23,000 and $30,000 per year.
  • There are various additional perks to the job, including medical insurance, sick leave, overtime payments, paid holidays and more.

There are also a number of disadvantages to being a CNA, including:

  • It is a hectic and busy job. A number of the tasks you will be involved in will seem repetitive and boring, and it will feel like you don’t have enough time to complete everything you need to do.
  • Some of the patients you will be dealing with are challenging in their nature. Unfortunately, staff abuse is not unheard of, which is mainly because these people are going through very difficult times themselves and don’t know how to appropriately deal with that. Although understandable, it is also very intimidating.
  • You will have to work shifts, which can be very tiring.
  • You often have to deal with people who are dying, and this is something that can be very difficult to cope with.

As you can see, being a CNA presents both challenges and benefits. It is a great way to get started in the field of nursing and to find out whether or not it is something you would like to do. It takes a special kind of person to become a nurse, and going for CNA certification is a great way to determine whether or not you are that special kind of person.

Licensed Practical Nurse

An LPN can also be known as a Practical Nurse or a Licensed Vocational Nurse. To receive the license, you will be required to study for one to two years. There are various nursing degrees out there, and this one is the quickest to complete. This is because you do not receive a degree, but you become licensed. If you want to become a registered nurse, you will have to obtain a Bachelor’s degree, which is a reasonably easy step after you have your LPN license. The scope of practice for an LPN is very different from that of an RN, however. You will probably not be able to transcribe doctors’ orders, work in special units or hang bags of blood. However, what you can do will depend mainly on the state you practice in.

You will be able to work in a huge range of different settings. It is not common to see an LPN in a hospital. Rather, you will be employed in nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities, doctor’s offices and home health. If you work in a rural area, it is likely that you will have additional responsibilities.

On average, LPNs earn $20.21 per hour. This equates to a median annual salary of $41,150. However, the exact wage will depend on where you live, where you work and your experience. The predicted salary growth is above the national average, as is the demand for LPNs. This is mainly because many current LPNs are at retirement age, but also because of the aging population in general, which means more health care is required.

Being an LPN offers a number of advantages, including:

  • Fantastic job prospects. Growth is predicted to be 21% by 2018, which is well above the national average.
  • Reasonably short training, with an average completion of just one year.
  • You will be able to work in a setting that helps you improve the life of other people.
  • You can specialize in various areas, or advance in the field by working towards your Bachelor’s degree.
  • The training is highly affordable and can be done at community colleges.
  • You do not have any difficult legal responsibilities, which means you can work without having to worry as much.
  • You can take part in LPN to RN programs in order to advance your career.

However, it is important to also be aware of the challenges that being an LPN presents. These include:

  • Working in what is likely to be a very stressful environment.
  • Finding your work is exhausting both physically and mentally.
  • Having to relocate to a rural area to get better job prospects.
  • Having to work with challenging individuals, including the seriously ill and handicapped.
  • Having to work long shift hours.
  • Although the salary is reasonable, it is not as high as other nursing fields.
  • If you want to continue your education and become an RN, you will need to spend more.
  • Your job opportunities can be somewhat limited in terms of where you can get to work.
  • The job is not very independent, as you will need to be closely supervised by registered nurses.

So should you become a CNA or an LPN? It all depends on what you want and what your options are. If you need to get to work as soon as possible, then the CNA option may be better for you. However, by studying a little bit longer, you could work as an LPN and earn about twice as much money. Both jobs are physically and mentally demanding and will require you to work under a lot of supervision. If you think you will want to become a full-fledged nurse later on in life, then the LPN option is likely to be the best one. If you are unsure about which career path to choose, it may be best to get to know a bit more about the two positions and what they entail. Perhaps you could shadow someone in a community health care setting near you in order to find out which one is most suited to you. Take your time to consider your different options and what the pros and cons of each are before you make your decision.



About the Author

Brittney Wilson RN BSN
Brittney Wilson RN BSN /

Brittney Wilson, RN, BSN, also known as The Nerdy Nurse, is a Clinical Informatics Specialist practicing in Georgia. In her day job she gets to do what she loves every day: Combine technology and healthcare to improve patient outcomes. She joined NurseJournal.org to help connect with other nurses in Informatics and educate those considering the field for the first time. Connect with me on Google+

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