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How to Become an LPN or RN as a CNA

Many CNAs aspire to climb the nursing career ladder after gaining their CNA certification. The next step is to become an LPN, or Licensed Practical Nurse. After an LPN comes the role of RN, or registered nurse. The educational path from a CNA to LPN takes less time and costs less money, but you also get paid less and have fewer responsibilities than a registered nurse. CNA to RN programs are more time intensive and come at a greater price, but being an RN also means drastically better pay and more options for your career path.

If you’re a CNA considering your career options, or you’re considering starting your healthcare career as a certified nursing assistant, we’ll tell you what you need to know about becoming an LPN or RN.

CNA/LPN/RN roles and responsibilities

CNAs work under the supervision of a Licensed Practical Nurse or RN. Their responsibilities are wide ranging, but one of the key things a CNA does is communicate. CNAs spend a substantial amount of time with patients and they often act as a go-between for the patient and the CNA’s supervisors. CNAs are often the main caregiver for patients, assisting with activities of daily living. CNAs may also interact with a variety of technology including medical, billing, and charting software. Common CNA tasks include:

  • Helping patients move. This includes in and out of bed, in and out of wheelchairs, onto exam tables and more.
  • Taking vital signs.
  • Keeping patients’ environments safe and clean.
  • Communicating with others on the patients’ healthcare team.
  • Offering friendship and empathy to patients.

Like many healthcare positions, the roles and responsibilities of a CNA can change drastically depending on the employer. For example, working at an elder care facility will be much different than working at a hospital.

LPNs provide what’s often referred to as routine care. For those who complete a CNA to LPN program, you’ll find that along with greater pay comes greater responsibilities. Some common tasks that LPNs can expect to perform include:

  • Consulting with RNs on patient care plans
  • Administering various tests
  • Assisting patients with personal care
  • Taking and recording vital signs
  • Recording patient history
  • Communicating information to patients’ families
  • Wound care
  • Inserting and managing catheters
  • Administering injections

LPNs are in demand by a large number of employers including hospitals, doctor’s offices, rehab centers, and even the military.

RNs can take on more responsibilities than LPNs and CNAs. They can make decisions about riskier medical situations, perform diagnostic tests, make assessments, treat critical patients, direct other healthcare professionals, conduct research, and give potentially dangerous medications to patients. In addition, registered nurses can also look into options that involve less contact with patients, like forensic nursing, becoming a nurse educator, nurse administrator or nurse legal consultant. So if you’re interested in getting into one of these fields eventually, becoming a Registered Nurse would be the way to go.

CNA education requirements

You can start your nursing career and become a CNA much more quickly than the other nursing roles listed here. You’ll need to have a GED or high school diploma to be admitted to a CNA instruction program. Once admitted, most CNA programs can be completed in 4-12 weeks. CNAs must pass a state-specific CNA program which includes a knowledge test and a skills test. Once you’ve met these requirements, you will have your CNA certification and you can be listed in your state’s registry and begin working on your CNA cover letter and resume as you look for your first job as a nursing assistant.

What are the educational requirements to become an LPN?

Becoming an LPN means greater responsibility and greater salary. It also means greater educational requirements. If you can find a CNA to LPN bridge program near you, you’ll find that most programs take about a year to complete. To earn a license as an LPN, you’ll need to complete a state approved LPN (sometimes known as an LVN) program and pass a state exam known as the NCLEX-PN. 

What are the educational requirements to become an RN?

The educational requirements to become an RN have become more strict over time. Depending on your state, you may have the option to take an accelerated program to become an RN. However, more and more states are requiring a bachelor’s degree to become an RN, which means you’ll be looking at a four or five year investment to become an RN. If you’ve worked as a CNA, you can look for a CNA to RN bridge program near you that may offer a program that allows you to obtain a CNA in as little as one year. These are rare, and intensive in terms of time and coursework – but the payoff can be significant once you begin earning an RN salary.

What are the pay differences between CNAs, LPNs, and RNs?

One of the biggest reasons to become an LPN or RN after earning your CNA is the money. Along with the increase in salary, there are also a wider array of potential employers to work for and greater specializations available to you.

Average annual salary (according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

  • CNAs – $30,830
  • LPNs – $48,820
  • RNs – $75,330

How to become an LPN from a CNA

If you want to climb the nursing ladder, it will take some time – and you will need to attend in person classes. While there are some hybrid programs that offer CNA to LPN online classes, you will have to take some practical courses in person to learn the necessary skills to work as an LPN.

Requirements to Get Into a Bridge Program

Every school varies slightly, they do share some common requirements. Most schools require that you are at least 18 years old and have some professional experience as a CNA. They also may require that you finished high school or obtained a high school equivalency, and get a certain score on your SAT or ACT tests.

Tuition Requirements for a Bridge Program

Bridge programs can cost as much as $3,000 to $10,000 a year depending on the program. You can take out a student loan, but there are also other options. Some employers have tuition assistance or reimbursement. You can also search for scholarships and grants to see if you qualify for them. If you can afford it, you can pay for the program out of your own pocket. Some schools also offer online courses, which may be more convenient for students who have busy schedules. You can also take classes part-time. It will take longer for you to complete your degree, but this may be a better option for you if you have a busy life and/or can’t afford to take all the classes at once.

What Kind of Schools Offer These programs?

You can work toward your degree in a formal nursing school or community college. If you’re trying to save money, community colleges cost less.

Things to Look For When Choosing a Program

No matter what which route you choose to take, there are a few features you should look for:

Make Sure the Program You Choose is Accredited

Many BSN and MSN programs require that you attend a school that’s accredited in your state as well as nationally.

Make Sure the School Has a High Pass Rate for the RN Accreditation Test

This test is required to become an RN, so it’s important that the school does a good job preparing you for it. You can judge the quality of the program by the number of students that pass the exams.

Even though RN education programs cost more, many hospitals and doctor’s offices offer tuition assistance to CNAs. Some hospitals also have hospital-based education programs for those who want to become an RN.

Obtaining an RN degree after you’ve gotten your CNA and started getting experience in the medical field can be a great way to further your career, make more money and expand your opportunities in the healthcare field.