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What is the difference between an LPN, CNA, and medical assistant?



Dear Donna,

Can you tell me how long the average shift is for an LPN? What is the difference between an LPN, CNA, and medical assistant? I see the salaries are quite different. I am planning to attend school to become an LPN, which will take about a year, but I want to be sure that I’ve chosen the right field. I would love to chat with some LPNs to hear what they have to say about the job.


Dear Donna replies:

Dear Deb,

You should indeed chat with some LPNs to learn more about the profession. Contact the National Federation of Licensed Practical Nurses ( See whether your state has a chapter and contact your representative. Even if there is no chapter in your state, contact any of the LPNs listed on the site and do an informational interview with them ( You also should join the association as a student member as soon as you start school.

Shifts for LPNs vary depending on where you work. The average shift lasts 8 to 12 hours, but there is considerable variation. CNAs usually work in a direct patient care role in a hospital or nursing home. Medical assistants typically work in a medical office, clinic, or other outpatient setting.

Best wishes,


About Author

Donna Cardillo, RN, MA, well-known career guru, is Nursing Spectrum/NurseWeek’s “Dear Donna” and author of “Your First Year as a Nurse: Making the Transition from Total Novice to Successful Professional” and “The ULTIMATE Career Guide for Nurses: Practical Advice for Thriving at Every Stage of Your Career.” Information about the books is available at and, respectively. To ask Donna your question, go to Find a “Dear Donna” seminar near you: Call 800-866-0919 or visit

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