Becoming a Registered Nurse vs a Nursing Assistant

Cambridge Advantage

Do you dream of entering the nursing profession, but aren’t sure which nursing program is best for you? At Cambridge, you can choose between our Registered Nurse degree and Nursing Assistant certification. These programs give you a solid foundation to be a skilled healthcare professional. Let’s learn the difference between these two rewarding careers. 

What’s the Difference Between a Registered Nurse & a Nursing Assistant?

Job Duties

An RN has a wide range of duties, including:

  • Coordination and delivery of patient care with physicians and other healthcare providers
  • Administration of medicines and medical treatments
  • Educating patients on their long-term care and health
  • Assistance in diagnostic testing

CNA, on the other hand, works under the supervision of an RN or other medical professional. Their duties often include the following:

  • Aiding patients with routine tasks and attending to their basic needs
  • Observing and recording patient conditions and vital signs
  • Monitoring patient food and liquid intake

Educational and Examination Requirements

To become an RN, you must finish a two-year accredited Associate’s degree program, or a four-year accredited bachelor’s degree program. Then, you’ll need to pass a licensure exam in your state known as the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).

Becoming a CNA takes much less schooling, with many certification programs just a few months or less. Once you complete a state-approved certificate program, you must take and pass a competency exam before being placed on a state registry of Certified Nursing Assistants.


Since RNs have more responsibility and need more schooling, they are paid more than CNAs. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), a registered nurse in the US had a median pay of $77,600 per year in 2021. For a certified nursing assistant, the median pay in 2021 was $30,290 per year.

Salaries will always differ by geographic location and the environment you work in. For instance, you might make more in a hospital in a metropolitan area than you would in a rurally-located assisted living facility. 

What About a Practical Nurse (LPN)?

licensed practical nurse is different from both a registered nurse and a nursing assistant. An LPN has fewer responsibilities than an RN, but more than a CNA. They’re responsible for things like:

  • Presenting patient information to RNs and physicians
  • Speaking to the families of patients about their care
  • Preparing patients for surgical procedures and exams

One big difference between an LPN and an RN is that an LPN cannot administer medications or perform diagnostic testing. They often work under the supervision of an RN, just like a CNA.

How Does Cambridge Help Me Get a Job in Nursing?

From the time of admissions, all students have access to our career services department. Students can get help with clinical externships, application and interviewing skills, and be connected with potential employers through job placement. This gives Cambridge students a definitive edge when pursuing their nursing careers.

Start Your Nursing Career at Cambridge

For a rewarding career in nursing care, the first step is to apply to an accredited program. At Cambridge, our RN and CNA programs provide exceptional training and preparation to catapult your career. To learn more, give us a call at 877-206-4279 or send us a message.

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