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Moving Up the Ranks from CNA to LPN to RN

June 3, 2015

The beauty about the healthcare profession is that you can start from the bottom and work your way to the top; all it takes is a little bit of hard work and continuing education.

Some people think a career in nursing is difficult to achieve, but it’s actually easier than one might think. It can take as little as 2 weeks of training to get your foot in the door.

There are three different levels to the nursing profession; Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) and Registered Nurse (RN).

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Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

Becoming a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) is a fairly easy task. The programs at your local community college can be as short as 2 weeks. There are even some nursing homes who will offer paid training, with a commitment of course. CNA  job duties include: helping patients with their activities of daily living (ADL’s) like eating and bathing, monitoring intake and output, checking blood sugars and vital signs, helping nurses with certain tasks such as dressing changes and repositioning.

CNAs cannot do assessments or hand out medications, which means they have a lot less charting to do.  According to the National Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), the average pay for a CNA is $11.73 per hour or $24,400 a year. There are ways to make more money in the healthcare profession.

Working nights and weekends can give you a pay differential as much as $5 an hour and because there is such a high demand for CNAs, overtime is also an option. CNAs can work in hospitals, mental health facilities and nursing homes. Most of the CNAs I work with are studying to become RN’s, however, there are also a few who love patient care but don’t want the responsibility of an RN.

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Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

Responsibility plays a big part in the differences between the nursing professions. Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) have more responsibility than a CNA but not as much as an RN. With more education comes more responsibility. LPN programs are usually 1 year in length.

LPN job duties include all of the job duties of a CNA, as well as passing out medications, doing dressing changes, inserting catheters and IV’s and other nursing duties, not including assessments. LPN’s do need to be able to identify normal from abnormal in each body system, so they can report it to an RN or MD. Many nurses get their LPN during their RN program so they can work while they are in school.

The average pay for an LPN is $19.97 per hour or $41,540 a year according to the BLS. LPNs can work in hospitals, nursing homes, home health, clinics and schools. In most cases, CNAs and LPNs do not hold management positions and are often only utilized at the bedside, so there is little opportunity for growth.

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Registered Nurse (RN)

Becoming a Registered Nurse (RN) requires much more time and education and holds more responsibility than both a CNA and an LPN. RN programs are a minimum of 2 years, however, bachelor degrees are becoming required in some hospital settings.

An RN has to be able to perform all of the job duties of a CNA and LPN as well as be able to critically think, plan a patient’s care based on their diagnosis, perform assessments, do patient teaching, work with highly technical equipment such as ventilators and balloon pumps, and collaborate with physicians. RN’s can work in a multitude of settings including hospitals, nursing homes, home health, community health, clinics, aesthetics, management, and education.

The job outlook is high just the same as CNAs and LPNs, however, the variety and possibility for advancement are much greater if you are an RN. RNs make approximately $31.48 per hour or $65,470 a year according to BLS statistics.

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Expand your career opportunities

Depending on where you are in your life and what you are looking for in a career, any of these nursing professions can serve you. If you are looking for a lifelong career, with plenty of variety and opportunity for growth, than becoming an RN is most likely for you.

As an RN you have the freedom to leave the bedside if you are burnt out and give botox to people seeking everlasting youth, educate future nurses, or hop on the road as a travel nurse. The opportunities are endless. Becoming an RN has been the best decision I have made in my life thus far.

The training, education and experience I have received from being an RN has impacted not only my professional life but has made me the person I am today.

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By Crystal Gustafson, RN

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Crystal Gustafson is a Critical Care Registered Nurse who spent time as a travel nurse in various states including Arizona, Texas, Florida and California. She has recently accepted a system wide float pool position with Exempla Healthcare System in her hometown of Denver, Colorado and also has blog about prevention and education in healthcare. You can learn more about Crystal on her blog at