With around 20 percent of the population reaching Social Security age by 2050, the demand for senior caregiving services will continue to rise rapidly over your working career. In 2050, around 4 percent of the population is expected to be age 85 or older, and few of this number are unlikely to need any health or personal care services. If you've always been drawn to the nursing field, seeking a specialty that will allow you to work in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, or even for a concierge care physician can be a great decision for your financial future. However, the alphabet soup of designations in the nursing and caregiving fields -- CNA, LPN, RN, and others -- can be confusing, and you may not know the best way to begin your new career path. Read on to learn more about the duties of some common specialties in the senior nursing field and assisted living employment to help you make your decision.
Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)
A CNA provides the most direct patient care of all assisted living or nursing home employees, helping in tasks ranging from bathing and feeding to changing soiled sheets. This role can allow you to form close relationships with your patients, although you may also be present at some of their most painful or embarrassing moments. Becoming a CNA won't require you to complete much additional schooling after obtaining your high school diploma or equivalency degree -- you'll need to take a short nursing course that will help you learn to take and read vital signs and how to perform tasks like lifting a heavy patient or changing dressings.
As a CNA, you won't be as highly paid as licensed nurses -- however, this can be a great way to get your feet wet in the field of senior care just out of high school. Once you've gotten your CNA license, you may be able to work part-time as a CNA while attending nursing school, helping you cover your basic expenses without taking out many student loans.
Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)
An LPN performs some duties that can be covered by a CNA (like checking vital signs), but is also able to perform more medical tasks, like starting IV drips, administering medication, or drawing blood. LPNs don't usually have as much patient contact as CNAs, but will also be exempted from many of the more unpleasant tasks that come with senior care (like changing soiled linens).
LPNs are more highly paid than CNAs, and this designation only requires about a one- to two-year course of study that can usually be obtained at a community college. For many, becoming licensed as an LPN is the next step after obtaining a CNA license and working part-time while attending college.
Registered Nurse (RN)
Becoming an RN in most states will require you to obtain at least a bachelor's degree, although some states will permit nurses with just a two-year associate's degree to sit for the nursing exam. As an RN, you'll be able to provide a much wider range of care than CNAs and LPNs, from performing physical exams to providing health or nutritional counseling or sometimes even stitching up wounds. As an RN, your patient contact will generally be limited to those who have a health condition that requires ongoing care or those who are in immediate need of medical intervention, unlike CNAs and LPNs who may visit each of their patients in an assisted living facility on a daily basis.
The average RN makes more than $66,000 per year -- more than twice the median $25,000 per year salary for a CNA. By working your way up the ranks from CNA to LPN and then RN, you may be able to double or even triple your salary over the course of just a few years while cash-flowing your education through part-time earnings.