CNAs, RNs and LPNs work in the healthcare field and in the same types of facilities. But their daily round of tasks can be quite different.
The medical profession has a formidable hierarchy. When ranking the three in order of importance, a Registered Nurse, or RN, is first, then comes the Licensed Practical Nurse, or LPN. At the bottom is the Certified Nurse Assistant, or CNA.
Here is an overview of how the duties of a CNA differ from those of a nurse, either RN or LPN, and a quick look at how this impacts the way they are treated by the healthcare team.
Duties of a CNA
The CNA is on the frontline when it comes to patient care.
They deal with the day-to-day physical needs of those in their care, including:
- Checking vital signs, like taking a patient’s temperature and blood pressure
- Feeding patients
- Bathing patients
- Dressing patients
- Serve meals
- Make beds
- Clean rooms, like emptying bedpans and changing sheets that are soiled
- Set up equipment, like moving heavy devices from one room to another or setting out medical tools for an exam
- Assisting with procedures, like drawing blood
- Answer requests for help from the patient and observe changes in his condition or behavior
This work is done under the supervision of an RN, LPN or other healthcare staff.
Duties of Nurses
An LPN has greater responsibility than a CNA, though she might also perform some of the same tasks for patient care. In addition to the duties of a CNA, an LPN can:
- Give injections
- Record vital signs
- Give medication
- Check catheters
- Dress wounds
The LPN works under the supervision of an RN or other supervisor. She doesn’t design a plan of care for the patient, but instead carries it out. She does not evaluate the data she collects, simply records it. She communicates information about these and changes in the condition of the patient to the RN and other staff members.
An RN is at the top of the pecking order. She often performs some of the duties of an LPN, but in addition she has a range of important responsibilities, including:
- Maintain the all-important patient charts
- Communicate directly with the doctor
- Work with the doctor to plan patient care
- Perform diagnostic tests and evaluate the results
- Operate medical equipment
- Educate patients and families about their condition
- Supervise LPNs and CNAs
An RN works with doctors and under their supervision. They often hold supervisory and administrative positions themselves and are considered part of the primary care team.
A Matter of Respect
According to an article in Scrubs Magazine, the hierarchical nature of healthcare can lead to negative treatment of CNAs. They report that it is common for both RNs and LPNs to delegate unwanted task like giving bed baths and cleaning bedpans to CNAs.
The nurses consider delegating the dirty work as one of the perks of getting licensed. This leads to frustration and resentment among CNAs.
Many nurses have recognized the problem. In an effort to deal with the attitude, they recommend showing respect to the CNA, calling her the “unsung hero of the nursing world.”
Because the CNA works so closely with patients, helping them with their physical needs, they have a unique view of how the patient is doing. Many nurses feel this makes them the “most needed team member” in healthcare.