Can I Work as a Certified Nursing Assistant or Medical Assistant While in School?

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    Countless nursing students and pre-nursing students want (or need) to work while attending school and are seeking employment that will result in allied healthcare experience. This article focuses on the typical schedules of CNAs (certified nursing assistants) and MAs (medical assistants).

    Can I Work as a Certified Nursing Assistant or Medical Assistant While in School?

    Imagine you are a nursing student who wants to start accruing healthcare experience now. However, volunteering at a hospital or nursing home might be totally out of the question because you need to be paid for the services that you render. Volunteer experience is valuable in many ways, but let's face it: the unpaid experience will not keep the bill collectors away.

    If you are a nursing student, you have several employment options at your disposal that will lead to direct or indirect healthcare experience. You can directly apply for entry-level positions as a direct care staff member (also known as a caregiver), dietary aide, hospital housekeeper (also known as environmental services technician), or unit secretary, and hope that you are hired. The aforementioned occupations generally do not require certification and can be learned with on-the-job training.

    You also have the option of completing a relatively short training program to become either a certified nursing assistant (CNA) or medical assistant (MA). Both training programs can be completed within a matter of months. In addition, the tuition can be relatively inexpensive if you complete the training program at a community college, state-funded technical school, or adult education program. Beware of the for-profit entities that charge $15,000+ for the same CNA or MA training you would be able to obtain at a fraction of the cost elsewhere.

    CNAs and MAs both provide hands-on patient care, albeit in different types of settings. While MAs are typically found working in clinics, doctors offices, community health centers, and other types of outpatient healthcare settings, CNAs usually secure employment at hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and most types of healthcare settings where inpatient care takes place.

    With very few exceptions, most MAs work typical bankers' hours, which are Monday through Friday during the daylight hours. Some MAs work from 7 to 3:00pm, others work from 9 to 5:00pm, and a few work from 11 to 7:00pm. If you are a student who attends a brick-and-mortar nursing school, the customary working hours of the MA might be problematic because, in most cases, your schooling will be scheduled during the day. Although a handful of nursing schools are progressive enough to offer night programs to accommodate busy working adults with day jobs, the vast majority of schools of nursing have class offerings and clinical rotations strictly during daylight hours.

    On the other hand, CNAs work various types of schedules. 12-hour shifts are popular at many inpatient healthcare facilities, and some workplaces even offer 16-hour shifts to enable employees to have four or five days off per week. The 8-hour shifts are normally from 7 to 3:00pm, 3 to 11:00pm, and 11 to 7:00am. Many of my classmates worked as CNAs on the 11 to 7:00am shift and attended school during the day. It was hard for these men and women, but they did it. Some students work three 12-hour shifts as CNAs on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays while focusing on school from Monday through Thursday.

    Personally, I completed a training program to become a medical assistant and was never able to secure employment as a MA. I ended up accepting an entry-level position as a direct care staff member at a group home for developmentally disabled adults. My working hours were from midnight to 8:00am. I later became a licensed vocational nurse (LVN). When I eventually returned to school to become a registered nurse (RN), I worked 16-hour weekend double shifts every Saturday and Sunday as a LVN in a nursing home while using Monday through Friday to attend an RN bridge program full time.

    In my humble opinion, the CNA role offers the most flexible scheduling for a nursing student who needs to earn money and gain valuable experience while attending school. The MA role is vital to healthcare, but the typical working hours are often too inflexible for many nursing students.

    Feel free to read Non-CNA Jobs You Can Work While You're A Student
    Last edit by Joe V on Mar 12, '13
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  3. by   amygarside
    This sounds interesting, thanks for sharing!
  4. by   blackvans1234
    Being a CNA was/is the best thing for me as a nursing student.
    I was leaps and bounds ahead of the other students in regards to clinical knowledge, clinical confidence, abbreviations, and interpersonal relationships.

    At my hospital, I was per diem so I could work whenever I wanted

  5. by   krazievi3t6url
    I definitely recommend it! I was a medical assistant throughout nursing school. It is a little difficult working the normal business hours but I made it work for a little while. When I started working in urgent care as an MA the hours are more flexible! Weekdays open until 9pm, weekends, and holidays which worked out great. Management worked with my schedule and it was pretty awesome. Not only are you getting experience but you also learn a lot from docs, nurses, etc. It looks great on your resume and networking!

    I'm glad I did it.
  6. by   shriju920
    Can I have any job oppurtunity in nursing health care area when i am not an RN regitered?
  7. by   peachshan
    Do dialysis technicians have to have the same certification as CNAs?
    Last edit by peachshan on Mar 13, '13 : Reason: Left out a word
  8. by   BSNbeauty
    I'm very happy that I chose to work as a CNA while in LPN school. I worked in the school system and had great hours. I attended school evenings and weekends, this was perfect because I worked 8:30-4:30pm. While in RN school I worked as a LPN. Once again, great working experience and I had good pay. Now I work as a RN while in school for BSN. Nothing wrong with taking baby steps.
  9. by   besaangel
    I did my CNA certification prior to going back to school for my RN. The knowledge I gained from the clinical training portion however, was indeed vital and made the first semester of school rather easy; as compared to an inexperienced nursing student. Quite a few of my classmates wished they had done this to gain prior insight into nursing but its not a detriment in either situation.

    Working as a Home health aide was agonizing and I hated it for the year I did it (if I stayed there, I probably would've given up on nursing altogether). The training though, was a great experience and I loved learning the fundamentals. But CNA work wasn't fulfilling for me.
  10. by   TheCommuter
    Quote from besaangel
    Working as a Home health aide was agonizing and I hated it for the year I did it (if I stayed there, I probably would've given up on nursing altogether). The training though, was a great experience and I loved learning the fundamentals. But CNA work wasn't fulfilling for me.
    I totally agree that working as a CNA/home health aide (HHA) can be agonizing for some and unfulfilling for others. However, this type of work is a great option for nursing students who need to work and earn steady cash flow while attending school. The flexible schedules, steady paycheck and hands-on patient care experience are the beneficial aspects of working as a CNA or HHA during nursing school.
  11. by   DawnCaprice
    I just got a job as a Nurse Extern. I am in nursing school and will be doing Patient Care at my job. I am grateful for the experience that I am going get working. The pay is not the best, but the knowledge is priceless. I now have my foot in the door at the hospital that I want to work at.
  12. by   emcadams
    I started work as a CNA at a LTC just before the first day of class of my RN program. I am going into my second year of RN school, and now work at the hospital I hope to work at as a nurse. Being a CNA is no easy task, but at my job I take EKG's, remove Foley's and IV's, perform ADLs, and most importantly, tell the RN when a patients status has changed. To me, this experience is invaluable. Not to mention getting used to the stress the RN has EVERY DAY!!! Less than a handful of people in my class do patient care as their job. Maybe it should be a prereq to RN/LPN school?
  13. by   anie10
    What a nice idea. I would love to work as a CNA while waiting for nursing school. Too bad the SoCal job market is hostile and unavailable to those who are monolingual (English) and have no prior work experience.
  14. by   anie10
    You are blessed to have that experience, although that is going too far in supposing we are all mandated to go that route. Jobs in SoCal are impossible to get if you: don't speak Spanish/Korean/Farsi/Armenian or if you don't know someone on the inside of the organization to which you are applying.

    Following that logic would force a student like me to relocate to a less-immigrant dense area, causing me to have to wait a year before trying to further my schooling (in-state residence).

    But if I lived in the mid-west or VA, this would be a perfect plan.

    However, I can't leave the state where an ADN costs a mere $46/per credit @ the local jc.