How CNAs Differ from LPNs

There are several ways to break into the nursing field, but most people start out as CNAs or LPNs/LVNs. Learn about the basic differences between these two healthcare roles in this article.
How CNAs Differ from LPNs

Is nursing your dream career? If so, you'd probably like to start gaining experience as quickly as possible. There are many paths to becoming a nurse. Those who are eager to start working as quickly as possible typically start out as CNAs, or Certified Nursing Assistants, or Licensed Practical/Vocational Nurses (LPNs/LVNs). Contrary to popular belief, the two roles are not interchangeable. There are pretty significant distinctions in terms of schooling, pay, and job duties. Investigate both options to determine which one is right for you below.


The main difference between becoming a CNA and becoming an LPN/LVN involves the type of education you must acquire. CNA programs can typically be completed in four to 12 weeks. From there, you must pass a state competency exam to receive your certification. All told, you can usually start applying for jobs in just a few months.

Requirements for becoming an LPN/LVN are a bit more involved. Most LPN/LVN programs take around a year to complete, but some are two-year associate programs. Upon completing your program, you must sit for the NCLEX-PN and then apply for your LPN/LVN license. Therefore, it may be a year and a half or even up to two and a half years before you are eligible to apply for LPN jobs. If you need to start working as quickly as possible, the CNA route is the way to go.

Job Duties

CNAs and LPNs/LVNs both work under the supervision of RNs and other higher-up healthcare supervisors. However, LPNs/LVNs often directly assist RNs and even physicians, while CNAs do not possess the credentials to do so. Rather, they (CNAs) handle tasks that do not require direct supervision, which includes answering phone calls, making beds, cleaning rooms, and observing patients. CNAs work closely with patients too and are typically charged with feeding them, taking their vital signs, assisting them with bathing and dressing, and helping them get around.

LPNs'/LVNs' duties are limited and directed in scope, but they tend to be a little more involved. In addition to providing medical attention and care to patients, they collect vitals and other data, communicate crucial information to RNs and other supervisors, and directly assist RNs in a limited fashion at various times.


Because LPN/LVN education is more involved and their responsibilities are more challenging, they tend to earn more than CNAs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median hourly rate for a CNA is $13.72. For LPNs, it is $22.23. Even if you become a CNA initially, it's well worth it to continue your education in order to become an LPN/LVN.

Advancement Opportunities

Becoming a CNA is a great way to quickly break into the nursing field. However, if you can afford to take more time with your educational program, you should consider becoming an LPN/LVN. Later, you can complete an LPN-to-RN bridge program, which will make you qualified for registered nursing roles more quickly. From there, you can branch out into a variety of specializations or even further your education by earning your master of nursing degree. Keep in mind too that many schools offer CNA-to-LPN/LVN bridge programs, and they are well worth investigating.

As you can see, the main differences between an LPN/LVN and a CNA is the amount of education they need and the compensation they receive. Their actual job duties are quite similar. Keep these points in mind while deciding how to proceed with your career.

Amanda Jordan
Amanda Jordan

A registered nurse with a BSN degree, skillfully simplifies complex medical topics as a healthcare writer, contributing valuable insights to a diverse audience.

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