Top 5 Differences Between CNAs and RNS

CNAs and RNs are both healthcare professionals, but there are some pretty major differences between them. Learn about the ways in which RNs and CNAs differ in this article.
Top 5 Differences Between CNAs and RNS

Although Certified Nursing Assistants, or CNAs, and Registered Nurses, or RNs, are both healthcare workers who work closely with patients, the similarities between the two pretty much end there. There are striking differences between the two professions concerning everything from required education to compensation. If you're about to embark on a career in nursing, it's in your best interest to learn and understand how these two healthcare professions differ. Becoming a CNA is a great way to break into the field, and, like many, you may decide to become an RN later.

Some of the main ways in which CNAs differ from RNs include:

Daily Duties

A CNA's workday looks a lot different than that of an RN's. CNAs almost exclusively spend their days directly caring for patients' basic needs. They don't intervene from a medical standpoint, but take steps to ensure that patients are comfortable and properly cared for. RNs, on the other hand, work more independently and spend much of their time developing care plans, assessing patients' health problems and needs, tracking patients' medical histories, providing medical instructions to patients and their families, and much more.

Learning and Education

The typical schooling for a CNA takes anywhere from four to 12 weeks on average. From there, they take a state licensing exam and have the credentials they need to apply for jobs. RNs, on the other hand, typically undergo two to four years of schooling. They can earn their Associate Degree in Nursing, or ADN, in about two years, or they can earn their Bachelor of Science in Nursing, or BSN, in about four.


RNs and CNAs both need certifications or licenses to be eligible to apply for jobs. After completing their schooling, aspiring RNs must sit for the NCLEX-RN licensing exam. After completing their educational programs, CNAs sit for state-sponsored licensing or certification exams. Both exams are difficult, but the one for RNs is much more involved.


As of March 26, 2020, the average yearly salary for a CNA falls between $29,200 and $35,380. RNs, on the other hand, enjoy annual salaries of between $56,910 and $101,470. Why do professionals in both fields have such disparate pay? It all depends on where they are working geographically, their credentials, their experience, and other factors. Needless to say, however, RNs out-earn CNAs by significant margins.

Job Outlook

Happily, job outlook for CNAs and RNs is quite good. There are currently more than 1.5 million CNA jobs in the U.S., and the field is projected to experience 21 percent growth between now and 2022, with more than 321,200 new jobs being added during this time. Meanwhile, there are more than 2.7 million RN jobs in the U.S. The field is projected to grow by around 19 percent by 2022, with more than 526,200 new jobs being added during this period. The main difference between the two professions in this regard is that there are and/or will be far more RN jobs out there than CNA jobs.

Like many who want to break into nursing, you may be torn between becoming a CNA and becoming an RN. A great compromise is to get your foot in the door by starting out as a CNA. Later, after acquiring more experience, you can earn your ADN or BSN and become an RN. If you really love being a CNA, you can always remain one throughout your career too.

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