difference between RN, caregiver, and CNA

Healthcare is a team approach and each professional contributes to the outcomes of a patient’s health and wellbeing. Common healthcare workers include registered nurses (RNs), caregivers, and certified nursing assistants (CNAs). Perhaps you’re ready to enter the healthcare field but aren’t sure what the difference between RN, caregiver, and CNA jobs is.

Registered Nurse (RN)

Registered nurses are responsible for caring for a patient and carrying out doctor’s orders. They may be responsible for supervising Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs), CNAs, and caregivers. RNs often play an important role in educating patients and their family members and relaying discharge instructions.

RNs are able to do most things that involve care for the patient, including administering medications intravenously (IV) and performing diagnostic tests. They participate in charting and updating medical records.

Becoming an RN requires educational training of 2-4 years, plus passing a national licensing exam. They are able to work in all healthcare settings, such as hospitals, surgery centers, and doctor’s offices.


A caregiver is a person that provides direct care to patients and assists with the basic needs of daily living. This can include bathing, dressing, meal prep, eating, and running errands. Caregivers may work in long-term care facilities, assisted living facilities, or even patients’ homes.

Typically, caregivers need to take a certification course which takes around 8 hours. Some states require caregivers to be licensed as well.

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

Certified nursing assistants (also called a nursing aide) provide a wide range of duties to help patients. They may include turning patients, taking vital signs, and helping with activities of daily living. CNAs can assist with giving medications, administering vaccinations, drawing blood, and measuring blood glucose.
CNAs can work in multiple types of healthcare settings, but are most often employed in nursing homes, long-term care facilities, and assisted living facilities.
Training requirements for CNAs vary from state to state. However, most states require the completion of a training program that usually takes between 3 and 10 weeks. In addition, you must successfully pass a competency exam and apply for a license/certification.

Working Together

As members of the healthcare team, CNAs, RNs, and caregivers all work together to help provide patients with the best care possible. RNs cannot successfully carry out their job without the help of a CNA or caregiver. Many RNs start off as caregivers or CNAs to gain patient care experience and develop skills that they can build on. Others choose to become caregivers or CNAs as their long-term profession.

Regardless of your chosen path, providing care to a person in need has such a significant impact on the patient and offers you fulfillment in your job.