If you’re a certified nursing assistant and you’re thinking about becoming a nurse, there are two different paths you can take to go from a CNA to LPN or a CNA to RN. To become an LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse) it takes less time and costs less money, but you also get paid less and can’t take on as many duties. To become a Registered Nurse (RN) requires more training, but they also get paid more and have far more options for career growth. We’ll discuss the benefits of transitioning to become an LPN or RN, the different educational paths you can take, the costs involved, and the requirements to get into a nursing bridge program.

What is an LPN (or LVN)?

In some states, an LPN may go by the name Licensed Vocational Nurse or LVN. Essentially, the job duties are the same, it’s just a different name for the same position. Working as an LPN means that you’ll be caring for patients by assisting them with activities of daily living, monitoring vital signs, assisting with patient testing, changing dressings, inserting catheters, and more. 

To become an LPN you’ll need to spend about a year’s worth of time taking classes that are typically offered at vocational schools or community colleges. As part of these programs, you’ll get an education in general nursing topics as well as other sciences like biology and pharmacology to go along with hands-on patient experience in a clinical setting. 

What is an RN?

RNs act as “managers” of nursing teams as they call the shots for other nursing related positions on the healthcare team like LPNs, CNAs or other nursing aide or healthcare aide positions. While an RN is in charge of nurses, they work directly under physicians and are responsible for implementing their orders. Some common RN responsibilities include:

  • Medication administration
  • Providing primary and emergency care
  • Creating a care plan
  • Order and evaluate diagnostic tests
  • Assess and evaluate patient needs

Becoming an RN requires a degree in nursing, and there are several different degrees that can help you achieve your goal of becoming an RN. You can complete a BSN program (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) which takes four years to complete. Another option is an ADN program (Associate Degree in Nursing) that typically takes two to three years. Finally, you can get a nursing diploma which takes one to two years to complete. 

Benefits of becoming an RN or LPN

The most obvious benefit to being an LPN or an RN as opposed to working as a CNA is the pay. On average, an LPN makes 62% more than a CNA and an RN makes 151% more in annual salary. This adds up to tens of thousands of dollars annually, which can make the cost of a CNA to LPN or CNA to RN program well worth the initial cost (more on that below).

Beyond pay, there are also a lot of professional benefits enjoyed by these higher-level nursing positions. RNs can take on more responsibilities than a CNA and an LPN, which means more pressure, but also more job satisfaction for the right person. They can make decisions about riskier medical situations, perform diagnostic tests, make assessments, treat critical patients and give potentially dangerous medications to patients. By contrast, LPNs can only take on a limited number of duties. They can help with minor medical procedures, give medications, take patient data and monitor conditions, collect blood, urine and sputum samples, change wound dressings, and care for items like catheters, tracheotomy tubes, and ventilators. 

Both LPNs and RNs can work in doctors’ offices, nursing homes, clinics, and private homes. In addiction, 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.

How to go from a CNA to LPN or RN

If you’re interested in becoming an RN or LPN there are a few different routes you can take. You can earn an Associates of Science in Nursing or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. If you already have a CNA degree though, you may find that you’re repeating a lot of the same classes. That’s why some schools have developed bridge programs that only cover the information you need to know to fill the gap between your CNA training and the required training to become an LPN or RN.

Requirements to get into a CNA Bridge program

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

Cost of a CNA Bridge program

Bridge programs typically range in cost from $3,000 to $10,000 per 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 full-time nursing programs 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.

Where to find these kinds of 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 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 on the accreditation test (the NCLEX PN for LPNs and NCLEX RN for RNs). These tests are required to become an LPN or 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 LPN and RN education programs are costly, many hospitals and doctor’s offices offer tuition assistance to CNAs. Some hospitals also have hospital-based education programs for those who want to move up the nursing career ladder.