The Difference Between Certified Nurses Assistant & Registered Nurse (2024)

By Maureen Malone Updated February 10, 2022

When starting your career in the nursing field, you can become a nursing assistant or a nurse. One main difference between a nurse and a nursing assistant is the type of tasks and care you can provide. Other differences include the amount of education required and salary expectations. You can start as a certified nursing assistant and further your education to get other jobs with a nursing degree.

Difference Between RN and CNA

The main difference between a nurse and a nursing assistant is the role they fill in the health care hierarchy. A certified nursing assistant (CNA) provides basic patient care and works under registered nurses. A registered nurse (RN) provides a higher level of patient care and coordination and works under a doctor.

Certified nursing assistants perform tasks such as bathing patients, helping patients use the toilet, checking vital signs, and assisting patients as they eat meals, advises the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). They turn patients in their beds and help them move between the bed and a wheelchair to go to other appointments and treatment areas. If the patient has complaints or concerns, the nursing assistant is responsible for relaying this information to the registered nurse. In some states, CNAs can dispense medication.

Registered nurses perform a greater role in patient care and treatment. They take medical histories and assess the patients' conditions. They work with doctors and set up treatment plans. In addition, they carry out the treatment plan, including administering medications and operating and monitoring medical equipment, notes the BLS. RNs also play a prominent role in patient education, ensuring they understand their condition and at-home treatment and recovery.

Certified Nurse vs. Registered Nurse Education

To successfully provide care to patients, registered nurses must have more education than certified nurses. Some diploma programs exist for registered nurses, but most nurses have bachelor's or associate degrees. Some employers require nurses to have a bachelor's degree in nursing. Some employers also require additional certifications, such as advanced cardiac life support (ACLS), basic life support (BLS) or cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

Nurses must obtain a state license to practice. Requirements and fees vary by state, but all nurses must take and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). Many states also require a background check.

Certified nursing assistants must complete a training program at a local community college, vocational school or hospital as well as on-the-job training. Many states require nursing assistants to pass a competency exam and be listed on the state registry.

Other Differences and Considerations

Registered nurses earn more money than certified nursing assistants. As of May 2020, the median annual salary for a CNA was ​$30,850​, advises the BLS. Registered nurses earned more than twice that with a median salary of ​$75,330​.

Both occupations are expected to have a similar job outlook. Between 2020 and 2030, employment for nursing assistants is expected to grow by 8 percent, while employment for registered nurses is expected to grow by 9 percent. This is equal to the expected job growth across all occupations.

Both RNs and CNAs can obtain more education and certifications to advance their career and increase their salary. Nursing assistants can pursue an associate or bachelor's degree in nursing to become registered nurses in the future. Registered nurses can pursue a master's or doctorate in nursing to become clinical nurse specialists. Those with doctorate-level degrees can conduct research.

The Difference Between Certified Nurses Assistant & Registered Nurse (2024)
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