What’s the Difference Between an LPN and a CNA?

If you’re interested in working in healthcare, you might have noticed programs to become either an LPN or a CNA. These are both healthcare careers that allow you to assist doctors and registered nurses (RNs), as well as to help patients.

Knowing the difference between these roles can help you decide which career to pursue. Both positions are found within the nursing field, but each comes with different roles and responsibilities. Let’s take a look at what you could expect from each job, so you can see the distinction between CNAs and LPNs.

CNA and LPN Defined

A CNA is not technically a nurse but instead is a certified nursing assistant. As the name implies, someone in this role assists nurses and other medical staff with various duties in a patient care setting. You might also hear this person called a nursing assistant or a nurse’s aide. However, CNA is not the same as a medical assistant, which is its own specific position.

On the other hand, an LPN is a licensed practical nurse. A person in this position is officially a nurse, yet at a level below an RN. Similar to CNAs, LPNs assist RNs and doctors, while they are also able to carry out more medical duties than a CNA.

Different Duties

CNAs help with hands-on duties under the supervision of a nurse. The job includes assisting with activities of daily living and more. In this role, you might gather supplies, prepare exam rooms and collect patient information. Working directly with patients, you could help reposition, bathe, feed, brush hair and help them with other activities. As a CAN, you won’t carry out medical procedures on your own, but you could assist with them and dress wounds as well. CNA duties can differ depending on your workplace and the state where you work.

LPNs can carry out more patient care duties, although their duties greatly vary by state. In this role, you might start an intravenous drip, monitor vital signs and health indicators, draw blood, administer medications and assist with medical procedures. In some states, you are able to perform more duties on your own as an LPN, while other states require RN supervision or only allow LPNs to assist another medical professional with certain duties.

Becoming a CNA or LPN

CNAs need a certification before they can carry out their role, but this is an easier requirement than that to become an LPN or RN. To become certified, you need to go through a state-approved training program and pass an exam.

Similar to CNAs, LPNs need to complete a state-approved training program. To become an LPN, you would also need to obtain a license and pass an exam.

These requirements are similar, but the LPN tends to have more advanced training and requires a license.

Working in Nursing

A CNA is an entry-level position, although you can choose to stay in this role as a long-term career. Nonetheless, many people gain experience as a CNA and then take the next step to become an LPN or RN. An LPN is a higher level than a CNA, yet many LPNs decide to advance further and become RNs.

Since the LPN role is more advanced than the CNA, the pay differs. In 2017, the median average salary listed by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics was $27,510 for CNAs. The median average salary for LPNs was significantly higher at $45,030 per year.

CNAs and LPNs work in some of the same types of medical facilities. Nonetheless, CNAs tend to work most often in adult daycare and long-term residential and rehabilitation facilities. LPNs are also found in these settings, as well as in hospitals, in at-home care and in doctor’s offices.

Both CNAs and LPNs get to work in the medical field, assisting medical professionals and helping patients. Many people like to start as a CNA to gain knowledge and experience in the medical field, yet both the CNA and LPN roles can provide stable medical careers with growing demand.