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Difference between a CNA and an LPN

Both CNAs and LPNs play fundamental role and work directly with patients in a variety of Medicare or healthcare settings, including hospitals, hospice, long-term care facilities, home care centers, nursing homes and mental health facilities. But, both professions differ in terms of job responsibilities, salaries, program requirements, certifications, scope of practice and coursework. LPNs are licensed nurses who have more duties to perform and more direct contact with patients than nurse aides. If you want to become an LPN, you will have to undertake program and pass the NCLEX-PN exam. The whole process may take 1-2 years to complete. On the other hand, CNA Program takes a few weeks to complete.

The parameters on which CNAs and LPNs differ are as follows:

1. Program Requirements

CNA Program takes 4 to 6 weeks to complete. During program, nurse aides get acquainted with certain important topics such as anatomy and physiology, basic patient care, patient’s rights, infection control, measurement of vital signs, etc.

To be an LPN, you have to take program of at least one year. The duration of the program may vary as it depends on the program requirements of the state. Coursework of LPN programs include more detailed subjects and cover topics like legal implications of actions you take, medication dosage, medication administration, pathophysiology, and specialized care. They also get detailed information about obstetrics, geriatrics, and psychiatry.

2. Examination and License Requirements

In order to acquire an LPN license, you are required to take and qualify the National Council Licensure Examination- Practical Nurse exam. For a LPN, it is mandatory to have license (which must also be regularly renewed) of the state in which he/she wants to carry out his/her work.  

To obtain a CNA certificate, you have to qualify the state certification exam, conducted and administered by the respective State Boards of Nursing. The name of a CNA needs to be registered in the nurse aide registry of the state. He/she must have a certificate, but license is not mandatory.

3. License/Certificate Validity and Renewal

A nurse aide certificate remains active for 2 years since the date of issue. In order to renew or maintain the certificate, you are required to work as a paid nurse for specified hours.

The LPN license remains applicable or active for two years from the date of issue. You are required to work as a paid nursing employee for a specific time period and continue your education, in order to get your license renewed.

4. Basic Responsibilities

Both LPN and CNA are health providers, who work under the supervision of RNs, but the licensed practical nurses have technical and supervisory responsibilities unlike a certified nursing assistant. LPNs are also referred to as LVNs (Licensed Vocational Nurses) in some states like Texas and California.

The basic duties of a nurse aide comprises grooming of patients, making their beds, taking vital signs, assisting the non-ambulatory clients in motion exercise, transferring them from one place to another, etc.

The job responsibilities of LPNs include giving shots, administering the medication, taking vital signs, applying catheter and feeding tubes, wound dressing, all types of the paperwork/charting, collecting samples for laboratory testing, etc.

5. Scope of Practice

Nurse aides work under the supervision of an RN or LPN and have a limited scope of practice. They can neither take independent decisions nor carry out the daily tasks of a licensed practitioner nurse.

An LPN works directly with the patients under the supervision of a registered nurse. They can carry out the tasks of a nurse aide and are allowed to take some crucial decisions in emergencies.

6. Salary / Pay Scale

In October 2017, the average annual income of nurse aides as per the reports of was $24,041. According to the estimations of the BLS, in May 2016, CNAs made average hourly salary of $13.29 and annual income of $27,650.

In May 2016, licensed vocational and licensed practical nurses earned $21.56 per hour and $44,840 per annum (as per the BLS).

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