At first glance, the duties of a certified nursing assistant, or CNA, and those of a licensed vocational nurse, or LVN, may seem very similar. After all, people in both of these jobs are responsible for basic day-to-day patient care and some medical procedures. LVNs have more training, however, have higher pay rate on average, and can perform a wider range of duties.
Differences Between CNAs and Vocational Nurses
The educational requirements for both CNAs and LVNs vary somewhat between states, but are generally lower for nurse assistants. The federal minimum training for a CNA is at least 75 hours of classwork, to include at least 16 hours of hands-on clinical training. Many states require more; in the state of Maine, prospective CNAs must take 180 hours of coursework. Some state programs require that CNAs have a GED or high school diploma when they enter training, but many do not.
By comparison, a vocational nurse needs at least a GED or diploma to take the LVN exam. Before taking the examination, he or she must pass a training program, which usually takes about a year of full-time coursework to complete. This program has both classroom and clinical components, just like CNA training, but the clinical part is usually done as a formal internship. LVNs must also receive laboratory training and take courses in a wide range of subjects than CNAs. Like certified nursing assistants, LVNs must pass a state examination before they can receive formal certification.
Both certified nursing assistants and licensed vocational nurses end up being responsible for large portions of patient bedside care in hospitals and other institutional settings. While CNAs are usually called upon only to provide basic living assistance, check vital signs, and provide patient information to superiors, LVNs perform more involved medical procedures. These include collecting laboratory samples and performing tests on those samples.
While a licensed vocational nurse isn’t usually authorized to run intravenous fluid lines or provide injections, they do engage in other medical care. This includes inserting and monitoring catheters, providing patient education, inserting tracheotomy tubes, setting up intubated feeding, and administering oxygen to patients. These duties vary somewhat by state, so it’s important for prospective LVNs to find out which regulations apply to them before they enter one of the many LVN programs.
Pay and Job Outlook
Because a licensed vocational nurse needs more training and is responsible for a greater range of duties than a CNA, these professionals receive an accordingly-higher salary. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that people in CNA jobs and related positions make an average of $11.54 per hour or $24,000 per year, with an expected job growth of about 20 percent.
LVNs receive almost double the compensation given to CNAs. According to the BLS, the average LVN salary $19.42 per hour or $40,380 per year, with an expected job growth rate of 22 percent. For people with the time and other resources to receive LVN training, this increase in compensation can make the extra schooling worthwhile.
Transitioning to Vocational Nurse Positions
In addition to the usual training path for becoming an LVN, some states also offer an experiential path. This option allows people who have a pre-existing CNA license and the appropriate amount of work experience to take the state LVN exam. Sometimes called the “equivalency method,” this option may require extra coursework on the part of the CNA, but allows her or him to avoid going through the full training process.