Why become a CNA? Be a Medical assistant instead

  1. 7
    This isn't a commercial but a warning.

    Like most folks here, I decided to become a CNA to learn from the "ground up"," pay my dues", get in contact with healthcare professionals. It's the biggest mistake I've made in recent years.

    Know why? CNA school doesnt really tell you what being a CNA is about. The private CNA school admission officers lie and gloss over the truth all the while collecting that exorbitant tuition. At a skilled nursing facility where 99% of you will start in, it's 80% changing diapers and making beds. It is a back-breaking, thankless, feces-collecting, low-paying scut job that you can master within months if not weeks or days. I should know. I have.

    All those techniques of bedbathing, turning, grooming? Hah. Out the window. CNA school makes you think you have all the time in the world to attend to these patient needs. No way. You have an overloaded roster of patients and no time to talk, let alone groom them. You have your lead CNAs, your other residents and the nurses themselves yelling at you to attend to their needs. The first month, I was almost crippled for a week because my back was so aching and I had used proper body mechanics. These patients are so overweight, that turning them on the bed just to change their diaper is excruciating at times. CNA school didn't help with that problem among the other REAL situations that arise in LTC.

    Being a CNA means you see the whiniest, neediest dark side of people. After I became one, I've heard one consistent caveat amongst nursing professionals, "You'll get burnt out and will start hating your patients." All true.
    Another caveat? The nurses, whom you work with and are hoping to become one day, you eventually deeply resent. Why? CNAs do ALL the heavy lifting. If a resident vomits or ***** in his pants? Guess who the nurse immediately calls because she can't stomach it. You'll have three call lights to answer and the nurse is yelling at you on top of that to get her vitals done.

    And for those hoping to get into a hospital? Good luck, because to basically get in you have to be a blood relative or really lucky. Especially if you have no experience. Those CNAs working at those hospitals are basically lifers doing the same thing over and over for years on end. Don't envy them too much.

    Become a Medical assistant. You have more interaction with the doctors and nurses, higher variety of patients rather than just old people. No heavy lifting except for maybe transferring once in a long while. The pay is roughly the same, the schooling is longer though. Tuition is a little more but totally worth it. It also counts as healthcare experience which is key since my eventual goal is to get into physician assistant school. Barring that, then nursing school.

    I came in like you all nursing hopefuls wanting to help people. It gets harder week by week to maintain that attitude but there are some bright spots like when one of my residents relatives pulled me aside to tell me that her mother loves me taking care of her. Yet, I can feel my attitude waning. I've been in for three months and it feels like years.

    I'm doing you a favor here. Do yourself a favor and wave off becoming a CNA and be a MA. I wish I did. As for the tuition? There are public school options. I found one for $750, that teaches front and back office at local adult school here in California.

    You have been warned.
    Last edit by Faro on Feb 21, '10
    Rodrinka, sakiohma, CNA1991, and 4 others like this.
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  4. 101 Comments so far...

  5. 20
    One of the problems with becoming a medical assistant is finding employment afterwards. Not all people enter the field with the intention of using it as a stepping stone in healthcare. It can be very disturbing to face the mountain of debt incurred from a medical assisting program when no one will hire you or there are no jobs available.
    Missingyou, Siaraaa, ErinRN2B, and 17 others like this.
  6. 3
    Quote from caliotter3
    One of the problems with becoming a medical assistant is finding employment afterwards. Not all people enter the field with the intention of using it as a stepping stone in healthcare. It can be very disturbing to face the mountain of debt incurred from a medical assisting program when no one will hire you or there are no jobs available.


    I second that Caliotter. At my last LTC, nearly half the CNA staff were Certified Medical Assistants who could not find jobs. These people spent thousands of dollars in tuition only to end up making the same amount as money as me AND they still had to attend CNA training! These MA's needed a job because they were in debt and being a CNA was the only other thing to do. There is nothing wrong with becoming a Medical Assistant, just make sure your local market has a demand for it. It is rather hard to get a job as a Medical Assistant, especially with so many of them around looking for the same job as you.

    I would like to say however, that I totally understand how the OP feels. CNA school prepares you to pass your state boards, it is not an absolute indicator of what you will really experience. Being a CNA is VERY, VERY hard work. I myself have had days when I just could not figure out why I would subject my body to such physical and mental stress for the shotty wages and the ungreatfulness I often recieved in return. You can experience life long pain if you endure too much of those back breaking days. You just have to weigh the pros against the cons.
    Last edit by asun21ta on Feb 21, '10
    Missingyou, Siaraaa, and KimberlyRN89 like this.
  7. 3
    I have seen few job listings for MAs, and virtually every one of them has required experience. Compare that to the proprietary schools offering MA programs that are on every corner in my city and you have a lot of people out there walking around with high debt and shattered dreams of employment.
    Missingyou, tiffannij, and juliaann like this.
  8. 21
    I work with CNAs in an acute care psych facility where the CNA's job is nothing like the OP describes. Sure, they do get vitals, and some of the clients are difficult and unpleasant -- but no lifting, no poop, and we all work together (RNs, LPNs, and CNAs). Also, the OP speaks as if all CNA programs are expensive, private school programs, and all MA programs are inexpensive public school programs, which is certainly not true. There are expensive and inexpensive CNA programs, and expensive and inexpensive MA programs. Many facilities offer in-house CNA training programs at no cost if they hire you. I would discourage anyone from paying the exhorbitant tuition charged by many of the proprietary tech/voc schools for either a CNA or an MA program.

    Also, in my personal experience (25 years) in nursing, CNAs have a much wider range of employment opportunities than MAs do.

    I'm sorry that the OP feels s/he had a bad experience, but that doesn't mean it's a bad choice for everyone.
    Crux1024, sakiohma, armywife808, and 18 others like this.
  9. 0
    Like the other posters have mentioned, it really depends on your area. In my area( DC Metro) there is more MA's than MA jobs. Sure I'll see job listings on Career Builder, Craigslist & Washington Post for MA's but 99% of those ads request 1-2 years experience, plus be bilingual. I too have met a lot of people who are MA's but have yet to find a job, so they work as a CNA. And while I do know of a community college that has a MA program, the rest of the programs in this area are at for-profit schools and they are really expensive ($12,000+).
  10. 2
    Quote from Faro
    Do yourself a favor and wave off becoming a CNA and be a MA.
    I trained to become a MA, and it was one of the more costly mistakes that I have made to date. After having completed a MA program 10 years ago in southern CA, I was unable to ever find a job as a medical assisitant.
    Rodrinka and Missingyou like this.
  11. 1
    I have a sister-in-law who is a certified medical assistant. Because she cannot find employment in that particular field, she works as a nursing assistant in a home health agency. I have heard a lot of medical assistants tell me privately that the field has become very competitive.
    Missingyou likes this.
  12. 4
    Sounds as if you've just had a really bad experience as a CNA but I can assure you that its not always like that. Yes, you have bad days like everyother job but the good days certainly out weigh the bad. I've worked with CNA's that have been doing it for 20 years and they are not burn out. They love it & have the comapssion it requires. I also am a CNA and I have worked in two hospitals and a LTC facility. I'm not related to anyone in any of the hospitals either. The two hospital jobs were completley different in description. So that just shows you that if youre bored in LTC go to a hospital, Dr. Office , Phych Ward or Home Health all in which a CNA can do. If youre worried about not having the experience work in LTC for six months or so. I have had more than one employer tell me if you can stick out in LTC you can do anything Also Medical Assisting cost alot of money and time to be in school. Then when you can't find a job when you get out & then youre burried in debt. It does depend on the area youre in but there still isnt enough demand for them. CNA's have a high turnover rate bc some ppl just can't do it. So there always in demand. In Nursing school you have to have youre CNA first where I live and thats where you gain your experience. I would rather do CNA than Medical Assisting anyday. I now work in the ER and I LOVE it
  13. 0
    Although I have never been a CNA I have been a CMA. I never regretted it. I went to the JR college so although I did not make much as a CMA I paid my tuition off very fast. If you are not going to go on to nursing I would say go the CMA route. It can even help in nursing school; I know a lot of medications because of it, even many that some of the experienced nurses I work with do not know, which really helped in pharm and on the NCLEX. That being said, I would not recommend it as an "instead" of CNA if you are going on for your RN. Being a CNA is not required as a re-req anymore for most RN programs, however it can get your foot in the door. If you can get an aid job in a hospital (and my area they do not require a CNA) so that you can get your foot in the door with the hospital you will up your chances of getting a job in this bleck economy. EVERYONE that worked as an aid in my nursing program got jobs at their place of employment when they graduated.

    Also, I have never heard of an expensive CNA program. Not in my area at least. The nursing homes will train you for free for a commitment, even pay for your study materials and exam. The local JC has a Basic Patient Care course $156 tuition, not including text and uniform of course.
    Last edit by HeartsOpenWide on Feb 22, '10


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