What is the Difference Between CNA and LPN?

The primary differences between a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) and a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) are training and responsibility. The LPN has a wider scope of practice and can do more things independently than a CNA. Also, the LPN earns a greater salary, often beginning where the CNA salary ends.

An LPN completes a nine month to one year training course, where the CNA course is on average 120 hours long and can be completed in a few short weeks. Becoming a CNA first makes it possible for the aspiring LPN to begin working in a clinical setting gaining employment and experience.

The basic differences in the scope of practice of an LPN and a CNA are that an LPN can administer medication or IV meds previously chosen from a protocol by an RN or MD while a CNA cannot. An LPN can also start and/or activate an IV. An RN can delegate specific tasks to an LPN that would not normally be performed by an LPN if the RN believes the LPN is capable of such, but an LPN cannot delegate tasks to another LPN or to an aide.

An LPN is trained in anatomy and physiology and is trained to differentiate “abnormal” from normal in the body, and is introduced to the disease process. This is not part of CNA training.

The LPN is also trained in pharmacology whereas the CNA would only have exposure to pharmacology training if he or she was also a certified Medication Aide.

Even though the differences are great between a CNA and an LPN, it is becoming common for someone applying to nursing school to receive greater priority in the acceptance list if they are CNAs than someone who has never worked in a clinical setting. Studies have shown that first time LPNs who have not had nursing assistant training and experience are less likely to be successful due to the overwhelming nature of first time clinical exposure where more of the burden is placed on independence.




Pay Scale

CNAs hourly pay usually ranges anywhere between $7 and $16

LPN hourly earnings may range from $12 to $25 and majority of them make between $15 and $20 an hour.


CNA has to complete few weeks of training in state approved college or nursing home or any other facility that is accredited by state BON. The course duration may range from one week to the whole semester. Please refer CNA training page for more information about courses curriculum.

LPN training usually last one year and provided by state approved colleges (can be community colleges or private), vocational schools or hospitals. The training consists of both theory and practical course. In fact, its clinical course percentage is even greater than RN program.

License and Certification

There is no license requirement for CNA, however, CNAs need to get certified. Certification process involves: completing state approved training and take the certification exam. CNA certification stays active for 24 months since the date its issued. All state required to keep all CNAs listed under a centralized database called nurse aide registry and long with that, state BONs also maintain abuse list which shows ex-CNA who get their certification revoked due to discipline and negligence.

Some states require CNAs to work a minimum number hours as a paid employee in ordered to renew their certification every two years. But most states don’t require that.

As the name implies LPNs are licensed nurses with lower scope of practice than RNs. LPN license is issued for applicants who complete state approved LPN training program and pass NCLEX PN exam. LPN licenses stays active for two years since issuing date.

Unlike CNA, LPN has to complete few contact hours of continuing education in addition to working few hours as a paid nurse to their license renewable. If these conditions are not met, refresher course has to be taken in order to re instate the licenses.

Job Description and Scope of Practice
  • Answers patient call lights
  • Bathes, dresses and undresses patients
  • Tidies patients’ room, changes soiled linen
  • Assists with personal hygiene
  • Serves meals, water and snacks
  • Feeds patients who need help
  • Transports patients, helps patients walk
  • Takes and records temperature, pulse, respiration and blood pressure
  • Records food and liquid intake and output
  • Collects specimens; urine, stool, sputum
  • Performs procedures including Heimlich maneuver, isolation, Universal Precautions, gait belt, post mortem care
  • Observes and reports unusual conditions
  • Measures height and weight using bed, chair and balance scales
  • Collect patient’s health history,
  • Collect samples for laboratory testing,
  • Perform simple laboratory tests,
  • Measure and record patients’ vital signs such as height, weight, temperature, blood pressure, pulse, and respiration.
  • Prepare and give injections and enemas, monitor catheters, dress wounds, and give alcohol rubs and massages.
  • Clean and monitor medical equipment.