How to Make the Move from Nursing Assistant to Practical Nurse
Certified nursing assistants, or CNAs, who are ready to climb the next rung of the career ladder are often drawn to CNA to LPN programs, and with good reason. Offering a salary boost, greater job prospects, and higher levels of responsibility, licensed practical nursing roles are a logical progression for experienced CNAs. The following guide outlines differences between the two positions, maps out necessary steps for advancement, and explores bridge program options to help CNAs make the transition to LPNs.
- CNA vs. LPN
- CNA to LPN Roadmap
- CNA to LPN Online
- Benefits of Transitioning from CNA to LPN
- Thinking Ahead: Going Beyond LPN
Basic Overview: CNA vs. LPN
Before committing to a bridge program and becoming a licensed practical nurse (known as a licensed vocational nurse in California and Texas), CNAs should review the requirements, responsibilities and overall differences between the two roles.
|Students must complete a certificate, which takes between four and 12 weeks. This certificate can be earned at nursing homes, hospitals, clinics or vocational schools.||After passing a pre-entrance exam, students must complete a certificate/diploma or Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), which takes between one and two years. These programs are available at community colleges, vocational schools and some large hospitals.|
|Graduates must pass a state-specific competency exam and background check||Graduates must pass the NCLEX-PN exam|
|Responsibilities/Scope of Practice|
|CNAs work under the supervision of an LPN or RN and provide basic care for patients. They may also perform some administrative tasks, such as answering phones, bathing and dressing patients, feeding patients, checking vital signs and changing beds.||LPNs work under the supervision of an RN and provide care as part of a team. Responsibilities may include administering medications, collecting patient data, assisting with minor procedures and helping to rehabilitate patients.|
|Individual states set continuing education standards, but in general CNAs are not typically required to take continuing education units||Individual states set continuing education standards, with the vast majority requiring a specific number of continuing education units to be completed annually in order to maintain licensure|
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CNA to LPN: A Roadmap
Depending on their state, CNAs may or may not be able to transfer some of their completed coursework to an LPN program. Regardless, CNAs with work experience will have a leg up on coursework and assignments. The steps outlined below reflect the general path a CNA must take in order to become an LPN.
- Select a program type Before enrolling in a program, students must decide whether to pursue a certificate/diploma or an associate degree. While the former only takes about one year and the latter takes two, an associate degree allows students to transfer credits should they later decide to pursue further education, such as an RN or BSN program.
- Review specific state education requirementsAfter selecting the nursing program, students should check their state’s requirements, as some mandate prerequisites. Typical prerequisites include courses in anatomy, physiology, lifespan psychology, English and math. Students must also pass an entrance exam known as TEAS, or Test of Essential Academic Skills.
- Successfully complete your accredited nursing program Once accepted and enrolled in a program, CNAs begin taking courses focused on medical administration, adult and child nursing, human anatomy, and basic medical principles, all of which build on their existing knowledge and skills. Students pursuing an associate degree will complete some general education courses, as well as a number of practicums and clinical hours to build hands-on skills.
- Keep your license activeAfter passing the exam and receiving their license, LPNs will need to complete a state-specified number of continuing education units (CEUs) to maintain their licensure and continuing practicing.
- Register to take the NCLEXAfter successfully completing the nursing program, graduates must then pass the NCLEX-PN examination before applying for licensure in their state. Students who do not pass on their first attempt must wait at least 45 days to retake the exam. How to Ace the NCLEX-PN
CNA to LPN Online
Students who are considering moving from CNA to LPN via an online program have many paths available, with the most popular option being a hybrid degree combining online classes with hands-on training at a local facility. Several of the most common questions about online programs are answered below. ?
In terms of teaching quality or topics covered, accredited CNA to LPN online programs should present no differences from their brick-and-mortar counterparts. Students engage with their professors and peers via a variety of online mediums, including chat rooms, real-time video lectures, collaborative wikis and forum discussions.
Most courses are taught asynchronously and allow students to complete assignments at their own pace, although a few professors may require students to log on at specific times throughout the semester. Some online courses may be accelerated, allowing learners to complete classes more quickly than a campus-based program.
Required coursework in an online program will be identical to that of a campus-based program. Building on the knowledge received through CNA training, LPNs-in-training cover a variety of basic healthcare topics through classroom, laboratory and clinic-based coursework. Some of the most common courses offered are:
- Medication Administration
Topics covered in this class include pharmacological principles and proper dosages for drugs and IVs.
- Communication in Nursing
Students learn how to therapeutically communicate with patients and their families, and also practice using proper medical terminology and professional communication with healthcare teams.
- Health Assessments
With a focus on lifespan diseases and wellness, this course outfits students with the skills and knowledge they need to perform comprehensive and detailed assessments of patients at different stages of life and levels of health. Proper methods of obtaining health histories are taught alongside instruction on completing physical examinations.
- Clinical Skills Lab
Often based in a healthcare facility or laboratory, this two-part course instills an understanding of nursing procedure through hands-on training. Students learn about their role in decision-making, develop physical assessment skills, handle medical equipment and develop the ability to communicate effectively.
Designed to help students understand how bodies react to diseases and ailments physiologically, this course is highly scientific in nature. Students are called upon to widen their medical vocabulary, develop their understanding and awareness of risk factors, and cement their knowledge of pathophysiological processes.
Special emphasis is given to the aging population throughout this course, with topics covered ranging from emotional and biological factors to providing comprehensive care at this stage of life.
Other courses students can expect to take in this program include nursing foundations, medical surgical nursing, mental health nursing, and nursing care for families.
With more and more classes becoming available online, LPN students can now undertake a large portion of their degree via distance learning. However, practicums and clinical labs still need to be completed in laboratory and healthcare environments, meaning students must locate a local facility that provides this training.
Some, but not all, CNA to LPN online programs assist their students in finding a suitable local setting. Practicing CNAs may even be able to use their current place of work to fulfill clinical LPN requirements, provided it fits the program’s parameters. Students considering this route should check with their program director to learn about the official protocol.
Benefits of Transitioning from CNA to LPN
Making the move from nursing assistant to practical nurse can lead to many different benefits, such as:
Better pay LPNs make an average of 59 percent more money annually, with the gap widening further for seasoned professionals. The table below shows the most recent wage estimates for both positions.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition
- Increased knowledge While CNAs learn basic nursing skills during their education, the abbreviated nature of CNA programs means students aren’t able to dig into coursework or rack up clinical hours the way LPNs do. In addition to foundational nursing concepts, some LPN programs cover specialty topics such as geriatrics, nutrition, mental health and medication administration through theoretical and hands-on approaches.
- Expanded employment opportunities With greater knowledge comes greater responsibility, allowing LPNs to take on leadership roles in myriad areas of healthcare. LPNs are licensed to oversee CNAs and, in some cases, to dispense medicine or injections. These expanded skills open the door to advanced career opportunities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, LPN opportunities are expected to grow by 16 percent from 2014 to 2024, and new LPNs can remain in their CNA positions until they find the right position.
- Making a bigger difference While CNAs make a difference in their patients’ lives every day, the job can often feel monotonous or repetitive, as the scope of responsibility is quite limited. While LPNs complete many of the same tasks, the supervisory nature of their roles also means they can pass off some of their tasks to CNAs and focus on providing more specialized care.
- Path toward further education After moving into a licensed practical nursing role, professionals get a better sense of the world of possibilities in nursing and are in a favorable position to begin studying to become a registered nurse. LPN to RN or LPN to BSN bridge programs allow students to transfer previous credits and accelerate their path to an even higher degree. The outlook for higher-level nursing careers is bright, with RN roles and nurse practitioner positions expected to grow by 16 percent and 35 percent, respectively, between 2014 and 2024.
- Greater job satisfaction A 2012 study in the Journal of Nursing Management found that the longer CNAs stayed in their position, the lower their job satisfaction became. This suggests that the CNA role is meant to be a stepping stone to more advanced roles, rather than a final destination. Dissatisfaction is less likely in the LPN role, which allows for more job growth — a key component of LPN job satisfaction, according to a 2015 study in the Journal of Nursing Regulation. For instance, LPNs can become certified in specialties such as dementia, nephrology and developmental disabilities.
Thinking Ahead: Going Beyond LPN
The transition from CNA to LPN is often the first step in a long road of career progressions for nurses, and many bridge programs are available to help goal-oriented nursing assistants and nurses move into more advanced roles.Such programs include: