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The Difference between a CNA and an RN

Both RNs and CNAs work in the same industry and have the unique set of job responsibilities. There are some differences between both the professions. A nursing assistant works at an entry level position in the nursing homes and hospitals and provides basic patient care. A registered nurse works at higher levels. They supervise the work of CNAs and licensed practical nurses and work as managers of the nursing units.

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Here are some key areas where both the professions differ.


Aspirants don’t require any degree for becoming a certified nursing assistant. The basic requirements include a GED or a high school diploma. On the other hand, the education requisite for working as an RN includes high school diploma, as well as BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) or ADN (Associate’s Degree in Nursing).

Program Requirements

The program requirements vary greatly with these two professions. For CNA aspirants, it’s compulsory to take 75 or 80 hours of program which lasts for 4 to 6 weeks.

An RN requires undergoing a program program of long duration. You will have to attend a 2- year program at a vocational school or a 4-year degree program from a university.


After completing the CNA Program, you have to qualify the NNAAP (National Nurse Aide Assessment Program), in order to obtain the nurse aide certificate.

On the flip side, you have to take a licensing exam – National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX Exam), to acquire a registered nurse license.

Job Position

CNA is an entry-level job. A nursing assistant carry out their work under the supervision and direction of LPNs and RNs.

Registered nurses hold a very high position in the hierarchy of the medical industry. They supervise the work of nurse aides and licensed practical nurses.

Scope of Practice

As mentioned above, CNAs work under the direction of LPNs and RNs. They cannot carry out or perform the responsibilities and work of a registered nurse. A nursing assistant doesn’t have the authority to take the decisions on their own.

An RN works directly with the patient and can take decisions for ensuring the best care of the clients. They supervise the work of the nursing assistants and can also accomplish their duties and tasks.

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Working Alternatives

A CNA may work in nursing homes, hospitals, clinics, assisted living centers, rehabilitation centers and day care centers.

A registered nurse may work in doctor’s office or hospitals.

Duties and Responsibilities

A nurse aide has to perform some daily tasks which include measurement of the vital signs, monitoring the condition of the patients frequently, movement of the patients, infection control, assisting the patients in bathing, dressing and feeding, etc.

A registered nurse assigns tasks to the nursing assistants and LPNs. Besides, they perform wound dressing, aid in medical processes, administer medication and injection, etc.

Further Professional Growth

A nursing assistant can get additional program or education to advance his/her career. S/he can become an LPN or RN after getting further education. They can either opt for CNA to LPN programs, or directly move on to being a Registered Nurse. There are many CNA to RN programs through which you can complete the course of RN in shorter duration (approximately 18 months).

A registered nurse can become nurse practitioner and may also work as a nursing unit manager after gaining additional education.

Earning Potential

The average salary of RNs in May 2016 (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) was $68,450 per annum while the hourly mean wages was $32.91. As per, the salary of these professionals in October 2017 was $70,812.

The salary figures of nursing assistants as per (as of October 2017) was $24,041. In October 2017, these professionals made average hourly and a monthly salary of $12.08 and $2,319.