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Difference Between a CNA, LPN & RN

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The main differences between certified nurse assistants (CNA), licensed practical nurse (LPN) and a registered nurse (RN) are in education and training, duties, certifications or licenses and salary. If you are undecided about a career in nursing, a good way to get started is to become a CNA. At this level, you will get a good feel for nursing, it does not require a diploma and very little course work is needed.


To become a certified nursing assistant, you must have a high school diploma or equivalent. You will be required to attend a two- to six-month program through a community college, trade school or hospital. The time required will depend on the requirements of your state.

A licensed practical nurse must have graduated from high school and is required to complete a one-year approved training program that includes courses in theory and clinical practice. These programs are usually available through local trade schools, community colleges or junior colleges.

To become a registered nurse, you must have a high school diploma or equivalent. You must have an associate's degree, a bachelor's of science degree in nursing or a nursing diploma. This process can take two to five years to complete.


The duties of a CNA generally involve the daily care needs of patients, such things as bathing, dressing, feeding, taking temperatures and bed making. They work under the supervision of the nursing and hospital staff.

An LPN also might be needed to perform some of these tasks, but generally they have more responsibilities and duties than a CNA. They are responsible for taking and reporting a patient's vital signs, giving injections, administering medications, monitoring catheters and dressing wounds. LPNs take direction from registered nurses and physicians.

In addition to performing all the duties of an LPN, RNs will maintain patient's charts and will work alongside doctors to design and implement a health care plan for patients. They have the knowledge to perform and analyze diagnostic tests, operate hospital equipment. RNs will work with patients and their families to educate them about their illness and how to manage it. Many registered nurses have very little contact with patients and are in a supervisory role, overseeing CNAs and LPNs and assigning tasks.


According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Certified Nursing Assistants, or nurse's aides, are paid a median hourly wage of $14.82 as of May 2020. This rate will vary by experience, employer and location.

According to surveys done by PayScale, a Licensed Practical Nurse will make $27,311 to $39,675 yearly with less than one year of experience. An LPN with 20 or more years of experience will make $33,664 to $47,035 yearly.

According to surveys done by PayScale, a Registered Nurses with less than one year of experience will make $38,521 to $53,548 yearly. An RN with 20 or more years of experience will make $50,426 to $72,076 yearly.

Certifications and Licenses

After completing the course work required, a CNA must pass a mandatory state certification exam.

An LPN must pass the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX-PN, to obtain an LPN license.

An RN must pass the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX-RN, to obtain a registered nursing license.

The tests are similar. However, the NCLEX-RN has more questions and therefore will likely take longer to complete.


CNAs, LPNs and RNs need to have a kind, compassionate and caring attitude toward patients. They need to be flexible in their work hours and willing to work holidays if required. A successful nurse at any level has good communication skills and can easily take orders and direction from superiors.