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CNA Work as a Gateway to Nursing: What You Will Learn

Updated on April 22, 2011

As a former nursing assistant and nursing student, I often heard that great debate as to whether you should work as a CNA before being a Registered Nurse or not. Some schools would require students to be a CNA and work in it to get their feet wet. Others would tell you that it was a bad idea because the role of the CNA and the RN are so different that it’s not even worth it. I’ve read comments from registered nurses over at argue vehemently that CNA’s cannot possibly understand what it is to be a nurse.

But working as a CNA, I can tell you there is a lot to learn about your own fortitude for the profession. There are a lot of elements to the profession that you work with as a CNA. Many of these will not go away when you become a nurse. Your time as a CNA will more than likely answer these key questions about whether you are cut out for the profession of healthcare:

Do You Prefer the Right Working Conditions?

I'm glad I was a CNA because it helped me determine that nursing wasn’t for me by working under RN’s. Whether you are a CNA or RN, you deal with difficult residents, tons of germs, and you are working in a complete team environment. When there was a difficult resident, a bandage that needed to be changed or a problem to solve, guess who we called. It was the RN or LPN. No room for shy, solitary germaphobes there.

Do You Have the Right Temperament?

I’ve seen nurses smiling in the faces of screaming family members, abusive clients and moments involving gushing blood. I learned that to survive in the field of healthcare, you need truckloads of patience, a wonderful heart, endless energy and a desire to be around people all day. Your time as a CNA is certainly an opportunity to hone those skills if nursing is for you.

Do you Have the Right Interests?

You will also always be in scientific environment. You will be working with your fair share of quantitative data, from blood pressures to the amount of meals consumed by residents. You will be dealing with bloodborne pathogens, need a basic knowledge of psychology and physiology to understand your patients’ illness and you will be working with dosage amounts. And complete accuracy is key.

Now would be the time to assess your love and aptitude for being in a clinical environment and your passion for science, because you won’t be getting away from it. What are/were your grades in science courses? How good is your memory? How accurate is your work? Your training and time as a CNA will reveal all of this to you.

Does Treating the Sick and Helping People Get You out of Bed in the Morning?

The answer to this question may seem like a no brainer. After all, most of us were raised to believe that helping people is the highest of all noble goods. And in many ways it is.

But helping people isn’t all roses and sunshine. If you do not have the right levels of patience and devotion to the sick, that rosy feeling of helping people doesn’t hold up against the sleep deprivation for double shirts, being yelled at for trying to help people and seeing favorite residents pass away.

When it seems like death is always at your door, you still have to be able to look yourself in the mirror and smile because you are helping people. If you can do that at any given point of the day, you’re on the right track.


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