The Nursing Career Ladder: CNA to LPN/LVN to RN

Melissa Mills
by Melissa Mills   Career Advice Contributor 

CNAs make up the backbone of the healthcare industry. Without certified nursing assistants (CNAs), providing excellent patient care would be virtually impossible in many large healthcare facilities. After all, it’s the CNA who provides direct personal care assistance, ensuring that the patient gets treated with dignity and respect.

The experience and skills you’ll gain as a CNA are invaluable. They may inspire you to consider CNA career advancement to licensed practical nurse (LPN) or registered nurse (RN). We’ll explore several educational routes for this transition, such as a traditional four-year university program, community college or online nursing program.

The outlook is healthy for CNA careers

If you’re looking for a career with growth and stability, nursing is an excellent choice. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics lists registered nursing as one of the top occupations for future job growth. The workforce of registered nurses is projected to increase by more than 430,000 jobs by 2026.

As a CNA, you can take the next step to become either an LPN or a licensed vocational nurse (LVN). Both are excellent choices, as these careers are estimated to grow by 12%, or 88,900 jobs, over the next five to seven years.

If you are considering transitioning from a CNA to LPN or CNA to LVN, or if you eventually want to become an RN, here’s what you need to know to make the best decision for your future.

Taking the next step: CNA to LPN or CNA to LVN

LPNs and LVNs work directly under RNs and physicians. If you advance from a CNA to LPN or CNA to LVN, you will be able to take on greater responsibilities. The most significant difference is that LPNs and LVNs provide primary nursing care. Their job duties include:

  • Inserting catheters
  • Checking vital signs
  • Administering medications
  • Changing sterile dressings

LPNs and LVNs are also responsible for reporting patient status changes to a registered nurse or physician, as needed.

Educational pathways to becoming an LPN/LVN

Taking the LPN/LVN route requires less time in the classroom and costs less than becoming an RN. Most LPN/LVN nursing programs take about one year to complete and are offered at both community and technical colleges. Coursework for this type of nursing professional includes classes in biology, medications and primary nursing care.

Currently, online nursing programs are not available for LPN or LVN education curricula, so you’ll need to find a local program. Once you’ve completed the requirements, you will be eligible to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN).

Reaching new heights: CNA to RN

Choosing a CNA career advancement pathway to become a registered nurse (RN) is one way to build a successful healthcare career. RNs administer medications, perform and analyze diagnostic tests, and teach patients self-care techniques to manage chronic conditions. As a registered nurse, you will also be responsible for coordinating patient care and overseeing LPNs, LVNs and CNAs.

Your experience as a CNA will be an asset as you apply to advanced nursing programs. Our Resume Samples can help you organize the practical skills you’ve built for your application.

Educational pathway to becoming an RN

There are a few different ways to become a registered nurse. If you meet the educational requirements, you can choose to enroll in an in-person or online nursing program. Education options for professional advancement in nursing include:

  • Diploma nursing program: Though less popular today, you can still find some diploma programs in various locations across the country. When you attend a diploma program, you graduate with a diploma but do not receive a college degree. The program takes approximately two years to complete and will prepare you to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) upon graduation.
  • Associate of Nursing degree program: Choosing an associate degree program involves taking general classes to fulfill the degree. This program will prepare you for the NCLEX-RN and to obtain an entry-level nursing position. Choosing this path for your CNA career advancement will also take approximately two years.
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree program: Do you want to obtain a more advanced degree? Do you dream of becoming a nurse practitioner or other advanced practice nurse? Earning your BSN may be the right path for you. A BSN is a traditional nursing program that takes about four years to complete. Nurses with a BSN typically have more diverse and lucrative career opportunities than other nurses. Coursework will include requirements for a bachelor’s degree as well as various nursing classes.

Climbing the nursing career ladder

No matter which CNA career advancement route you choose, be sure to check your state’s Board of Nursing website for its educational requirements. You should also check with potential employers and any certification boards you may wish to affiliate with in the future. This research will help you determine which pathway will lead to your ideal nursing career.

Are you still unsure which path is right for you? Schedule a visit to some nursing colleges, technical schools and universities. These visits will allow you to gather information about their nursing curricula as well as the cost of each program. Another great way to determine which path is best for you is to find a variety of nursing professionals through your current workplace or sites like LinkedIn. Ask them about their typical day, job duties and the experiences they had while in school.

Consider working from one of our Resume Templates to get help updating your resume before applying to school. Or you can consider using our Resume Builder to create a professional, well-formatted document that you can submit along with your nursing college or technical school application.

Having all the information profiled in this article at your fingertips should put you on the path to the CNA career advancement opportunities that are right for you.

About the Author

Career Advice Contributor

Melissa Mills Career Advice Contributor

Melissa is a nurse with over 21 years of experience, ranging from bedside to executive level leadership. Her writing has appeared in Oncology Nursing News, AllNurses, and MindBodyGreen. She enjoys helping nurses explore their careers to get the most out of the profession. She worked as a hiring manager for over a decade, and understands the importance of networking, creating a stellar resume, and writing a cover letter that tells your story as a nursing professional.


Please rate this article

Average Ratings
1/5 stars with 1 reviews

As seen in*

brands image
*The names and logos of the companies referred to in this page are all trademarks of their respective holders. Unless specifically stated otherwise, such references are not intended to imply any affiliation or association with LiveCareer.