This Is How I Went From CNA to LPN to ADN to BSN to MSN to Nurse Practitioner
Today, I’m Nurse Alice - a cardiac clinical nurse specialist, family nurse practitioner, and nurse faculty at a university. But, my healthcare career actually started 23 years ago - as a CNA right out of high school working in a skilled nursing facility. I took the scenic route to work my way up the nursing ladder and at times it was really uncomfortable like when I failed Pathophysiology 3 times.
My nursing career spans decades and has primarily been focused on critical and emergency care. In addition to my critical and emergency care nursing experience, I am also a national media health expert and the founder and CEO of I Am Nurse Approved. But, when I set out to become a nurse I had no idea how interesting, scenic, and rewarding the journey would be.
From Certified Nurse Assistant to Licensed Practical Nurse (CNA to LPN)
After High School, working as a CNA seemed like the most logical job to have while I was going to school. It was an opportunity to not only care for people and earn a living but also a way to gain more exposure to the nursing profession and reinforce what I was learning in school. I worked as CNA while I attended college to complete nursing prerequisites and through my entire Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) program.
After becoming an LPN I took some time off of school to work full-time and immerse myself in the role. I began to work at a sub-acute hospital that cared for chronically ill ventilated patients. I was able to get this job as a new grad LPN because when I was a CNA, I had worked with the hiring manager when she was a staff nurse at the skilled nursing facility I worked at. She was impressed with my work ethic and desire to learn and care for patients. It was an amazing first nursing job to have. It was that experience that sparked my interest in advanced airways and oxygenation and desire to one day work in critical care so I went back to school.
From a Licensed Practical Nurse to Registered Nurse (LPN to RN)
Going to school while working full-time and having a growing family was extremely challenging and had its obstacles. In fact, because of family matters and the “life happens” factor – I had to take pathophysiology THREE times before passing. I was devastated. I thought I would NEVER become a registered nurse (RN). Fortunately, I didn’t give up. With the support of a great mentor and a will to succeed I was able to complete my prerequisites and get accepted into an LPN to RN bridge program where I was able to earn my Associate Degree in Nursing.
After the one-year step-up program, I began to work on a cardiac step-down unit. And opportunely, the hospital I worked at had an ADN to BSN support program that allowed me to get paid full-time while I worked part-time to attend school part-time with a promise to work for the hospital for 2 years post-program. After completing the program, I began working in cardiac ICU.
From Bachelor of Science in Nursing to Masters Degree in Nursing (BSN to MSN)
Just when I thought I was done with school, my mentor encouraged me to not stop. She advised me that if I had the energy and interest to continue school (which I did) to keep going. So right after completing my BSN, I enrolled in a Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) MSN program with a focus on Nursing Education.
And even after a colorful 13 years as a CNS, my desire to advance my education resurfaced. I wanted to learn more and do more in nursing beyond what I had already done. While I felt comfortable in critical care and emergency medicine, I wanted to focus more on the preventative side of healthcare. I wanted to be able to direct and provide the care of my patients and that required expanding my scope of practice. So, I went back to school for a post-master's certificate to become a family nurse practitioner. And even here today as an FNP, I am already thinking about when I will go back for my doctorate. Education unlocks so many doors of opportunity.
Advice To My Younger Self
Sometimes I sit in awe at all the wonderful and painful experiences I’ve had in nursing that made me into the person I am today. And while I wouldn’t change a thing, I’m often asked what advice would I give to my younger self.
To that, I first acknowledge that hindsight is always 20/20 and we don’t know what we don’t know until we know. And oftentimes, those are the hardest lessons that occur after a lot of time, energy, and resources. So to that, I would tell my younger self and others to find a mentor early on in your career, to not be afraid to take chances, and never allow anyone to tell you what you can and can’t do.
I have had a diverse nursing career which I’m proud of and because of the things learned the hard way, I promised myself that I would be a nurse who nurtures and supports nurses. We can all benefit from a mentor, regardless of how long we’ve been a nurse. I speak to my mentors on a regular basis. The nursing profession is forever changing, growing, and expanding, and it definitely has its highs and lows so having a mentor is essential.
My mentor told me that as a nurse I could have whatever job I wanted based on my passion, knowledge, training, and skill set. Nurses can do anything from becoming an advanced practice nurse to creating health policy to being in government, conducting research, being a media health expert or consultants for health shows, be the CEO of Fortune 500 companies, invent and develop health, wellness or medical products, be a politician – wherever there is a human need, nurses can be the solution.
Alice Benjamin, APRN, MSN, ACNS-BC, FNP
Nurse Alice is a cardiac clinical nurse specialist and family nurse practitioner with over 23 years of healthcare experience. She is a community health activist, and freelance media health expert. You can follow her at AskNurseAlice.com and on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at @AskNurseAlice.