Nurses follow a variety of career paths.
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As baby boomers move into their retirement years, the need for nurses is expected to continue to increase. In 2010, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that by 2020, the number of registered nurses and certified nursing assistants would grow by 26 percent and 20 percent, respectively. There are considerable differences in these two career paths to consider as you begin studying in the nursing field.

Compensation and Benefits

Certified nurse assistants, having fewer qualifications and education and a less technical workload, are compensated less. A CNA averaged $24,010 yearly according of the 2010 BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook. Full-time CNA staff may qualify for health insurance and sponsored retirement plans depending on the hospital or clinic employing them. A registered nurse averaged $64,690 yearly, demonstrating the higher status and responsibilities of the position. RNs typically qualify for a complete package of benefits and paid vacation.


A CNA requires less education than an RN. Most CNA candidates enroll in a certification program from a vocational or trade school lasting about one year. They must also pass a state certification exam, a competency exam and undergo some clinical practice whether as a volunteer or as part of their education. Registered nurses are typically required to enroll in an accredited college to get a bachelor of science degree in nursing. Some positions will hire an entry-level RN with only a two year associate of science degree in nursing or even a nursing program diploma. An RN must also pass the National Council Licensure Examination.

Job Description

A CNA performs many physically challenging tasks. She will often do tasks such as bathe patients, transport them to and from specialized areas and assist them in walking, She will take vital signs, report results of regular checks to the attending doctor or RN and serve and help feed meals as needed. An RN will set up and administer treatments, document progress, train the family of the patient about care topics and perform other similar services. An RN may also serve as a manager or director of CNAs and other staff. The duties of either of these positions depend largely on the type of patients and specialty of the facility in which the nurse or CNA works.

Other Considerations

While a CNA must maintain liability insurance because of the services performed, an RN must maintain more of it. A CNA may face a greater risk of bodily injury than an RN because of the physical nature of much of her work although both face risks of being hurt or infected by a contagious disease.

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