Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) vs. Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

Your first step was deciding to enter the health care field so you could directly care for patients. Next, you need to determine whether you want to become an LPN (licensed practical nurse) or a CNA (certified nursing assistant). LPNs (sometimes referred to as LVNs or licensed vocational nurses) and CNAs work in similar settings, including nursing homes, hospitals, and assisted living facilities. Both fields have a strong career outlook, with growth from 10–14% predicted from 2016 to 2026. But the overlap between these jobs can be a bit confusing.

LPN vs CNA? This page will help you to understand the similarities — and the differences — between these two allied health professions. You’ll learn about the steps you need to take to become an LPN or a CNA. When you finish this page, you’ll be able to make an informed decision about whether a career path as an LPN or a CNA is right for you.

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What Is the Difference Between a CNA and an LPN?

There are several key differences between a CNA and an LPN. A CNA works under the supervision of nursing staff, usually an LPN or a registered nurse (RN), to provide basic care to patients. An LPN works under the supervision of an RN and can perform additional nursing duties. CNAs require less education than LPNs do, so they may start working on a faster timeline, but their salaries will be significantly lower than those of LPNs. The certification and licensing requirements for both jobs vary by state and are discussed in more detail below.

Education Requirement Differences

A high school diploma or GED degree is usually all that’s required to begin your educational journey to become either a CNA or an LPN. But the types of courses you take and the length of your program will differ depending upon which path you take. Please keep in mind that state requirements and individual programs may vary, so always check with your chosen school or institution for exact requirements and details.

  Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)
Education CNA certificate program LPN certificate program
Entry Requirements High school diploma or GED

Criminal background check

Drug test

High school diploma or GED

Criminal background check

Drug test

Passing score on a math and English proficiency/placement test

Length of Program 6 to 14 weeks 9 to 18 months (up to 24 months if pursuing an associate’s degree)
Sample Courses Anatomy and Physiology

Principles of Clinical Practice

Nutrition

Patient Care Skills

 

Anatomy and Physiology

Patient Safety

Introduction to Nursing

Psychology

Medication Dosage and Administration

Family Nursing

Legal and Ethical Principles of Nursing

LPN vs. CNA Job Duties and Work Settings

Both CNAs and LPNs are integral parts of a patient’s care, and some of their duties may overlap. There are, however, some important differences in the kinds of patient care each professional can provide. How they are supervised also has important differences.

  CNA LPN
Typical Duties Feed, bathe, dress patients

Listen to, record, and report patient’s health concerns

Measure vital signs

Make beds

Answer call button

Feed, bathe, dress patients

Listen to, record, and report patient’s health concerns

Measure vital signs

Dress wounds

Provide basic medical procedures

Administer medications

 

Supervision Supervised by RN or LPN Supervised by RN
Work Settings Nursing homes

Hospitals

Assisted living facilities

Home healthcare

Nursing homes

Hospitals

Assisted living facilities

Home healthcare

Physician’s office

 

Salary Differences

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistic (BLS), the mean average salary for CNAs in May 2018 was $29,580. The mean average salary for LPNs in May 2018 was $47,050.

Salary can vary by geographic location and work setting. The following tables show breakdowns for these two factors.

Breakdown by State (BLS, May 2018)

State CNA Mean Annual Wage LPN Mean Annual Wage
Alabama $24,110 $38,230
Alaska $39,830* $58,250**
Arizona $31,450 $54,090
Arkansas $25,080 $39,570
California $35,220* $56,200
Colorado $32,610 $51,210
Connecticut $33,390 $56, 970**
Delaware $30,780 $52,860
Florida $26,840 $44,400
Georgia $25,870 $41,690
Hawaii $35,770* $50,930
Idaho $27,400 $44,280
Illinois $28,810 $51,080
Indiana $27,210 $44,310
Iowa $29,120 $42,820
Kansas $26,210 $43,240
Kentucky $26,800 $41,920
Louisiana $22,750 $39,480
Maine $28,710 $45,610
Maryland $31,310 $53,650
Massachusetts $33,630 $58,990**
Michigan $30,130 $49,040
Minnesota $33,710 $47,020
Mississippi $23,100 $37,930
Missouri $25,930 $42,580
Montana $29,110 $43,770
Nebraska $28,730 $43,160
Nevada $35,130* $57,140**
New Hampshire $32,200 $52,510
New Jersey $30,380 $56,290
New Mexico $28,310 $47,560
New York $37,010* $48,770
North Carolina $25,570 $44,610
North Dakota $33,990 $46,410
Ohio $27,570 $43,430
Oklahoma $25,690 $41,260
Oregon $33,230 $53,240
Pennsylvania $30,630 $48,120
Rhode Island $31,340 $59,130**
South Carolina $25,390 $40,890
South Dakota $26,820 $38,630
Tennessee $26,400 $40,120
Texas $27,030 $46,990
Utah $27,880 $48,130
Vermont $30,730 $49,720
Virginia $28,770 $44,850
Washington $32,130 $55,420
West Virginia $26,410 $36,770
Wisconsin $29,590 $45,290
Wyoming $30,910 $46,790

*Top five states, CNA

**Top five states, LPN

Breakdown by Work Settings for CNAs (BLS, May 2018):

Industry Annual mean wage (2)
Specialty (except psychiatric and substance abuse) Hospitals $32,020
General medical and surgical hospitals $31,540
Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities) $28,560
Home health care services $28,130
Continuing care retirement communities and assisted living facilities for the elderly $27,780

Breakdown by Work Settings for LPNs (BLS, May 2018):

Industry Annual mean wage (2)
Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities) $48,330
Home health care services $47,880
Continuing care retirement communities and assisted living facilities for the elderly $47,850
General medical and surgical hospitals $45,190
Offices of physicians $43,240

 

LPN vs. CNA Licensing Requirements

The licensing for CNAs and LPNs varies by state, but each certification process follows a predictable path. Use the table below to see the steps you need to take, and as always, check with your individual state for specific licensure requirements.

Requirement CNA LPN
Graduation Verification of graduation from state-approved certified nursing assistant education program Verification of graduation from a state-approved LPN nursing education program

 

Exam State-issued competency exam National Council Licensure Examination

(NCLEX-PN)

Certification License application with your state board of nursing License application with your state board of nursing

How to Become an LPN if you are a CNA

If you are already working as a CNA, there are multiple benefits to becoming an LPN. A significant increase in salary is one; an expanded scope of nursing practice is another.

Your first step is to pursue CNA-to-LPN bridge programs, but you should make sure any program you  consider is accredited. While many LPN programs will not accept academic credits from your CNA training, the CNA coursework you completed and your hands-on patient experience are first-rate preparation to help you excel in the LPN program more easily, and advance in your career.

LPN programs are often offered at community colleges and technical or vocational schools, and some hybrid programs offer a combination of face-to-face and online classes.