3 Reasons To Become a CNA Before a Registered Nurse

4 Min Read Published January 25, 2023
3 Reasons To Become a CNA Before a Registered Nurse

Does having experience as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) make you a better nurse? Many argue that having this experience gives you an upper hand and an advantage once you become a nurse.  Why is that? One reason is that CNAs have a skill set that is learned through hands-on practice, which also makes them outstanding candidates on nursing school applications.  If you’ve considered becoming a CNA before transitioning to nursing school, then continue reading to find out why it is beneficial to do so. 

Becoming a CNA before going to nursing school has many benefits. A CNA is an entry-level healthcare professional that usually works in either a long-term care center, home care, or in the hospital setting. They work directly under the supervision of a nurse (LPN or RN) and provide hands-on care to the patient. They have many responsibilities including:

  •  Taking the patient's vital signs
  • Assisting with ADLs (activities of daily living) such as bathing, brushing teeth, dressing, eating, etc.
  • Recording intake and output
  • Turning or repositioning patients
  • Gathering supplies for the RN or MD
  • Cleaning rooms and bed linens
  • Stocking supplies
  • Preparing rooms for admissions
  • Helping with medical procedures

This content used under license from "Ask Nurse Alice."

Advantages to Becoming a CNA

  1. Gain Invaluable Experience

A CNA gains valuable exposure to what the nurse’s everyday responsibilities look like. After becoming a CNA, they can choose to either advance their education by going to nursing school, or continue working as a CNA. Many aides that have become nurses, say the experience really added to the bedside skills needed to be a great nurse, specifically, 
They are more confident approaching a patient, interacting with, and taking care of them.
Have a better understanding of a nurse’s job, their struggles, and responsibilities.

2. Decreases Burnout and Job Stress

Insight gained as a CNA can reduce the amount of burnout and stress coming from a late understanding of what the job entails. Perhaps a lot of time and money was spent on their degree, before realizing nursing is not for them.

3. Ideal Nursing School Candidate 

Nursing school entrance is competitive and applicants must stand out from the pack. Becoming a CNA prior to nursing school should be highlighted throughout your application, letters of recommendation, entrance essay, and resume.  Having the experience of a CNA on your application can propel your application to the top!
Although many nurses would likely recommend becoming an aide prior to becoming a nurse it is certainly not necessary. Those without prior experience might find it a bit more challenging at times. However, you will find ways to quickly adapt and hit the floor running. Of course, you can be a great nurse without having CNA experience, so ultimately, the decision is up to you.

Becoming a CNA During Nursing School

Overall, it is recommended by some to become a CNA prior to starting nursing school to help you transition easier into the nursing role. But should you and can you do it during nursing school? First, you need to consider your desires, goals and abilities. Remember, while working as a CNA will give you great hands-on experience - it is a job and will take time away from studying. For some nursing students, this might not be feasible and would need to be more of a summer experience. 
If becoming a CNA during nursing school is something that you are interested in - you first need to check requirements and programs in your state because they do vary. Some programs offer a condensed course in as little as 3 weeks, while other programs take months to complete. Additionally, there are programs offered specifically for nursing students at many local community colleges.
Before deciding:
1.     Do your research
2.     Consider all options
3.     Examine the pros and cons

>> Related: CNA Certification Requirements

Quick Tips

You can gain exposure to the nursing world by taking on a CNA job during the summer. It will help you maintain your nursing skills while taking a break from nursing school. Additionally, it can open great opportunities for networking and getting to know the different roles in the hospital.
Oftentimes, nursing students aren't sure which unit or specialty to apply to after graduation. Working as a CNA in the float pool will give you exposure to multiple departments where you can observe the flow of each unit. Having the ability to train in multiple specialty units is beneficial for you because it will help you decide if that’s the hospital or the unit that you would want to apply to post-graduation. It also gives you the opportunity to ask nurses what their thoughts are about the unit, the manager, and most importantly a hospital’s residency program.
Becoming a CNA prior to a nurse lessens the learning curve associated with nursing duties. There are a variety of CNA programs and jobs that are available that can be of benefit. You can work during school or even in the summer. Working as a CNA will teach you valuable skills that you will use and build upon once you become a nurse, including,

  • Interacting with patients
  • Managing your time
  • Becoming efficient in personal care
  • Becoming comfortable in a hospital or nursing home setting

Having CNA exposure prior to starting nursing school is a recommendation, not a necessity. However, many can agree that it better prepares you for the reality of nursing, and potentially reduces the fail-out rate. Not only that, but it gives you more confidence and ability to care for our patients in comparison to those with zero healthcare experience. In addition, nurses that have CNA experience expressed that they have an even deeper appreciation and understanding of how valuable our CNAs are because they’ve been in their shoes. 

For more information on how to become a CNA, check out https://nurse.org/resources/certified-nursing-assistant-cna/

Melanie Suggs
Melanie Suggs
Nurse.org Contributor

Melanie is a registered nurse that has over 13 years of experience in healthcare. She worked as a CNA for 10+ years, then started her career as a nurse in CCU. Most recently, she transitioned to working as a social media coordinator for nurse.org. Melanie spends the majority of the year living overseas with her husband, and their two kids. She enjoys traveling, blogging, and working out. You can check out her website or connect with her on Instagram

Read More From Melanie
Go to the top of page