Nurses or CNAs – Who Works Harder?

Both nurses and CNAs work hard, but it is up to the individual to decide which job they think is harder.

People take different approaches when determining which profession requires more physical labor or emotional intelligence. Nurses are in charge of diagnosing patients and providing them with care, while CNAs provide support for nursing staff by helping patients get out of bed, changing linens on beds, taking vital signs, etc.

Some people might say that being a nurse requires more physical effort because they are caring for patients who are sick or injured. Others would argue that the CNA position involves more difficult tasks like lifting heavy objects or assisting with bathing.

It’s really up to you! Neither position is harder than the other – it’s a matter of personal preference.

Education required

To become a CNA you must complete a formal education program which usually takes one year or less. All states have different requirements for nurses, so it’s best to research what each state requires before enrolling in an educational program. For example, some places require nurses to have bachelor degrees while others don’t require more than an associate degree.

Nurses generally need at least an associate’s degree after completing an undergraduate program that includes prerequisites like biology, chemistry, and math.

Work hours

Nurses often work 8 hours per day, 5 days per week. The working environment is fairly relaxed and most nurses decide on what shift they want to work. CNAs may also work 8-hour shifts, but their schedules are determined by the needs of patients.

Hourly wage

CNAs usually earn $11 per hour, but the pay can vary depending on location and what state you live in. The average starting salary for nurses is $30/hour with an increase to around $60/hour after several years of work experience.

Potential for advancement

CNAs can go on to complete an associate degree in nursing (2-year program) and become RNs. RNs, like CNAs, work under the supervision of doctors or registered nurses. RN’s also can be promoted to supervisory roles where they are responsible for managing other nursing staff. Nurses generally have more career opportunities than CNAs because they are able to move up the ranks and take on more difficult responsibilities.

Personal characteristics needed

Both nurses and CNAs need to be caring, smart, detail-oriented, good at prioritizing tasks, able to multi-task under stress, outgoing yet professional when communicating with patients/families, problem solvers who are able to think critically in stressful situations.

Extra notes: Both nurses and CNAs need excellent communication skills when interacting with doctors, patients/families or other medical personnel. This job is usually indoors but there might be some times when you have to go outside for certain procedures like wound care. The ability to work well under pressure and prioritize tasks is also a plus.

Work environment

Nurses can expect to work in a very busy environment where they need to respond quickly and think critically under stress. They should be able to manage a hectic pace while still placing priority on patient’s/family members needs.

CNAs can expect to work alongside other CNAs, working in a fast-paced environment with demanding tasks that must be completed in a timely manner without mistakes. They should be okay with performing personal care for patients such as bathing, feeding, changing bedpans, etc.


Moderate to heavy lifting is required for CNAs.

Nurses do get on their feet and walk around a lot, but there is no physically demanding work involved.

Every position requires some handling/lifting of objects including books, charts, trays, etc., but it varies based on where the nurse or CNA works. For example, if they are working in a high-rise building downtown they would have to take stairs rather than an elevator all the time whereas nurses working at a hospital are given access to elevators since patients need to be transported easily between floors.

Possible fatal accidents

Nurses are at risk for potential errors when giving medication or checking a patient’s blood pressure.

CNAs risk injury when lifting heavy objects, working long hours without breaks, sharp objects like needles or broken glass etc.

To summarize…


  • Evaluates patients and provides medical care
  • Supervises CNAs to ensure that patients receive safe, quality care
  • Analyzes patient vitals and updates charts with necessary information
  • Instructs patients on proper medication dosage and administers treatments as directed by qualified medical personnel


  • Assists nurses/doctors in a variety of ways
  • Provides patient care by helping them with personal needs like bathing, getting dressed etc.
  • Assists with mealtime and ensures patients are eating properly
  • Helps doctors/nurses perform medical procedures on patients
  • Takes vital signs including temperature, pulse, blood pressure, respiratory rate etc.

If you give long-term or post-acute care, it’s more likely that nursing assistant supervision will be among your primary responsibilities. Being an RN is a lot more difficult than being a CNA in certain ways. You have more options to consider and more judgment calls to make. However, being a CNA can sometimes feel more difficult.