Should I Become an LPN or a CNA? — Pacific College (2024)

Both licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and certified nursing assistants (CNAs) play an essential role in nursing care. The difference between the two is generally in the type of healthcare that they provide. To put it simply, CNAs assist patients with daily functions like eating and bathing. LPNs, on the other hand, perform basic nursing functions such as updating patients’ health records, administering medication, and assisting nurses. CNAs and LPNs must pass certification examinations; however, only LPNs are licensed nurses.

If you are having difficulty choosing between an LPN or CNA, this article will help you understand the difference between the two positions, as well as their job responsibilities, education requirements, job outlook, and salary. So, let’s get started!

What Is a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)?

Should I Become an LPN or a CNA? — Pacific College (1)

Licensed practical nurses (LPN) are called licensed vocational nurses (LVN) in California and Texas, but both titles refer to the same job. LPNs or LVNs are in demand across various settings such as hospitals, hospices, or even colleges.

A licensed practical nurse (LPN) offers primary nursing care to patients in a medical or home environment; they are part of a healthcare team and work under the supervision of a registered nurse or other supervisors.

Interested in pursuing an LVN degree in California?

Fill out the form and get all the detailed information you need regarding your chosen program.

What does an LPN do?

LPNs perform some of the duties of CNAs, as well as more advanced and delicate patient care. The main responsibilities of an LPN include:

  • Primary medical and patient care

  • Recording patient histories

  • Checking for and recording vital signs

  • Inserting patient catheters

  • Changing bedpans and bandages

  • Prioritizing patient’s comfort and helping with the activities of daily living

  • Discussing treatment and healthcare plans with patients and their families

  • Reporting patient information to registered nurses (RNs), doctors, or senior medical consultants

  • Assisting with tests or other procedures

  • Doing some administrative work depending on the facility

LPN school requirements

An LPN education program takes about one to two years to complete on average. After completion of the program, graduates have to sit for the NCLEX-PN licensure exam. You can also advance your career and earn an RN qualification if you want.

What is the fastest way to become an LPN?

The fastest way to become an LPN is to complete a vocational school diploma program. You will be able to work in months, and you will qualify for the same professional credentials as students completing degree programs.

LPN skills

The following are examples of some of the vital skills that an LPN should possess:

  • Basic nursing skills needed to handle different medical scenarios such as performing routine assessments and simple procedures, changing bandages, assisting with checkups and emergency care when necessary and so on.

  • Enough energy to withstand long days of physical activity, especially during long, busy nursing shifts or even emergencies.

  • Attention to detail and precision can help LPNs ensure patient safety and the best possible care.

  • Show empathy towards the patient and their family members in order to connect, build trust and offer comfort during challenging circ*mstances.

  • Clear, concise communication and active listening skills to make sure that important information transfers accurately and efficiently.

LPN job outlook

According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the demand for LPNs is expected to grow 9% from 2020 to 2030, about as fast as the average for all occupations. An LPN is able to work in a variety of healthcare settings, and the demand for LPNs is seeing a rise, especially in home health and residential care facilities.

LPN salary

According to BLS, the median pay for an LPN or LVN is $48,820 per year or $23.47 per hour. LPN salaries may vary slightly depending on the sector (hospital, education, government, and so on) and your years of experience.

What Is a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)?

Should I Become an LPN or a CNA? — Pacific College (2)

A CNA or a certified nurse assistant is an entry-level healthcare professional who offers direct patient care. CNAs work under the supervision of a nurse and perform duties that help patients as well as nurses with daily routines.

So, a CNA has a more limited radius of practice than an LPN, is not authorized to perform the same duties as an LPN, and is not allowed to make any kind of independent decisions. However, their role is essential since they are a patient’s primary caregivers in a long-term facility.

What does a CNA do?

CNAs’ daily responsibilities and duties include the following:

  • Assisting patients to bathe and dress

  • Serving meals and helping patients eat

  • Recording patients’ food and liquid intake

  • Recording vital signs

  • Dressing wounds

  • Assisting with basic medical procedures

  • Emptying and supplying bedpans

  • Transferring patients to their wheelchairs, beds, or other places

  • Repositioning bedridden patients

  • Cleaning a patient’s living space

  • Changing sheets

  • Documenting a patient’s condition

  • Communicating with patients and their family members about their condition

  • Collaborating with other caregivers, nurses, and doctors

CNA school requirements

A high school diploma or GED is needed in order to pursue CNA training. You can become a CNA with four to twelve weeks of training, depending on the state’s requirements. But, you will not need a bachelor's degree for this role.

Make sure to look for a school that is approved by your state board and accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). You can also advance your career later by pursuing an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).

What is the fastest way to become a CNA?

The fastest way to become a CNA is by becoming part of a Consolidated Nurse Aid School. These schools offer fast-track certification options with small class sizes. Training to become a CNA can take as little as three weeks to complete at a consolidated nurse aid school.

CNA skills

If you are interested in a career as a CNA, you will need a multitude of skills. Here are the most important qualities of a successful certified nursing assistant:

  • Strong attention to detail since they work daily with data, patient charts, and forms containing important health information, they also need to pay attention to their patients’ nonverbal cues and look out for any physical or mental changes.

  • Excellent communication skills to know how and when to communicate effectively and accurately with doctors, nurses, patients, and their families

  • CNAs must have knowledge of medical terminology in order to communicate efficiently with other healthcare workers.

  • Patience, calmness, and empathy are necessary in order to provide the best possible care.

  • CNAs may be asked to work weekend shifts, switch shifts, or longer shifts, so they need to remain flexible, professional, and on-task no matter what.

  • Enthusiasm and optimism are also important to show when running into difficult or negative situations; that will radiate to patients and coworkers, thus fostering a happier work environment.

CNA job outlook

According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, certified nursing assistants will also see job growth, with a projected 8% increase in job opportunities from 2020 to 2030, about as fast as average.

CNA salary

Because a CNA has less training and responsibilities than an LPN, they earn a lower median salary. The median wage for a CNA is $30,830 per year or $14.82 per hour, as reported by the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Should I Become a CNA Before an LPN?

No state requires an individual to be a CNA before entering an LPN program. But, some LPN programs actually require or strongly recommend that you possess a CNA certificate before you enter the program.

Becoming a CNA beforehand will give you the experience and skills that you will most likely need when working as an LPN. Plus, you will have a job to support yourself while studying for becoming a licensed practical nurse.


As you can see, there are many similarities and differences between an LPN and CNA. Hopefully, learning more about these differences will help you choose the option that best suits your needs and aspirations. So, take the time to thoroughly explore your options and find the most appropriate path for you. And remember, any type of nursing occupation can develop into a rewarding career.

Guest User

Should I Become an LPN or a CNA? — Pacific College (2024)


Should I Become an LPN or a CNA? — Pacific College? ›

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for certified nursing assistants was $30,850 in May 2020. On the other hand, the employment rate of licensed practical nurses is expected to grow 9 percent from 2020 to 2030, and as of May 2020, their median annual wage was $48,820.

Is it better to start as a CNA or LPN? ›

LPNs hold practical nurse licenses and receive more training and responsibility than CNAs. CNAs must pass a competency exam in most states, but they fill assistant roles and often work under the supervision of LPNs. In addition, LPNs earn higher salaries than CNAs.

What are the disadvantages of being a LPN? ›

As an LPN, you work shifts that are often long and at undesirable hours. You might work nights, weekends, and holidays. Unfortunately, the only way around that is employment in a private practice, which can be rare for an LPN, or to earn a higher degree. Working as an LPN is also challenging on one's body.

Why are LPNs not considered nurses? ›

LPN, or Licensed Practical Nurse, is a nurse who provides primary nursing care and works under the supervision of more advanced nurses, like RNs. It's similar to LVN (Licensed Vocational Nurse) as they have similarities in their work settings.

What is the shortest time to become LPN? ›

How long does it take to become an LPN? It can take as few as 12 months to earn a diploma in practical nursing, as opposed to approximately 2-3 years to earn an associate or bachelor's degree in nursing (ADN/ASN or BSN).

Is LPN harder than CNA? ›

Education and Training

CNAs are notably different. A typical LPN training program may take a year or more, while CNA programs last only four to eight weeks. While LPN programs are more in-depth regarding patient care procedures, CNAs can graduate and join the workforce more quickly.

Is being a CNA harder than being a nurse? ›

Consequently, becoming a Nurse typically involves a more extensive and rigorous educational journey than becoming a CNA, with varying degrees of specialization and advancement opportunities, resulting in differing levels of difficulty in these healthcare careers.

Why are LPNs being phased out? ›

Limited Job Opportunities: As medical disciplines and practices become more specialized, an increasing number of job openings are shutting out LPNs and requiring an RN (or higher)—especially on the hospital floor. For example, an LPN is rarely allowed to work in critical care or the ER.

How do I know if LPN is right for me? ›

Having the ability to translate what you learn from the books into practical knowledge makes you eligible for LPN training and career. Since LPNs interact and work closely with the patients, they need to not only be great at their job, but also have a compassionate approach towards patient handling.

What is the hardest part about becoming a LPN? ›

In fact, one of the biggest challenges LPN students face is learning to trust their instincts. We are all born with natural instincts about things that are safe or unsafe and what feels right or wrong. The more we mature and experience life, the more pronounced these instincts become.

Can an LPN call herself a nurse? ›

Registered nurses (RNs) and Licensed practical/vocational nurses (LPNs/LVNs) are called nurses, but outside that commonality, their education and occupational roles in the medical setting are decidedly different.

Can an LPN draw blood? ›

In most states, LPNs can draw blood, but the exact rules may vary. A licensed practical nurse's duties range widely. LPNs may: Monitor patients' health: This includes tasks such as checking a patient's blood pressure and other vital signs.

Do LPNs take the same Nclex as RNs? ›

There are two versions of the NCLEX that are called the NCLEX-RN and the NCLEX-PN. The NCLEX-RN is for registered nurses and NCLEX-PN is for licensed practical nurses or licensed vocational nurses. Let's look closer at each test and how to prepare for this final part of your journey.

What's the fastest you can become a CNA? ›

Online CNA Program Length

Depending on the state, you may be able to finish your CNA program, including attending CNA classes online and required in-person components, in 4-6 months. Your program completion time may vary depending on whether you enroll in full-time, part-time, or self-paced classes.

How do I transition from CNA to LVN? ›

As a CNA, you can complete a CNA-to-LVN training program at a community college or vocational school. These programs cover the same coursework as regular LVN training programs, but you may be able to skip some basic nursing courses, depending on your CNA education and experience.

What is lower than a CNA? ›

A personal care assistant (PCA) provides the most basic form of care. Midlevel support may be offered by a home health aide (HHA). A certified nursing assistant (CNA) is available to provide basic medical care to a senior but is supervised by a registered nurse (RN) or nurse practitioner (NP).

What is the difference between CNA and CNA 2? ›

While both CNA 1s and CNA 2s have many responsibilities, CNA 2s typically work in a hospital setting, which requires acute care and crisis intervention skills. A CNA 2 career path is often more stressful and carries more responsibility than a CNA 1.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Terrell Hackett

Last Updated:

Views: 5862

Rating: 4.1 / 5 (52 voted)

Reviews: 83% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Terrell Hackett

Birthday: 1992-03-17

Address: Suite 453 459 Gibson Squares, East Adriane, AK 71925-5692

Phone: +21811810803470

Job: Chief Representative

Hobby: Board games, Rock climbing, Ghost hunting, Origami, Kabaddi, Mushroom hunting, Gaming

Introduction: My name is Terrell Hackett, I am a gleaming, brainy, courageous, helpful, healthy, cooperative, graceful person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.