CNA vs Graduate Nursing

Certified Nursing Assistant and a Graduate Nurse

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Choosing a career in the healthcare field can be both rewarding and challenging. There are various paths to consider, and two popular options are becoming a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) or pursuing a graduate nursing degree. Both roles play crucial roles in patient care, but they differ in terms of responsibilities, education, and career outlook. In this blog post, we will explore the differences between a CNA and graduate nursing, and help you determine which path may be the best fit for you.

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What is a CNA and Graduate Nursing?

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA):

A Certified Nursing Assistant, commonly referred to as a CNA, is an entry-level healthcare professional who provides basic care and assistance to patients in various healthcare settings. CNAs work under the supervision of registered nurses (RNs) and provide direct patient care, such as bathing, feeding, and assisting with mobility. They also measure vital signs, record patient information, and assist with medical procedures.

Graduate Nursing:

Graduate nursing refers to advanced practice nursing roles, such as Nurse Practitioners (NPs), Certified Nurse Midwives (CNMs), Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNSs), and Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs). These advanced practice nurses have completed a graduate-level nursing program and have obtained a Master's or Doctoral degree in nursing. Graduates nurses have more autonomy and are qualified to provide a wider range of healthcare services, including diagnosing and treating illnesses, prescribing medications, and managing patient care.

Difference between a CNA and Graduate Nursing

While both CNAs and graduate nurses play important roles in the healthcare field, there are key differences between the two roles:

Scope of Practice:

  • CNAs provide basic patient care, such as bathing, dressing, and feeding patients.
  • Graduate nurses have an expanded scope of practice, which may include diagnosing and treating illnesses, prescribing medications, and performing advanced medical procedures.


  • CNAs primarily assist with activities of daily living and provide direct patient care.
  • Graduate nurses have a more comprehensive role, which may include assessing patient conditions, developing treatment plans, and coordinating patient care.


  • CNAs work under the direct supervision of registered nurses or other healthcare professionals.
  • Graduate nurses often work independently or with minimal supervision, depending on their specialty and the regulations in their state.

Education and Training:

  • CNAs typically complete a state-approved nursing assistant training program, which can be completed in a few months.
  • Graduate nurses must complete a Bachelor's or Associate's degree in nursing, followed by a graduate-level nursing program. The duration of these programs can range from 2-4 years, depending on the level of education pursued.


  • CNAs must pass a state competency exam to become certified nursing assistants.
  • Graduate nurses must pass a national certification exam specific to their area of specialization, such as the Nurse Practitioner Certification Exam or Certified Nurse Midwife Exam.

CNA vs Graduate Nursing: Job Description


  • Assisting patients with activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing, and feeding.
  • Taking and recording vital signs, such as temperature, pulse, and blood pressure.
  • Assisting with medical procedures, such as wound care and catheter insertion.
  • Reporting patient concerns or changes in condition to the supervising nurse.
  • Providing emotional support and comfort to patients and their families.

Graduate Nursing:

  • Conducting comprehensive patient assessments, including physical examinations and medical history reviews.
  • Diagnosing and treating illnesses and injuries.
  • Prescribing medications and ordering diagnostic tests.
  • Developing and implementing patient care plans.
  • Providing patient education and counseling.

CNA vs Graduate Nursing: Education and Training


  • Complete a state-approved nursing assistant training program.
  • Training programs typically last a few months and include both classroom instruction and hands-on clinical experience.
  • Topics covered in the training program may include basic nursing skills, infection control, communication, and patient safety.
  • After completing the training program, CNAs must pass a state competency exam to become certified.

Graduate Nursing:

  • Complete a Bachelor's or Associate's degree in nursing.
  • After completing a nursing degree, graduates must obtain a registered nurse (RN) license by passing the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN).
  • Pursue a graduate-level nursing program, such as a Master's or Doctoral degree in nursing.
  • Graduate programs provide advanced coursework and clinical experiences specific to the chosen specialty.
  • After completing the graduate program, graduate nurses must pass a national certification exam specific to their area of specialization.

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CNA vs Graduate Nursing: Career Outlook and Salary


  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of nursing assistants is projected to grow 8 percent from 2020 to 2030, which is faster than the average for all occupations.
  • CNAs can find employment in various healthcare settings, such as hospitals, nursing homes, and home healthcare agencies.
  • The median annual wage for nursing assistants was $30,850 in May 2020, according to the BLS.

Graduate Nursing:

  • The career outlook for graduate nurses varies depending on the chosen specialty.
  • Overall, employment of nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, and nurse anesthetists is projected to grow 45 percent from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations.
  • Graduate nurses can work in various healthcare settings, including hospitals, clinics, private practices, and schools.
  • The median annual wage for nurse practitioners was $117,670 in May 2020, according to the BLS.

Final Thoughts

Choosing between a career as a CNA or pursuing graduate nursing depends on your interests, goals, and the level of responsibility you desire. CNAs play a vital role in providing direct patient care and are an essential part of the healthcare team. On the other hand, graduate nursing offers more autonomy and the opportunity to provide advanced care to patients. Consider your strengths, interests, and long-term career goals when making your decision. Both paths can lead to fulfilling careers in the healthcare field, so choose the one that aligns with your passion for patient care and professional growth.

Explore the reach of Dreambound's program in various locations. Dive into these blogs for an extensive look into the two vocations, including detailed information on their requirements and the process to join:

Keziah Lim
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Keziah Lim
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