CNA Career Ladder: Moving Forward One Step at a Time

While working as a CNA, you are lucky to be able to advance your career.

Every nurse can move up the career ladder as long as they do some planning and hard work.

You can get into the nursing field in several ways.

It depends on how much time and money you have, how quickly you need to get a job, where you live, and what family commitments you have.

Despite your reasoning, every step on the nursing ladder expands your experience and knowledge.

What is a CNA?

Many nurses start their careers as Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs), professionals who provide direct care to residents or patients.

Helping people with their basic needs can be rewarding.

Becoming a CNA comes with the following benefits:

  • No college required.
  • Short training time (12–16 weeks).
  • A good way to start acquiring nursing skills.
  • Job growth is expected to be 9% through 2028, faster than the national average of 5% for all occupations.
  • Constantly high demand for CNAs.

Where Do CNAs Work?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), about 40% of CNAs work in skilled nursing facilities, 11% work with elderly patients in such settings as assisted living residences or retirement communities.

About 5% work in the home healthcare field, approximately 27% work in hospitals, and 4%, in government positions.

What Does a CNA Do?

CNAs are essential for excellent patient care.

Many CNAs find providing bedside care, helping patients with their basic needs to be a perfect job.

Treating people with dignity and respect is noble work.

What Are CNA Career Prospects?

CNAs work under the supervision of Registered Nurses or Licensed Practical Nurses.

While gaining experience working alongside these professionals, CNAs can get interested in advancing their careers.

RNs and LPNs make more money and don’t do as much physical work as CNAs.

Their scope of responsibilities is also wider, which can also be appealing.

CNAs can become LPNs or RN if they choose to do so.

As you make the transition, you can enroll in bridge programs.

It can take time to find the right program and figure out the strategy.

It all depends on your situation.

Here are some options available to you:

  • Take online courses on weekends or before or after work.
  • Schedule part-time work around full-time or part-time classes.
  • Work full-time and take classes part-time with tuition reimbursed by your employer.
  • Apply for financial aid, which is often available to many students.
  • Apply for scholarships that will cover the full-time cost of your program.

Then, you have to decide if you’d like to study to become an RN or LPN.

Both are a great career choice.

Take a closer look at the benefits and requirements of both.

What is an LPN?

Licensed Practical Nurse:

An LPN is also known as LVN (Licensed Vocational Nurse) in Texas and California.

These are licensed nurses who provide basic patient care.

LPNs are supervised by RNs but have more responsibilities than CNAs.

They can administer medications and change sterile dressings.

What is Good About Being an LPN?

  • Jobs are expected to grow by 11% through 2028.
  • There are programs in technical schools and community colleges.
  • A license can be obtained in one year.
  • Certifications in IV therapy or gerontology can increase your pay.

About 40% of LPNs work in residential care facilities or nursing homes, 15% work in hospitals, 13%, in medical groups or physician’s offices, 12% – home healthcare, and 6% in the government.

Many CNAs become LPNs.

If you don’t have money and time to invest in a 2-4-year RN program or have a long-term goal to gain experience on every level of nursing, you can take a step towards becoming an LPN.

If you are working in a particular setting and becoming an LPN meets the educational job requirements, you can also choose to become one.

The most important thing is that you are satisfied with your job.

How to Become an LPN

The first step in becoming an LPN is finding the program that meets your financial needs and schedule.

Some programs offer classes during the day, some, in the evenings or weekends.

Some programs are a mix of classroom and online instruction.

Find out if you can get LPN program credits for your experience as a CNA.

For the LPN program, you will also have to gain clinical experience, and some programs let you do it in your workplace.

Unlike the CNA exam, which differs in every state and has both skills and written tests, the LPN exam is a national standardized test.

The exam is called National Council Licensure Examination-Practical Nurse (NCLEX-PN) and is taken on a computer.

How to Become a Registered Nurse

The good news is that with your CNA experience you already know more than you think.

You certainly have more knowledge than your RN classmates who never worked in a healthcare setting.

To become an RN, you can earn either an associate’s degree (ADN) that takes two years or a bachelor’s (BSN) degree that takes four years.

With both, you can sit for the National Council Licensure Examination-Registered Nurse (NCLEX-RN).

With both degrees, you will earn the title of Registered Nurse.

In some states, RNs are required to hold a BSN to be hired.

RNs have much responsibility.

Not only do they supervise LPNs and CNAs, but they also consult directly with doctors for patient’s status and new orders for treatment.

They can start IVs, administer medications and injections, perform some tests and treatments.

There are benefits to working as an RN:

  • Opportunity to obtain further degrees and specialization in any area.
  • Ability to work in any healthcare setting.
  • A strong job outlook with a 12% growth rate.
  • Opportunity to advance to supervisor, administrator, or educator.
  • Ability to assess patients and report directly to doctors.

More than 60% of RNs work in hospitals.

Approximately 18% work in ambulatory services, such as home healthcare, physicians’ offices, or outpatient settings.

About 7% work in residential care facilities, 5%, in government, and 3% in educational services.

You can become an RN through the CNA-to-RN program to become an RN.

LPN-to-RN program is the fastest way, though.

There are more requirements for an RN program than the LPN.

You may need to take the SAT or ACT if you didn’t before in high school.

Your GPA should be 2.0 or higher.

RNs students have more courses than LPNs.

Additionally to physiology and anatomy that LPNs study, RNs also have to pass chemistry, pathophysiology, microbiology, psychology.

Many CNAs and LPNs get these prerequisites before they start the nursing program.

Similar to LPN programs, RN programs are flexible, so you can get your degree and license.

You should discuss this with the Admissions office or nursing program.

They can help you find the most efficient way.

Don’t be Daunted by the Demands of Advancing Your Career

You need to consider the following:

  • You have gained a great deal of knowledge about the fundamentals of nursing care.
  • You have already proven that you can learn, study, and pass coursework.
  • Everyone has different goals. Find your happy place and stay there.
  • There is no timeline. Take one course at a time when you’re ready.

CNA Salary Compared to LPN and RN Salary

While the salary shouldn’t be the only thing influencing your decision, if you are ready to change your career, it’s good to know what kind of compensation you will get.

According to the BLS data of May 2018, the average payment for nursing professionals was as follows:

  • CNA: $28,540.
  • LPN: $46,240.
  • RN: $71,730.

Not everyone can be a nurse.

It takes a very intelligent, strong, and compassionate person to succeed in the field while maintaining the health and well-being of the patient.


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