Both CNAs (certified nursing assistants) and LPNs (licensed practical nurses) are important healthcare providers. They work directly with patients in a variety of settings, including care centers, hospitals and mental health facilities. There is a huge overlap between the two roles, but there are also a number of core differences. These differences are reflected in the salaries, but they can also be seen in their training, course work and the type of work that they do.
As a CNA, you will earn an average annual salary of $24,040 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This equates to an hourly salary of between $7 and $16. The difference in salary is mainly down to geographical location and the setting in which you work. As an LPN, however, your wage will be far more interesting. The median annual salary is $40,900, which means half of all LPNs earn more than that, and half earn less. This equates to an hourly salary of between $12 and $25. Again, geographical location and work settings are the most influential factors in determining the exact salary.
Besides salary, there are a number of other core differences between LPNs and CNAs. These include:
- Training. A CNA must have studied between four and six weeks at approved facilities such as community colleges. Usually, the hours spent in training range from 75 to 120, depending on the state in which you take the course. But to be an LPN, your training will be much longer and will generally last a full year. Additionally, some schools offer an associate degree program, which takes two years to complete. The associate degree allows you to take part in further education leading to master’s degree.
- Coursework. A CNA must have taken courses on anatomy and physiology, patient rights, making beds, basic patient care, taking observations and vital signs and so on. An LPN, on the other hand, would need far more details. Coursework will include subjects, such as medication dosage, legal implications of actions you take, medication administration, pathophysiology and specialized care. You will also need to learn about obstetrics, pediatrics, geriatrics, psychiatry and so on.
- Examination. In order to become a CNA, your state board of nursing will administer a certification exam. This exam is not necessarily valid in other states. To be an LPN, however, you must take part in the NCLEX-PN exam in order to get to work. This is a nationally recognized qualification, which means you can get to work in different states.
- Certification and License. As a CNA, you are a certified nurse. This means that you do not need to be licensed to perform certain duties, mainly because you will work as a nursing assistant. However, you do have to be registered as a nurse aide and you have to be certified by your state. As an LPN, however, you have to be fully licensed by your state. This is done through the NCLEX-PN exam. This must also be renewed regularly and you have a duty to commit to continuous professional education.
- License/Certificate Validity and Renewal. Your CNA certificate will last for two years from the date on which it was issued. In order to maintain your certificate, you must work in the nursing field for a set amount of time. The length of time varies on a state by state basis. As an LPN, your license is also valid for two years from the date on which it was issued. In order to have it renewed, you must demonstrate that you have taken part in continuous professional education, as well as having worked in a paid function for a certain amount of time.
- Scope of Practice. Another key difference between LPNs and CNAs is the scope of practice. As a CNA, you will be supervised by an LPN or an RN. You will never be able to perform the same duties as an LPN, nor will you be allowed to take any kind of independent decisions. As an LPN, however, you will report directly to an RN. You are able to do the same work as a CNA, but you will have more independent authority and you will work directly with patients rather than only acting according to orders.
- Duties and responsibilities. As a CNA, you will taking care of all of your patient’s crucial needs. This means you will answer call signals, collect samples, move patients, record their conditions, assist in ambulation, make beds, wash patients and so on. As an LPN, you can do all of that and more. Your main role will include filling in medical records, dressing wounds and conducting minor surgeries, such as stitches. Additionally, you will be involved in laboratory testing, giving enemas and injections and monitoring catheters to name but a few.