Registered Nurses vs. Certified Nurse Assistants

Registered nurses and certified nurse assistants play vital roles in providing exceptional patient care.

However, there are numerous differences between CNAs and RNs, from education and training to work responsibilities.

CNAs enter healthcare significantly faster than RNs, but there are more limitations due to having less education.

Working as a CNA has advantages for those wanting to enter healthcare quickly and determine whether it’s a career they wish to pursue.

This article explores the differences between certified nurse assistants and registered nurses to help you understand the advantages of each career.

CNA vs. RN Education

There is a significant difference in education between registered nurses and certified nurse assistants.

Firstly, certified nurse assistants obtain training through a local CNA program or online courses.

Training institutions, healthcare facilities, and the Red Cross offer CNA training.

At the end of the program and after completing the state examination CNAs earn certification and can begin working.

They do not require a college degree or license to apply for CNA positions.

On the other hand, registered nurses receive education through a college or university offering qualified nursing programs.

Students must complete numerous prerequisite courses before applying for the nursing program.

They must also maintain a specific GPA because the nursing program is competitive, and not all students receive admission.

Besides that, there’s a marked contrast between registered nurses and certified nurse assistants regarding the length of their education programs.

Most CNAs complete their training in 4 – 12 weeks if they pursue classes full time.

They’re also not required to take prerequisite courses, which saves them time compared to registered nurses.

Nursing students spend 2 – 4 years in the nursing program to earn their degrees.

They must also meet prerequisites, which can add additional school time and pass the NCLEX-RN exam.

However, students with a college degree in other domains may participate in an accelerated nursing program.

It allows them to earn their nursing degree faster by skipping classes that overlap with the nursing program.

Finally, there are legal differences between registered nurses and certified nurse assistants regarding their work based on their education.

Certified nurses have a much more limited scope of practice due to their restricted training and education.

As a result, registered nurses often supervise CNAs to ensure proper patient care and task management.

Program Length and Education

  • CNAs and RNs must possess a Diploma or GED
  • CNA training lasts 4 – 12 weeks
  • CNAs receive a certificate after completing training
  • RN program lasts 2 – 4 years
  • RNs must also complete prerequisite courses
  • RNs receive an ADN or BSN degree and nursing license

The following section explores the differences in job responsibilities among CNAs and RNs.

CNA vs RN Job Responsbiliteis

There are numerous differences between certified nurse assistants and registered nurses regarding patient duties and responsibilities.

CNAs receive less education than registered nurses.

As a result, most of their duties focus on bedside care, essential documentation, cleaning, and assistance.

CNAs spend their shifts helping patients with movement, feeding, bathing, and cleaning.

They also gather medical supplies, maintain a clean work environment, check vital signs, document activities, and transport patients.

Finally, most CNAs work under an LPN, registered nurse, or physician to ensure adequate patient care and task management.

CNA Duties

  • Document activities
  • Check patient vitals
  • Move, feed, bathe and groom patients
  • Assist with patient transportation
  • Manage medical supplies
  • Ensure a safe and sanitary work environment

Registered nurses receive significantly more training than CNAs.

As a result, registered nurses perform all the duties CNAs conduct to ensure patients receive adequate bedside care.

Their additional education and training are also responsible for more advanced care and duties.

For instance, registered nursing perform nursing assessments/diagnoses, administer medications and treatments, and utilize advanced medical equipment.

They also educate patients/families about their conditions, coordinate care plans with doctors and PAs, and oversee various medical staff.

Registered nurses have more autonomy and responsibilities, allowing them to respond to various medical needs and situations. 

Registered Nurse Responsibilities

  • Assess their patient’s medical condition (observe and interpret symptoms)
  • Evaluate patients throughout the rehabilitation process
  • Administer medications and treatments
  • Educate patients about their injury, illness, and ailments
  • Collaborate with nurses and doctors/physicians to develop patient care plans
  • Update medical records and documentation
  • Supervise LPNs, CNAs, and nursing assistants
  • Assist patients in the ICU, ED, critical care, trauma unit, and other sensitive environments
  • Feed, bathe, and clean patients unable to care for themselves
  • Remove Stitches

CNA vs. RN Career Opportunities 

CNAs enter healthcare more quickly than registered nurses due to their fast training.

However, limited education makes it more challenging for CNAs to move into higher roles than registered nurses.

CNAs who want to move into advanced careers usually go back to school to become LPN or registered nurses.

There aren’t many opportunities for CNAs to advance in healthcare without further training and education.

Registered nurses have numerous opportunities to move into specialized domains based on education and work experience.

For instance, registered nurses work in emergency care, neonatal care, research, forensics, psychiatric mental health, and other specialties.

They can also return to school to become advanced practice registered nurses or APRNs.

At this level, nurses work as nurse practitioners, anesthetists, midwives, and certified nurse specialists.

APRNs have the broadest scope of practice within the nursing profession, allowing them to perform more advanced duties.

For instance, nurse practitioners diagnose medical conditions, prescribe medication, act as primary care providers, and own/operate clinics, depending on the state.

CNA vs. RN Advantages

There are numerous advantages to becoming a CNA.

For instance, CNAs enter healthcare quickly, earning money and working a rewarding career.

Numerous students interested in becoming registered nurses also pursue training as CNAs first.

It allows them to determine whether healthcare is a good fit without spending much time and money in nursing school.

Finally, CNA training is relatively affordable.

As a result, it’s excellent for those who want to get their foot in the healthcare door and develop work experience. 

CNA Advantages

  • Enter healthcare quickly
  • Receive pay faster than other professions
  • Determine whether healthcare is a good fit with little risk
  • Affordable education and training program

Becoming a CNA is an excellent career for those who want to be a part of healthcare.

However, the career has numerous limitations compared to registered nurses.

Those who become registered nurses have a wide variety of professions they can pursue.

Over one hundred domains are available for RNs with adequate training and education.

It allows them to specialize in fulfilling and well-suited work to their personal goals. 

Besides that, registered nurses have a high-income potential depending on experience, work location, and principles.

Some registered nurses earn six figures by taking on special assignments, working overtime, and traveling for work.

Lastly, a broad range of non-beside care jobs is available to registered nurses.

These healthcare professionals work in mental health, research, education, entrepreneurship, and other occupations.

RN Advantages

  • Over 100 specializations for RNs
  • High-income potential (somesix-figure occupations)
  • Travel nurse opportunities
  • A wide variety of non-bedside jobs

Overall, there are more advantages to becoming an RN than a CNA if you want to move up in healthcare.

However, it takes much longer and costs more money.

Those unsure whether to become registered nurses benefit from the experience of working as a CNA first.

It allows them to test their assumptions, earn an income and gain first-hand training in the medical field.

Working as a CNA is very rewarding, and many individuals are happy working in this profession.

It’s also great for those interested in learning a side income with a flexible work schedule.

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