Both licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and certified nursing assistants (CNAs) are essential members of the healthcare team. They work closely with other healthcare professionals in a variety of settings to improve the health of their patients. There are some essential differences between becoming an LPN vs. CNA. LPNs need more education before they can work. Also, an LPN may have job duties that are significantly different compared to a CNA.
Keep in mind that both LPNs and CNAs deal directly with patients. For either job, you’ll need a solid educational foundation and the ability to correctly perform many clinical skills. Learning more about LPN vs. CNA is the first step toward deciding which is better for you.
What to Know About LPNs
Licensed practical nurses perform duties that directly impact their patients. Think of an LPN as a bridge between a registered nurse (RN) and a CNA. In addition to basic patient care activities, such as taking vital signs, LPNs may complete some of the same activities that RNs do. However, LPNs also complete some of the same tasks as CNAs depending on the work environment.
As an LPN, you may be required to:
- Administer medications, including injectable medications.
- Assist in minor medical procedures.
- Check and document vital signs.
- Insert catheters.
- Explain treatments and procedures to patients and their families.
- Perform wound care, including changing bandages.
- Verify each patient’s medical chart is accurate and up to date.
In some cases, LPNs also delegate, or assign, tasks to CNAs and other healthcare team members. This helps manage the workload and ensures that each patient receives the proper amount of care.
LPNs work in a variety of healthcare settings, such as hospitals, nursing homes, private clinics, and in home health.
In order to become an LPN, you’ll first need your high school diploma or GED. From there, you’ll enroll in an accredited practical nurse certification program. This program generally takes around a year to complete and are offered at many community colleges. Expect to take courses geared toward biology, pharmacology, and nursing practice.
After completing your certification program, you’ll need to take and pass the National Licensure Examination for practical nurses (NCLEX-PN). This examination consists of both written questions and a skills test. During the skills test, you’ll demonstrate how to correctly perform several typical LPN tasks.
Passing your certification exam allows you to apply for jobs. The demand for LPNs is expected to grow over the next 10 years, and you’ll likely be able to find work quickly. Depending on where you live, expect to make around $48,070 each year. Where you work may bump this number higher.
What to Know About CNAs
Certified nursing assistants help patients complete normal daily activities, such as bathing, getting dressed, and taking care of wounds. They may also feed patients who have trouble feeding themselves, along with helping patients turn and reposition if they can’t do it alone.
CNAs also help other members of the healthcare team. They may complete simple medical tasks, such as taking vital signs and helping with minor procedures. In some healthcare facilities, CNAs also:
- Answer patient calls.
- Clean and prepare rooms for new patients.
- Document patient complaints or concerns and report them to the RN.
- Stock supplies.
CNAs are employed in many different healthcare settings. You could be hired at a hospital, rehabilitation facility, nursing home, or long-term care facility.
The road to becoming a CNA is shorter compared to some other types of healthcare professionals. You’ll first need to get your high school diploma or GED. Once you’ve reached this goal, you’ll enroll in and complete nursing assistant training. Most CNA training programs are only a few months long. They’re usually offered at community colleges, technical schools, and certain medical facilities.
Following the completion of your CNA training, you’ll need to take a certification examination before you can start working. The test has written questions and a skills test. During the skills test portion, you’ll demonstrate that you can correctly perform several clinical skills in front of a proctor.
Passing the examination will reward you with your professional certification. Then, you can start applying for jobs. CNAs are in high demand; they fulfill vital healthcare roles and improve quality of life for the country’s aging population. Once you’re certified, you’ll be able to start applying for jobs immediately.
Experts believe that jobs for CNAs will grow by about 9% through 2030. Around the country, the average salary for a CNA is about $29,000 each year. However, you may make more depending on your employer and where you live.
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