Registered nurses and certified nursing assistants both play a vital role in healthcare. Although these two jobs are closely related, their roles differ quite a bit.
The typical workday of an RN involves administering medications, assessing patients, and communicating with doctors.
CNAs are more involved in entry-level patient care duties, such as bathing patients and taking vital signs. Many healthcare workers start their journey working as a CNA, then become an RN later on.
This article will compare the two roles by breaking down the following:
- Similarities between RNs and CNAs
- Differences between RNs and CNAs
- Education paths
- Deciding which is best for you
Comparing the role of certified nursing assistants to registered nurses
Similarities between RNs and CNAs
Registered nurses and certified nursing assistants work together in clinical settings. Both CNAs and RNs are responsible for making sure that certain patient care tasks are completed such as vital signs and patient hygiene.
Also, RNs sometimes have to take on these responsibilities when hospitals are short-staffed and there aren’t enough CNAs on duty. Both career paths are growing rapidly and offer job security and a decent income.
As an overview, some of the similarities are:
- Both work in clinical settings
- Responsible for patient care and hygiene
- RNs will be expected to be able to do CNA tasks
Differences between RNs and CNAs
Although RNs and CNAs have some similarities, both positions also have notable differences. It’s important to know that RNs will have more responsibility when it comes to patient care.
For example, if a patient’s vital signs fall outside of normal parameters, the CNA will be responsible for reporting it. Then, the RN is responsible for taking action from there.
Typical job duties of a CNA involve bathing patients, helping patients eat, taking vital signs, and answering patient calls. Because CNAs have an entry-level position, the route to becoming one is shorter and the salary is less than that of an RN.
The average CNA salary is $30,830 per year.
RNs are responsible for assessing patients, administering medications, and collaborating with other members of the healthcare team such as doctors and physical therapists.
They have a more advanced role which is why the schooling is more involved and their salary is higher than that of a CNA. Becoming an RN is a competitive process and can require anywhere from 2 to 4 years of college.
The average RN salary is about $82,750 per year.
As an overview, some of the differences are:
- RNs can assign CNAs to do tasks
- CNAs report to RNs
- RNs are more directly involved in actual patient treatment
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Becoming a CNA does not require a college education. In order to become a CNA, you’ll have to complete an accredited CNA program.
The amount of time required to complete a CNA program varies depending on which one you choose. On average, CNA programs take around 4 to 6 weeks to complete.
CNA to RN bridge
There are a number of routes you can take to become an RN. One of the most common routes is enrolling in a CNA to RN bridge program. These programs are designed for anyone who has experience as a CNA.
CNA-to-RN bridge programs typically take 18 to 24 months to complete. These programs include classroom time as well as clinical rotations.
The goal of these programs is to provide students with the skills and training to pass the NCLEX exam. Once you pass the NCLEX, you are eligible to work as a registered nurse.
ADN vs BSN
To become an RN, you can either complete an associate’s degree in nursing or a bachelor’s.
Associate degrees are a faster route, as this only requires you to complete two years of college. Although many people rule out the ADN route and go straight for the BSN, there are many successful registered nurses who are practicing with an ADN.
Bachelor’s degrees are becoming the preferred credential for many hospitals. Both ADN and BSN prepare nurses to sit for the NCLEX exam. However, nurses with a bachelor’s degree may be eligible for higher-paying positions and more opportunities.
RN to BSN bridge
BSN bridge programs offer a way for RNs with associate’s degrees to easily acquire a bachelor’s degree in nursing.
These programs are typically online and can take anywhere from 1 to 3 years to complete depending on whether you choose to do full-time or part-time classes.
Accelerated BSN programs
Accelerated BSN programs – also known as ADNs – offer a fast path to becoming an RN but this route requires you to already have a bachelor’s degree.
Completing an accelerated BSN program typically takes one year but it is a rigorous process and requires a full-time commitment.
Completing a CNA program can cost anywhere from a $1,000 to $3,000, but this amount can vary depending on what state you’re in.
RN programs will cost more and are more variable since there are so many different routes you can take to become an RN. T
To complete an ADN, expect to pay anywhere from $6,000 to $40,000.
Bachelor’s degrees in nursing can cost anywhere from $40,000 to over $200,000 to complete.
Luckily, there are plenty of different scholarship and grant opportunities that can help you pay your way through nursing school.
Deciding which is best for you
There is plenty of crossover between the jobs of CNA and RN. So, it’s understandable that many people are conflicted about where to begin their nursing journey.
When it comes to determining which job will best suit you, there are many factors to consider. We’ll compare and contrast the two options to help you decide which role best suits you.
Why you should become a CNA
As a CNA, you’ll get to work in a fast-paced environment that always keeps you on your toes. You’ll be able to dive right into working in the healthcare environment sooner and save money!
Gaining experience as a CNA also allows you to test the waters to determine if nursing is right for you. Many RNs will spend some time working as a CNA either before going to nursing school or while attending it. Some people even say that being a CNA first can make you a better nurse.
An additional benefit is that once you are employed, you may be able to get tuition reimbursement for continuing education. If this is something you are interested in, we recommend you ask your employer if they offer tuition reimbursement.
Why you should become an RN
RNs have more job flexibility and higher salaries than CNAs. You’ll also be able to take on more of a leadership role when working as an RN.
As an RN you’ll have the opportunity to work in specialized settings and you can go on to become a nurse practitioner if you’d like to. Registered nurses make a serious impact on the patients they come into contact with. Working as an RN is an exciting and ever-evolving career path; you’ll always have the opportunity to change specialties and learn an entirely new job with the same degree.
Now that you know the ins and outs of CNAs and RNs, you can decide which job sounds best for you.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with deciding that RN school is too involved and settling into your role as a CNA. Hospitals need good CNAs and RNs, so regardless of which job you choose, you will be making a positive impact.
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- “Nursing Assistants and Orderlies” bls.gov. Accessed April 17, 2022.
- “Registered Nurses” bls.gov. Accessed April 17, 2022.
- “How long does it take to be a CNA?” cnatraininginstitute.org. Accessed April 17, 2022.
- “CNA to RN Programs” EveryNurse.org. Accessed April 17, 2022.
- “How Long is an RN-to-BSN Program?” onlineeducation.com. Accessed April 17, 2022.
- “How Much Does CNA Training and Certification Cost?” toughnickel.com. Accessed April 17, 2022.