I think working as an AIN (Australian version of a CNA) has been amazing in regard to my degree (I'm an RN student.) Currently I work on a part-time, casual basis at a high care nursing home with dementia residents and I've just started part-time, casual in a paediatric children's hospice.
For most students in my course, the first bed bath they'll ever do is on a real patient once they get on clinical, which is at the end of the first semester. They have a week to perfect their skill in bed bathing and be able to get it right on maybe... four patients in a week, if they're lucky. I do eight or so per shift at the nursing home. That's just one example. Obviously you have a very limited scope of practice as an AIN but it gives you the world of opportunity to master basic nursing skills - like vitals, charting and basic patient care, which nursing students tend to shy away from once they're allowed to do "real" nursing jobs like give meds and poke people with needles. Basic patient care, like hygiene and holding someone's hand, is at the root of good nursing practice. If you can't do these things... how can you expect to be a good nurse who recognizes your patient as a real human being, not someone to be poked and prodded and monitored. Mastering and incorporating basic nursing skills into your everyday practices creates a foundation for empathy. CNAs have a true opportunity to master this.
Also, you have the opportunity to get comfy in the clinical environment and observe "real" nursing jobs and medical stuff that you'll be expected to do one day as a nurse. At the hospice I work at I'm becoming expert in enteral feeds (because most of our kids come in with a mickey) and recently I learnt how to set up BiPAP on a baby.
Going to work is like going to clinical... and getting paid for it!
Well, I'm not a CNA or a student, but as an instructor I can tell you that one of the greatest obstacles some new students face is anxiety/fear of going on the floor. The students who are CNAs seem to have a much easier time as they are already used to interacting with patients.
The key, as with anything, is to ensure that all things you are doing are "by the book"- for example, using correct techniques for lifting and transferring, reporting to the nurse any findings that seem out of the norm (either vitals or pt behavior, physical appearance, etc). You can learn a great deal as a CNA. I have interacted with and supervised CNAs on both extremes- those who are hardworking, intelligent, and motivated...and unfortunately also those who are lazy and don't care at all.
As with many things, what you get out of it is often dependent on what you put into it. You are obviously motivated to do the things that will help you succeed.
PS- some nursing homes and hospitals even offer tuition assistance to those students who will work there after graduation, so it might even help you find your first nursing job!
The *biggest* thing was mentioned above: getting comfortable jumping in with patients/on floors as a student. Also just being comfortable with basic skills like vitals, etc.
I'm working in the casual pool at a hospital as a tech during nursing school; I am already under contract to get a job but I hope it will get me an "in" to have my pick as far as a unit, etc. Floating from floor to floor, getting to know what you like and don't, getting to know people can't hurt in that regard.