LPN vs. CNA: What’s the Difference?

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Written by Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN Freelance Writer, IntelyCare
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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. But there are some key differences between an LPN vs. 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 the difference between a CNA and LPN is the first step toward deciding which career path is better for you.

LPN vs. CNA: What They Do

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.

The duties of LPN may include:

  • 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 tasks to CNAs and other healthcare team members. This helps manage the workload and ensures that each patient receives the proper amount of care.

Certified nursing assistants help patients complete normal daily activities, such as bathing and getting dressed. 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, CNA duties also include:

  • Answering patient calls
  • Cleaning and preparing rooms for new patients
  • Documenting patient complaints or concerns and report them to the RN
  • Stocking supplies

LPN vs. CNA: Where They Work

LPNs work in a variety of healthcare settings, such as hospitals, nursing homes, private clinics, and in home health. Similarly, CNAs are employed in many different healthcare settings. You could be hired at a hospital, rehabilitation facility, nursing home, or long-term care facility.

LPN vs. CNA: Education Requirements

The level of education needed for CNA vs. LPN positions differs significantly. Here’s the lowdown on both job types and the training you’ll have to complete for each:


LPNs need more education than a CNA before they can work. In order to learn how 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.

LPN programs 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. It’s another main difference of an CNA vs. LPN, as nursing assistants don’t need to take this major exam.

Passing your NCLEX-PN exam allows you to interview to be an LPN. The job outlook for LPNs is expected to be steady over the next 10 years, so you’ll likely be able to get hired quickly.

See all LPN jobs available right now on IntelyCare.


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. Once you’re certified, you’ll be able to interview to be a CNA.

The job outlook for CNAs is about as fast as average for all other occupations, which is great news when it’s time for you to look for work.

See all CNA jobs available on IntelyCare now.

CNA vs. LPN: Salary Expectations

The median salary for LPNs is $48,070 per year. The median salary for CNAs is $30,310 per year. Your level of experience, geographical location, and facility type can impact your salary.

Make an Impact Today

Whether you decide to pursue a path as an LPN vs. CNA, know that both jobs are key for the healthcare system to function. Want to start looking for work? See how IntelyCare is improving your access to great nursing jobs.