Medical team smiling in a hallway


Explore the Differences in Duties, Requirements, Certifications, Salaries, and Career Outlooks for These Two Noble Professions

Medical team smiling in a hallway

Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) and Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVNs) can often be found working together in various healthcare settings to provide their patients with the best care possible. While both positions are vital to the medical team, they fulfill different individual roles and have their own unique job responsibilities, day-to-day tasks, job outlook, and earning potential.

This guide will cover the differences between CNAs and LVNs. If you’re interested in becoming a CNA or an LVN but need more information, continue reading to learn about the key differences between these vital roles.

(Click here to learn how to become a Licensed Vocational Nurse).

CNA vs. LVN: Definition

What is a Certified Nursing Assistant?

Nursing Assistants provide patients with basic care and help them perform regular day-to-day activities. These activities may include eating, bathing, and dressing. CNAs may also work under the supervision of LVNs and RNs.

What is a Licensed Vocational Nurse?

Licensed Vocational Nurses are also known as Licensed Practical Nurses (LPN), depending on their location. They care for the disabled, sick, or otherwise injured patients. In addition, LVNs are typically supervised by a Registered Nurse (RN) or a doctor.

CNA vs. LVN: Job Description

What Does a Certified Nursing Assistant Do?

Certified Nursing Assistants may also be called nursing aides. They provide basic care, help patients with activities of daily living, and assist other members of the healthcare team.

What Does a Licensed Vocational Nurse Do?

Licensed Vocational Nurses provide basic medical care. This can include assessing patients, reporting adverse reactions, and gathering information.

CNA vs. LVN: Duties & Responsibilities

Certified Nursing Assistant Responsibilities

Some of the day-to-day responsibilities of a CNA include:

  • Cleaning and bathing patients
  • Helping patients use the bathroom and dress for the day
  • Turning, repositioning, and transferring patients between beds and wheelchairs as necessary
  • Recording a patient’s health concerns and reporting it to nurses
  • Measuring a patient’s vital signs, such as blood pressure or temperature
  • Serving meals and helping patients consume them

Licensed Vocational Nurse Responsibilities

Some of the day-to-day responsibilities of a LVN include:

  • Monitoring a patient’s health, such as checking their blood pressure
  • Administering basic medical care, i.e., changing bandages and inserting catheters
  • Ensuring the basic comfort of patients, such as helping them bathe or dress
  • Discussing the care they are providing with patients, listening to their concerns, etc.
  • Reporting a patient’s status and any concerns to RNs or doctors
  • Maintaining records on each patient’s health

Young nurse helping an elderly woman

CNA vs. LVN: Work Environments

Where Do Certified Nursing Assistants Work?

Many CNAs work in hospitals, nursing facilities, and residential care facilities. Some of the largest employers of nursing assistants is as follows:

  • Nursing care facilities
  • Hospitals
  • Continuing care retirement communities
  • Home healthcare services
  • Government

Where Do Licensed Vocational Nurses Work?

An LVN can work in a number of settings, such as nursing homes, extended care facilities, hospitals, physician offices, and private homes. Some of the largest employers of LVNs are as follows:

  • Nursing and residential care facilities
  • Hospitals
  • Offices of physicians
  • Home healthcare services
  • Government

CNA vs. LVN: Education

Educational Requirements for Certified Nursing Assistants

Depending on the path you choose, CNA training can take anywhere from four weeks to six months. Nursing assistants typically must complete a state-approved education program that includes instruction on the principles of nursing, supervised clinical work, and more.

Programs like this can be found in high schools, community colleges, vocational schools, hospitals, and nursing homes. In addition, many CNAs complete a period of on-the-job training, as they can learn more about their employer’s policies and procedures.

When it comes to certification, specific requirements often vary on a state-by-state basis. However, most employers prefer or require that nursing assistants obtain a state-issued license or certification. Once they have completed an approved education program, they often take a competency exam, allowing them to use state-specific titles.

Educational Requirements for Licensed Vocational Nurses

Depending on the path you choose, LVN training can take anywhere from 12 months to two years. The amount of time you spend in school will largely depend on if you pursue a degree or diploma program.

To become an LVN or an LPN, you must complete an approved educational program and obtain a nursing license. Most LVN programs are offered at technical schools and community colleges. Your Vocational Nursing program will include subjects such as nursing, biology, and pharmacology. Additionally, all programs feature supervised clinical experience. Check with your state board of nursing to find a list of approved programs.

Those who graduate from a state-approved program are qualified to sit for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN). Learn more about the NCLEX-PN exam and the state boards of nursing with the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.

Some LVNs may also pursue certification in areas like gerontology or intravenous (IV) therapy. Plus, some employers may seek candidates who are trained to provide CPR.

Stethoscope next to money

CNA vs. LVN: Salary

How Much Do CNAs Make?

According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average annual wage for Certified Nursing Assistants is about $32,000 per year or about $15 per hour. However, Certified Nursing Assistants that earn salaries in the 90th percentile can make more than $42,000 per year.

How Much Do LVNs Make?

According to the BLS, the average salary for Licensed Vocational Nurses is around $50,000 per year or about $24 per hour. However, Licensed Vocational Nurses that earn salaries in the 90th percentile can make more than $65,000 per year.

CNA vs. LVN: Job Outlook

CNA Job Outlook

According to the BLS, overall employment of CNAs will grow 8 percent by 2030. This rate is about as fast as the average for all occupations. The BLS also reports that about 192,800 openings for CNAs and orderlies are projected each year. This growing need has been attributed to workers who retire or seek other opportunities.

LVN Job Outlook

According to the BLS, overall employment of LVNs is expected to grow 9 percent by 2030, which is also as fast as the average for all occupations. They expect around 60,700 openings for Licensed Vocational Nurses every year. Most of these openings will likely be attributed to retiring nurses and shortages.

Advancing Your Career from CNA to LVN

As you can see, there are some key differences between CNAs and LVNs. While both are key members of the healthcare team, they each fill fundamentally different roles. However, you can leverage your training as a Certified Nursing Assistant to pursue other educational goals. Although many enjoy careers as Certified Nursing Assistants, others may use their experience to apply to higher levels of study.

If you’re ready to take the next step, start by earning your Vocational Nursing diploma in as little as 12 months at Unitek College.

Click here to learn more about our Vocational Nursing program. You can also learn more about our advanced nursing degrees by exploring our Vocational Nursing associates degree and BSN program.