What’s the Difference Between CNA and an RN?

by | Mar 22, 2022 | Nursing School and NCLEX® | 0 comments

If you’re considering a career in nursing or are simply curious about the different roles within the field, you may have come across the terms “Registered Nurse” (RN) and “Certified Nursing Assistant” (CNA). While both positions involve caring for patients in a healthcare setting, there are some key differences between them. In this post, we’ll explore the similarities and differences between RNs and CNAs, as well as the education and training requirements for each role. So, let’s dive in and learn more about the world of nursing!

What's the Difference Between CNA and RN?

What is a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)?

A certified nursing assistant (CNA) is a health care professional responsible for providing primary care and daily assistance to patients under the supervision of a registered nurse or other health care professional. CNAs are often the first members of the healthcare team to interact with patients and, as such, play an essential role in inpatient care.

CNAs work in many different settings including hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and skilled nursing facilities.

What Is a Registered Nurse (RN)?

A registered nurse (RN) is a licensed health care professional who has completed an accredited nursing program and is qualified to provide direct patient care. RNs typically have more education and clinical experience than CNAs and are therefore better equipped to handle more complex patient needs.

The registered nurses are usually the ones who take care of the patients. They are responsible for making critical decisions when it comes to patients’ health and they also monitor the patient’s condition and report any changes to the doctors. RNs can also prescribe medication, which is why many people see this as a more advanced position. Let’s see the daily tasks of nurses.

What’s are the Differences Between a CNA and an RN?

CNAs (Certified Nursing Assistants) and RNs (Registered Nurses) are both important roles in the healthcare industry, but they have different levels of responsibility and scope of practice.

CNAs are responsible for providing basic patient care under the supervision of a nurse or other healthcare professional. Their duties may include assisting with bathing and grooming, taking vital signs, helping with meals, and turning and repositioning patients. CNAs typically complete a state-approved training program and must pass a competency exam before becoming certified.

On the other hand, RNs have a broader scope of practice and are responsible for a wider range of patient care activities. They can administer medication, perform diagnostic tests, develop care plans, and provide patient education. RNs must complete a nursing program, which can be a two-year Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program, and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) in order to obtain licensure.


Examples of Common Responsibilities of CNAs

Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) play an essential role in providing direct care and support to patients in healthcare settings. Some common responsibilities of CNAs include:

  1. Assisting patients with activities of daily living (ADLs) such as bathing, dressing, toileting, and grooming
  2. Monitoring and recording vital signs, such as blood pressure, pulse, and respiratory rate, and notifying the RN of any findings that are out of range or of concern
  3. Assisting with mobility, transfers, and positioning to prevent pressure sores
  4. Assisting with feeding and ensuring patients receive proper nutrition
  5. Providing basic wound care and applying dressings
  6. Observing and reporting changes in patients’ conditions to the nursing staff
  7. Assisting with range of motion exercises and other rehabilitation activities
  8. Maintaining patient confidentiality and respecting their rights and dignity
  9. Responding to patient calls and requests in a timely and compassionate manner
  10. Assisting with patient transport and discharge procedures

Overall, CNAs are an integral part of the healthcare team and provide crucial support to patients and their families. Their compassion and dedication help to ensure the well-being and comfort of patients in a variety of healthcare settings, including hospitals, nursing homes, and home health agencies.

How to Become a CNA?

Becoming a Certified Nursing Assistant, or CNA, is a wonderful way to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives while pursuing a fulfilling career in healthcare. If you’re interested in becoming a CNA, the first step is to find a training program in your area. These programs can typically be found at community colleges, vocational schools, and healthcare facilities.

How Long are CNA Training Programs?

The number of required training hours to become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) varies by state and by program, but typically ranges from 75 to 180 hours. The length of the course will also vary depending on the program, but can generally be completed in a matter of weeks to a few months.

Some programs may offer accelerated courses that can be completed in as little as two to four weeks, while others may require more extensive training over a period of several months. The length of the course may also depend on whether it is offered on a full-time or part-time basis.

Do You Have to Take an Exam or Test to Become a CNA?

After completing your training, you’ll need to take a certification exam to become licensed as a CNA. The exam typically covers topics like patient care, safety and infection control, and communication skills. With your certification in hand, you’ll be ready to begin your rewarding career as a CNA!

Once you’ve found a program that fits your needs, you’ll need to complete a certain number of hours of training, which usually includes both classroom instruction and hands-on clinical experience.

Do You Have to Pass a Skills Test to Become a CNA?

Yes, to become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), you will typically need to pass a skills test in addition to a written exam. The skills test is designed to assess your ability to perform basic nursing tasks, such as taking vital signs, bathing patients, and assisting with mobility.

The skills test is typically conducted in a simulated clinical environment, such as a hospital or nursing home setting, where you will be asked to demonstrate your abilities in front of an evaluator. The evaluator will observe your performance and provide feedback on your technique and approach to patient care.

How Much Do CNAs Earn?

The average salary for Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) varies depending on factors such as location, years of experience, and the specific industry or healthcare setting in which they work. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for CNAs in the United States as of May 2021 was $30,830, which translates to an hourly wage of approximately $14.81.

However, it is important to note that salaries can vary widely depending on location and other factors. For example, CNAs working in metropolitan areas or in specialized healthcare settings may earn higher salaries than those working in rural areas or in general medical or surgical hospitals.

Additionally, many CNAs work part-time or have flexible schedules, which can impact their overall earnings. Nonetheless, CNAs provide valuable care and support to patients and play an essential role in the healthcare industry.


Examples of Common Responsibilities of RNs

Registered Nurses (RNs) have a wide range of responsibilities, which can vary depending on the specific healthcare setting in which they work. Some common responsibilities of RNs include:

  1. Assessing and monitoring patients’ health status: RNs are responsible for evaluating patients’ health status, taking vital signs, and monitoring their condition to ensure that they are stable and comfortable.
  2. Administering medications and treatments: RNs are responsible for administering medications and treatments as ordered by physicians or other healthcare providers, ensuring that patients receive the appropriate care they need.
  3. Performing diagnostic tests: RNs may be responsible for performing or coordinating diagnostic tests such as blood tests, x-rays, or MRIs.
  4. Providing patient education: RNs are responsible for educating patients and their families about their health conditions, treatments, and medications, and ensuring that they have the information they need to manage their health.
  5. Coordinating care with other healthcare providers: RNs work closely with physicians, other nurses, and healthcare providers to coordinate patient care and ensure that all aspects of a patient’s treatment plan are implemented effectively.
  6. Advocating for patients: RNs act as patient advocates, ensuring that patients’ needs and concerns are addressed, and that they receive the highest quality of care possible.

These are just a few of the many responsibilities that Registered Nurses may have in their roles as healthcare providers. Overall, RNs play a crucial role in the delivery of high-quality patient care and support in a variety of healthcare settings.

How to Become a Registered Nurse (RN)?

We dig deep into this process in this blog post. There are a quite a few options that can get confusion. In a short, you must get into an accredited nursing program (either an associates or bachelor’s degree program), graduate, pass a background check, pay some fees, and pass the NCLEX-RN board examination to become an RN.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Nurse?

Please note: Getting into nursing programs is quite competitive. Some individuals spend a few years waiting to get into school. Therefore, the below time estimates represent how long it will take to complete the program after admission into the program.

Typically, BSN programs take four years to complete, although there are some accelerated programs that can be completed in three years. BSN programs typically include general education courses as well as nursing-specific coursework, and they provide students with a broad range of knowledge and skills related to nursing practice.

ADN programs, on the other hand, are typically two-year programs that focus specifically on nursing coursework and clinical training. They provide students with the skills and knowledge needed to become licensed Registered Nurses (RNs) and often include courses in anatomy, pharmacology, and patient care.

Do You Have to Pass an Exam to Become an RN?

Yes, you must pass the NCLEX-RN to apply for a nursing license.

Do You Have to Pass a Skills Test to Become an RN?

No you do not. Because nursing programs require extensive clinical time and competencies in both the simulation lab to successfully graduate, a skills test is not an aspect of the post-graduation licensure process.

How Much Do RNs Earn?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average annual salary for Registered Nurses (RNs) across the United States was $80,010 as of May 2020. However, the average salary for new graduate nurses can vary depending on factors such as location, experience, and job setting.

Nursing salaries vary widely in different areas of the United States. Below are the average salaries from different areas of the country as of May 2020.

  • California: $120,560
  • Wyoming: $68,930
  • Maine: $72,610
  • Alabama: $59,470
  • Illinois: $73,890

It’s important to note that these are just average salaries and that the actual salary for a new graduate nurse may vary depending on factors such as the specific job setting, location, and level of experience.

What’s the Difference Between CNA and RN – Video

Find Your Path Forward into Healthcare

No matter your experience level, there’s a nursing career path that’s right for you. With the proper education and certification, you could become a registered nurse and take on even more responsibility for caring for patients. Explore your options today and find the program that’s right for you. Now you know the difference between a CNA and RN.

As you can tell, CNAs typically providing basic patient care while an RN is responsible for more complex patient needs including assessment, monitoring, implementing interventions, and evaluating their efficacy. If you’re interested in becoming a nurse, there are plenty of paths forward to consider. Check out our additional resources to help guide you in nursing journey.

More Resources

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Hi, I’m Kati.

Kati Kleber, MSN RN is a nurse educator, author, national speaker, host of the FreshRN® Podcast, and owner of FreshRN® – an online platform created to educate, encourage, and motivate newly licensed nurses in innovative ways.

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