The medical field is full of acronyms - you practically need a degree just to keep track of all of them. Some of the acronyms you will encounter most often, especially as you or a loved one move into assisted living - are CNA, LPN and RN. So what is the difference between an RN, LPN and CNA?
CNA vs LPN vs RN - What Do Those Letters Even Mean?
RNs, or Registered Nurses, are at the top of the nurse pyramid. They have either an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in nursing and also passed the NCLEX-RN exam to receive a nursing license.
LPNs, or Licensed Practical Nurses, complete a specific, two-year nursing program, typically at a community college or vocational school. They complete the NCLEX-PN exam to become licensed.
CNAs, or Certified Nursing Assistants, complete a shorter training program, often in a specific specialty. They need to pass their state-specific nursing assistant competency exam, and they always work under an RN or an LPN.
CNAs often work in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. They can also do in-home care. Since they are the people you and your aging loved ones are likely to work with, it is helpful to know what a CNA can do and not do.
What Can CNAs Not Do?
CNAs are not allowed to administer injections, including insulin injections. They may not treat open wounds (though they can change dressings on minor wounds) or do any tube feedings. They also cannot insert catheters or perform bowel evacuations, since these can have dangerous side effects. Essentially they may not do anything considered invasive.
Generally, CNAs help with daily activities like bathing, eating, walking, and more. They record a patient's vital signs, take temperatures, and can communicate any needs or issues with the patient’s RN or doctors. In some states, CNAs with extra training may be allowed to draw blood, administer medication to patients, and take blood sugar readings.
Is a CNA a Nurse?
Though they work closely with nurses and other members of the healthcare team, and probably even “look like” nurses, CNAs are not nurses.
Licensed Practical Nurse vs. CNA
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LPNs still work under the supervision of an RN in the unit, but they can do more than a CNA since they have advanced training. LPNs can provide open wound care, give injections, insert and care for catheters, assist with tube feeding, care for patients on ventilators, and perform emergency CPR, among many other tasks.
Registered Nurses (RNs) supervise the LPNs and CNAs. They can perform diagnostic tests and interpret results. They work most closely with doctors and PAs (Physicians Assistants - sorry, another acronym) to create treatment plans.
Understanding the difference between different types of healthcare professionals can be tricky. It becomes important to remember there are differences when many people are walking in and out of a hospital or nursing home room, all with various questions and separate tasks.