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I am a CNA: How Can I Become a LPN or RN From Here?

Updated on June 16, 2015

As you may know, a CNA stands for a certified nursing assistant, whose sole responsibilities are to take care of the elderly and the disabled. A difficult job in and of itself, many CNAs go on to pursue higher positions in the nursing field, such as licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and registered nurses (RNs), which are careers fraught with even greater hardships and responsibilities. But despite the fact, there are those who are determined to achieve these career paths, largely because they enjoy the work of a nurse and being able to help those in need, regardless of the bitter-sweet lifestyle it entails.

For those who are CNAs looking to become LPNs or RNs, the good news is that there is the possibility to continue your education with a head start, taking into account the prior training you've already received. So with that in mind, let's get into the details of how you can become a LPN or RN as a CNA.

First Off: Differences Between a CNA vs LPN vs RN

First and foremost, let's begin by taking a deeper look into the careers of CNAs vs LPNs vs RNs. After all, if all nursing vocations were the same, we would only have one program for aspiring nurses. But the fact is that there are many types of nurses in the field, all of which have different responsibilities, salaries, education requirements, and levels of accessibility. So what exactly are these differences and what type of nurse lifestyle will suit you best? Let's see now, shall we?

Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA)

Job Description -- CNAs often work under the supervision of LPNs or RNs, and are responsible for completing smaller tasks in the workplace. A CNA's job revolves around taking care of the elderly and disabled patients who have trouble with daily living. This can include duties such as helping patients get dressed, feeding patients, bathing patients, cleaning, answering requests, toiletry, handing out medications, measuring vital signs, and recording information in health reports. Just imagine what you need to do on a daily basis, and that's what CNAs help with. No two patients are the same, so CNAs must adapt to the demands of the workplace while being able to communicate with patients for their needs.

Salary -- ~$24,400 a year

Education Requirements -- No formal education required, although necessary for certification. Completion of an accredited CNA training program (most are less than 6 months, can take up to a year) and a state certification exam.

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

Job Description -- LPNs are the next highest nursing position in a traditional healthcare setting, and are given more responsibilities and functions than a typical CNA, although they often work under the supervision of a RN. Similar to a CNA's job, a LPN's primary duty is to provide routine care for the elderly, sick, or disable, while also observing patients' health, assisting doctors and RNs, helping patients with any daily living tasks, and handling more complex tasks.

Salary -- ~$41,540 a year

Education Requirements -- Completion of an accredited LPN program (roughly one year of full-time enrollment), clinical experience, and completion of the NCLEX-PN for licensure.

Registered Nurse (RN)

Job Description -- A registered nurse is the mostly highly qualified nurse in a healthcare setting, and is given more responsibilities and authorization than both LPNs and CNAs. Oftentimes, CNAs and LPNs work under the guidance of a RN for instructions and tasks. Job involves patient care, administering medication, providing education to patients, surveying health reports, and delegating jobs to CNAs and LPNs. Registered nurses have more of an independent role and are expected to handle more complicated situations that requires critical thinking.

Salary -- ~$65,470 a year

Education Requirements -- Formal training ranging anywhere from 2 to 4-years of full-time enrollment and completion of the NCLEX-RN exam.

Is it Better to Become a CNA First?

Although either becoming a LPN or RN is the most direct path to reaching your goal, the process can be much easier if you become a CNA first. Why is that? There are several reasons I'd like to address:

Firstly and most importantly, there are bridge programs available for you to advance from either a CNA to LPN or CNA to RN. These bridge programs take the credits you've already earned by completing an accredited CNA training program and applies them to your further education. So not only will you get all the qualifications to become a CNA and be able to start earning money in a shorter amount of time (most CNA programs are less than 6 months), but you'll also be able to become a LPN or RN later down the line by completing the same amount of coursework.

Secondly, regarding the benefits of obtaining CNA qualifications first, you'll be able to get first hand experience of the workplace as a nurse. This is invaluable if either A) you'd like to take a glimpse of what the healthcare setting is like and see if nursing is right for you, B) you'd like to earn money to pay for your living expenses or continuing education while working in practically the same field, C) you want to gain a better understanding of the workplace and the different roles of healthcare professionals, or D) you want to gain clinical experience that shines brightly on your record so you can apply for additional training programs or job applications where prior clinical experience is a must.

A Couple More Reasons...

CNA to LPN Bridge Programs

As I've mentioned earlier, LPN programs typically last for about one year of full-time enrollment, and since I'm assuming you've already completed an accredited CNA program, it will take a shorter amount of time to complete since your credits can be transferred over. So let's go over the requirements needed to apply for a CNA to LPN bridge program, which are often offered in community colleges, vocational schools, and trade schools:


  • At least 18 years old
  • Completion of an accredited or state approved CNA program
  • Experience working as a CNA
  • High school diploma or equivalent
  • Prior courses in biology or chemistry
  • Overall GPA of at least 2.0 or higher
  • CPR certification

Course Outline:

LPN classes combine classroom lecture, laboratory training, and clinical work, and will cover the following topics (you can assume you won't have to relearn anything you've covered in your CNA program):

-- Knowledge portion

  • Composition and psychology
  • Basic LPN duties
  • Family health and community care
  • Safety and health procedures

-- Clinical Training

  • Administration of IVs and medication
  • Monitoring patient’s insulin and glucose levels
  • Supervision training
  • Communication skills
  • Reporting skills
  • Sterilization of health equipment

And just like with CNA certification, you'll have to complete a state comprehensive exam (this time known as the NCLEX-PN) in order to obtain a license as a practical nurse.

CNA to RN Bridge Programs

Just like with CNA to LPN bridge programs, CNA to RN bridge programs operate under the same premise: you can apply the credits you've earned when completing an accredited CNA program into your continuing education. The only difference, however, is that RN programs typically last longer, anywhere from 2 years for an associates degree to 4 years for a degree in BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing). RN programs can be found in a variety of settings, including community colleges, vocational schools, trade schools, and universities. Here are the requirements to apply, which may vary depending on state:


  • At least 18 years old
  • Finished an accredited or state approved CNA training program
  • Experience working as a nursing assistant
  • High school diploma or equivalent
  • Completion of mandatory prior courses
  • Minimum SAT or ACT scores
  • GPA of at least 2.0 or higher
  • CPR certification

Course Outline:

Just like CNA or LPN programs, you'll be required to complete training that combines a knowledge portion, laboratory training, and clinical work in order to advance in your career. In CNA to RN bridge programs, you won't have to relearn anything you've already completed in your CNA training program.

-- Knowledge Portion

  • Anatomy & composition
  • Basic RN duties
  • Microbiology
  • Chemistry
  • Family health & community care
  • Psychology
  • Nutrition
  • Types of disease & medical treatment
  • Nursing practice & theory
  • Safety & health procedures

-- Clinical Training

  • Administration of IVs and medication
  • Monitoring patient’s insulin and glucose levels
  • Assisting patients
  • How to draw blood
  • Supervision training
  • Communication skills
  • Problem solving skills
  • Reporting skills
  • Sterilization of health equipment

Of course, upon completion of your RN training, you'll be required to take and pass the NCLEX-RN comprehensive exam, which contains a multiple choice section and clinical portion, in order to become an official registered nurse.

Final Thoughts

No matter what you decide to pursue, it's important that you take your circumstances and interests into account. Nursing is not an easy career that allows you to relax for even a minute on the job, it's an incredibly tough job that requires an outgoing, caring, and enthusiastic person that enjoys helping other people no matter how difficult it can get. And you can bet that it will get difficult from time to time, so my advice is to know thyself and find what you enjoy doing most. Find your Rushmore.

What nursing position are you most interested in?

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      4 years ago

      I'm an RN and had my degree in biology. If you have a degree in a 'related' field to nursing, there are certificate programs in which you can get your degree in nursing in 12 MONTHS.

      However, a CNA isn't a degree; you MAY have a degree in something else related to nursing, and if so, you're MORE than on your way to fast-tracking a nursing degree.

      If you DON'T have a degree in anything else, there are other options open to you, one under the ACA at

      This is another option:

      There are other ways, though I'll start with these. Either way, I found the most difficult part of nursing was the patient care aspect, and with having been a CNA, you have the patient care covered. Now, to learn the theory. Patient care is DIFFERENT between an RN and a CNA, but there are more similarities than differences and a good CNA is hard to find.


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