Understanding the Different Levels of Nursing

Hospitals and outpatient offices rely on much more than just doctors and nurses. It takes a whole team of people to make a health care facility run smoothly. If you are considering a career in health care, you may become overwhelmed by the number of similar job titles you see throughout your research. Each position in a hospital or health care facility requires different experience, training, degrees, and certifications. Additionally, each job has different responsibilities and pay.

Nursing jobs that often get confused with one another are Certified Nursing Assistants, Licensed Practical Nurses, Registered Nurses, and Nurse Practitioners. While the names may sound similar, each job is very different. So, what are the differences and how do you know which is right for you?

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

Like every member of the hospital staff, certified nursing assistants have a very important job. A CNA position can be seen as an entry level position into the healthcare profession. They are often a great way for people to see if they enjoy working in a hospital setting before committing too much time or money into their education. The average salary can vary greatly based on location. However, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, CNAs make an average of $26,590 per year in the U.S.

CNA Requirements

All CNAs are required to pass a competency exam specific to the state they wish to practice in. Requirements for this exam vary by state, but they often include a high school diploma, a minimum number of CNA training hours, and the completion of an accredited CNA training program. CNAs are also required to provide the state with TB test results, a background check, and immunization records before taking the exam. Typically, CNA school takes 4-12 weeks to complete.

CNA Responsibilities  

CNA’s typically answer to a Licensed Practical Nurse. Their responsibilities include any number of clinical and administrative duties, but primarily consist of aiding nurses in patient care. Common daily tasks include:

  • Answering patient call lights
  • Cleaning up patient rooms
  • Reporting patient changes to a nurse
  • Feeding patients
  • Helping patients bathe or get dressed
  • Helping patients reposition in bed
  • Emptying bedpans
  • Checking patient vitals
  • Communicating with the family and friends of the patient

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

It is common for Licensed Practical Nurses to start as CNAs and work their way into the new position by attending classes and gaining extra training. Like a CNA, the primary role of an LPN is to tend to each patient’s everyday needs. However, LPNs have a different set of responsibilities, are required to have more education and training, and also receive higher salaries. LPN salary can vary by state, healthcare facility, and experience; however, the average salary of an LPN is $44,840.

LPN Requirements 

LPNs are required to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN), after completing an accredited and state-approved Practical Nursing Training program. LPN programs are usually offered locally at community colleges and tech schools. Typically, LPN programs take 12 months to complete.

LPN Responsibilities

LPN’s often answer to a registered nurse or physician in the hospital setting. Their responsibilities are more hands-on than CNAs who are primarily concerned with patient comfort and everyday needs. LPN responsibilities may include:

  • Administer medication
  • Update medical charts
  • Collect blood and urine samples
  • Manage urinary catheters
  • Perform CPR
  • Change wound dressing
  • Assist with feeding tubes 

Registered Nurse (RN)

Becoming a Registered Nurse takes more time and commitment than becoming an LPN. RNs are required to have more schooling, and they have much more responsibility on the job. RNs are typically found working in hospitals, nursing care facilities, schools, or in a patient’s home. A great RN is able to stay calm under pressure, communicate effectively, and interact professionally with other team members, patients, and patients’ families. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, RN’s make an average salary of $70,000 per year in the U.S.

RN Requirements  

At a minimum, RNs must graduate with an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) from an accredited nursing program. However, many states require RNs to have at least a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). RNs must also pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN), and they must be registered with the Board of Nursing in their state. Becoming an RN can take between 2 and 4 years of schooling.  

RN Responsibilities

RNs typically report to other nurses, nurse practitioners or physicians. Their responsibilities include: 

  • Monitoring patients
  • Ordering diagnostic tests
  • Recording patient records
  • Supervising other members of the healthcare team
  • Assisting physicians with exams and treatments
  • Communicating with families and patients

Nurse Practitioner (NP)

Of all nurses, Nurse Practitioners have the most independence, education and responsibility. They are able to work without direct supervision and may even have their own private practice. This means they must have excellent communication skills and be highly organized at all times. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for an NP in $103,880 per year.

NP Requirements

At a minimum, NPs are required to have a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). They must also be registered with the Board of Nursing in the state they practice in, as well as pass the NCLEX-RN exam. Some NPs choose to pursue a doctorate program, or DNP, which gives them the ability to write prescriptions. It can take over 6 years to become an NP.

NP Responsibilities

NP responsibilities can vary greatly based on their work environment and specialization. Daily responsibilities may include:

  • Analyzing medical history
  • Creating patient treatment plans
  • Diagnosing and managing chronic illnesses
  • Educating patients on healthy lifestyle choices

Ready to Start Your Medical Career?

No matter what your goal is in nursing, a CNA is a great place to start. Becoming a CNA is a low-cost way to get a preview of what the medical field has in store for you. Additionally, many CNAs are able to work while continuing their education. With the nursing shortage continuing to affect every part of the U.S., now is a great time to start climbing the ranks in your city or state. Start taking steps towards becoming a CNA today, and jumpstart your medical career.


Your Future Starts Here

By submitting this form, I am allowing Woodruff Medical to contact me regarding education programs and services via email, telephone, automated technology, direct mail, or text message at the email address, address, and phone number provided. Data and text message rates may apply. I understand that my consent is not required before enrolling in or attending any educational programs facilitated by Woodruff Medical. Read our full Privacy Policy here