CNA vs. LPN Careers: What’s the Difference, and How to Transition

CNA vs LPN Careers: What’s the Difference & How to Get Licensed

If you’re a nurse, or interested in becoming one, you may be wondering where to begin. Two of the most common jobs to start with are certified nursing assistants (CNAs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs). So, what’s the difference between CNA vs. LPN careers? What do they pay? Lastly, if you start out as a CNA, how can you become an LPN later?

Read on for the answers to these common questions about CNA vs. LPN jobs, along with other helpful information on how to get started on your nursing career path, from your friends at CareerStaff, the nation’s leading nurse staffing company.

> Looking for a new nursing job? Check out all of our open CNA jobs here, or LPN jobs here

CNA vs. LPN Careers: What They Have in Common

Before we dive into the differences between CNA vs. LPN jobs, you should understand that they often have much in common. After all, every nursing job is important! Nurses are the foundation of the healthcare industry in the United States, and all around the world. There are literally millions more nurses in America than any other kind of clinical worker.

Because CNAs and LPNs both work in the nursing field, there’s a lot of overlap in what they actually do. Both jobs are based on providing care and comfort to patients and nursing homes residents. This can include everything from simply talking to patients and helping them understand their situation to giving them medication and making sure they follow their care plan.

CNA vs. LPN Careers: How They’re Different

Technically, a CNA is a nurse’s assistant, and not a fully licensed nurse. Like LPNs, CNAs must be certified to start working. But LPNs need to go one step further and become licensed by passing a special exam. As their name suggests, they’re “licensed practical nurses.” (In California and Texas, they’re called licensed vocational nurses, or LVNs. But it means the same thing.)

For both CNAs and LPNs, many jobs are in hospitals and skilled nursing facilities. However, they can also work in many other settings, like clinics, doctors’ offices, rehab centers, adult day care facilities, home health companies, senior care centers, government offices, and much more.

So, now that we know what they have in common, what are the differences between CNAs vs. LPNs jobs? Let’s take a closer look at each one.

A Closer Look at CNA Careers

A CNA is an assistant or aide who helps with many of a nurse’s day-to-day tasks. There’s no license required; however, CNAs do need to get certified. This means taking a state-approved training program, usually from a community college or tech school. Other places like hospitals and high schools sometimes offer these programs, too.

One of the most popular CNA training programs is available from the American Red Cross. Depending on where you take it, and how big your class is, you can expect it to last for four to eight weeks.

As far as day-to-day work, CNAs carry out many basic patient tasks. These are usually things that don’t require advanced clinical training. For instance, it could be making sure someone takes their pills at a certain time every day. It can also include helping people eat, wash themselves, or use the bathroom. And it’s all usually done under the supervision of a registered nurse (RN).

A Closer Look at LPN Careers

Some of these basic patient tasks are also part of what LPNs do every day. But LPNs also do more advanced work related to medical care. For instance, they clean and dress wounds, give injections, take vital signs, update health records, and so on. They’re also supervised by RNs or doctors.

The work that LPNs do require more education and training. This takes getting a degree from a college or vocational school, then passing the NCLEX-PN exam to becoming licensed.

Where to Start: How to Become a LPN from CNA

Because it takes less training to become a CNA, that’s usually where many nurses start their careers, and remains an excellent healthcare career path.

However, some nurses may want to advance their career prospects (or earn more) by becoming licensed. Luckily, if you’re already a CNA, it’s a little easier to make the leap to LPN. After all, if you’ve already worked as a nurse’s assistant, then you’re already familiar with many of the things that licensed nurses do every day.

CNA to LPN ‘Bridge Programs’

Some schools offer special “bridge programs” to make it faster and easier for CNAs to become LPNs. Usually lasting from six to 12 months, these programs help you build on the experience and skills you’ve already developed to become a fully licensed nurse. They usually involve a mix of classroom and hands-on clinical experience.

To qualify, you’ll have to prove that you have a CNA certification, and a certain grade point average. Additionally, if you have any other educational experience, that could reduce the amount of time you need to spend in the program, too.

You should also be ready to take some medical classes on the fundamentals of nursing. This can also include classes in related topics like biology, anatomy and pharmacology. Finally, you’ll have to take the NCLEX-PN exam to become an LPN.

from CNA to LPN: Where To Begin

So, if you’re a CNA looking to become an LPN, how do you get started? Where can you find a school? The situation is a little different in every states. The best place to start is by checking with your state’s nursing board. You can find a list of every state nursing board here.

CNA vs. LPN Careers: What’s the Difference in Pay?

Both of these careers are very important and there are plenty of opportunities for both all across the country. Still, some people who work as CNAs may want to eventually become an LPN for a number of reasons, including developing their clinical skillset and expertise in care.

Additionally, LPNs generally earn quite a bit more money than CNAs. According to Pacific College, a nursing school in California, LPNs earn about 60 percent more than CNAs each year. That’s more than double the pay, and for less than a year of additional education.

Average Pay for CNA vs. LPN Jobs

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average hourly pay for CNAs in 2022 was $17.41 per hour. That’s an average yearly pay of $36,220. However, pay is different in some states, of course, with places like California and New York offering around $43,500. In fact, due to fluctuating demand, some CNA jobs may even offer up to $25 an hour.

> See all CNA jobs from CareerStaff

The Bureau of Labor Statistics also estimates the average pay for LPNs to be $26.86 per hour, or $55,860 per year. In higher-paying states like California and Massachusetts, it’s close to $70,000. Again, because of high demand, many of the LPN jobs at CareerStaff offer higher rates. It’s not unusual to find LPN jobs for around $40 an hour or more, even in states like Idaho, North Carolina and New Mexico.

> See all LPN jobs from CareerStaff

For both jobs, the exact pay you’ll be offered will depend on your exact situation. In general, the more experience you have, the higher the salary you can make. However, some states pay more than others. According to, for example, the highest-paying jobs for CNAs are in the San Francisco Bay Area, Minneapolis, and New York City.

Find Your Next CNA or LPN Job with CareerStaff!

Comparing CNA vs. LPN careers? Here at CareerStaff, we’ve got plenty of opportunities for both! If you want to find a job, or some career guidance, we’re standing by to help. We offer top pay, great benefits and the industry’s best recruiters.

From local and permanent to travel and per diem, CareerStaff has a great LPN or CNA job waiting for you. Check out our job search page to see what’s available nationwide. Or, start now with a quick online application.

Search CNA and LPN Jobs