Nurse. Practical nurse. Nursing assistant. What exactly are these different nursing roles, anyway?
The nursing field is noble and diverse, offering more than enough career options for those passionate about healthcare. For individuals considering a career in nursing, it's essential to understand the critical distinctions between various nursing roles.
In this article, we will explore the differences between a Registered Nurse (RN), a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), and a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), shedding light on their unique responsibilities, education, and career prospects.
(The following resources are compiled based on publicly-available information and are not given as advice—please consult with your state in which you want to practice for the exact details.)
Becoming an RN
RNs play a vital role in the healthcare system by delivering patient care, offering health education to patients and the public, and advocating for patients with various health conditions. To embark on a career as an RN, individuals can pursue one of the following educational paths:
- Earning a bachelor's degree in nursing
- Obtaining an associate's degree in nursing
- Completing a diploma program
- Pursuing master's or doctoral degrees in nursing
It is essential to note that registered nurses must obtain licensure to practice in their respective states.
The employment outlook for registered nurses appears promising, with a projected 6 percent growth in job opportunities from 2022 to 2032. This rate is notably faster than the average for all occupations. Over the coming decade, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there will be 193,100 new Registered Nurse jobs annually. These openings will stem from various factors, including the need to fill positions vacated by individuals transitioning to different career paths or retiring from the workforce. This demand underscores the continued importance of Registered Nurses in meeting the healthcare needs of our society.
Here's what sets RNs apart:
RNs typically hold a four-year bachelor's degree in nursing (BSN) or a two-year associate degree in nursing (ADN). RNs must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) to become licensed.
RNs have a broader scope of practice compared to LPNs and CNAs. RNs can assess patients, create care plans, administer medications, and perform complex medical procedures. They also often supervise LPNs and CNAs.
RNs work in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and other healthcare settings.
RNs enjoy many career opportunities and can specialize in diverse areas such as pediatrics, oncology, obstetrics, or behavioral health. Advancement opportunities include becoming nurse managers, clinical nurse specialists, or nurse educators.
RNs have higher earning potential compared to LPNs and CNAs.
When searching for RN jobs, it's advisable to consider nursing specialties that align with your preferences, considering factors like annual income, personality traits, and stress levels.
Becoming an LPN
LPNs or Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVNs) are essential in delivering fundamental medical care. Individuals must complete state-approved educational programs to embark on careers as LPNs/LVNs, typically lasting around one year. It's worth noting that licensure is a mandatory step in this profession, ensuring that these healthcare providers meet established standards of competence.
The employment outlook for licensed practical and vocational nurses appears promising, with a projected 5 percent growth in job opportunities from 2022 to 2032. This growth rate surpasses the average for all occupations, indicating a sustained demand for these professionals. Over the next decade, approximately 54,400 LPN/LVN jobs will open annually.
Licensed Practical Nurses play an essential role in patient care, working under the supervision of RNs and physicians. Here's what you need to know about LPNs:
LPNs typically complete a one-year practical nursing program and pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN) for licensure.
These programs are found at vocational schools, community colleges, and select hospitals.
LPNs provide primary nursing care, including administering medications, taking vital signs, and dressing wounds.
They assist with patient assessments, collect patient data, and report their findings to RNs or physicians.
LPNs work in various healthcare settings, including long-term care facilities, clinics, and home health.
LPNs can find fulfilling careers in various healthcare settings. LPNs earn competitive salaries—although lower than RNs—and often have more flexible work schedules.
Some LPNs pursue further education to become RNs, expanding their career options.
LPN jobs offer the chance to work in various healthcare settings, and once you obtain your licensure, you can explore all the potential opportunities by searching for shifts on Nursa.
Becoming a CNA
Unlike other professions in the nursing field, CNAs do not require college degrees. However, they usually must complete training, resulting in postsecondary non-degree certificates or diplomas. In many states, authorities issue CNA credentials, requiring aspiring nursing assistants to enroll in approved training programs and pass examinations.
To become CNAs, individuals must possess high school diplomas or GEDs and complete nursing assistant training at community colleges, trade schools, or medical facilities. Before enrollment, prospective CNAs must ensure that the programs they consider hold approval from their state's board of nursing and the National League for Nursing Accredited Commission (NLNAC).
In many states, candidates must pass CNA certification examinations upon completing CNA training.
The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) evaluates and oversees nursing education programs at all levels. While the federal government does not directly engage in accreditation, the U.S. Department of Education supervises the accreditation procedure and manages a repository of schools that have received accreditation.
With the aging baby boomer population, there is a growing demand for preventive medical care, contributing to an estimated 4 percent growth rate for CNAs over the next decade.
Certified Nursing Assistants provide essential direct patient care and support to RNs and LPNs. Here's what you should know about CNAs:
CNAs usually have to complete state-approved training programs, typically lasting a few weeks to a few months. CNAs must pass competency exams to become certified.
Community colleges, vocational schools, and some healthcare facilities offer training programs.
Nursing assistants aid patients in performing activities of daily living (ADLs), including bathing, dressing, and eating. CNAs help turn and position patients, take vital signs, and maintain clean and safe patient environments.
CNAs often have the most direct and frequent contact with patients and play vital roles in their comfort and well-being.
CNAs can find employment in hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and home health care, among other settings.
While CNAs may have limited scope for advancement within their role, many use this experience as a stepping stone to pursue further education and become LPNs or RNs.
To start your quest for CNA jobs, consider factors like the work environment, patient population, and shift flexibility, and choose jobs that match your preferences and career goals.
Which Nursing Certification Is Right for You?
The nursing profession offers diverse opportunities, each catering to unique skill sets, education levels, and career aspirations. Each role is critical in the patient care continuum in the dynamic nursing field.
Whether you picture yourself providing care as an RN, LPN, or CNA, choosing the role that aligns with your passion for healthcare and suits your individual circumstances is vital. Consider your interests, educational goals, and long-term career aspirations to make an informed decision that aligns with your passion for healthcare.
The nursing field eagerly embraces committed individuals prepared to create a beneficial influence on both patients' lives and the larger healthcare community. Make the jump into the nursing field by signing up with Nursa.