Can I still be a great nurse without prior CNA experience?

Updated | Posted

Has 3 years experience.

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I'm a new grad RN who started on a Tele unit this week. It's been quite a struggle since I'm still getting used to everything but thankfully everyone has been helpful and supportive. I do have a concern though, so I always hear "former CNAs make the best nurses" which kinda brings me down because I was never a CNA. I wanted to during nursing school but I was hesitant because I didn't want to overwork myself with juggling a job and school at the same time. I did life guarding for 3 years then volunteered at a hospital for one year before starting, but I doubt that's considered enough. During my first semester I was able to do all the "dirty" physical work during clinical, like bathe the patients, change their linens, clean out the bedpans, wipe butts loll but then COVID hit around my second semester and we hardly got experience after that. When I'm on the floor, sometimes I look out for the nursing assistants incase they need help with anything. The other day I assisted a CNA with bed sheets which made me feel good because the patient felt much better afterwards, when she thanked us it put a smile on my face!

The question I have is, can I still be a great nurse without prior CNA experience? Its something I totally regret not doing and I really wish I did .. but unfortunately I cant turn back time 😕 

RETNAVYTHENMEDIC2RN, ADN, RN, EMT-P

Specializes in Trauma ED. Has 3 years experience.

1 hour ago, Jessii_ said:

Hi everyone,

I'm a new grad RN who started on a Tele unit this week. It's been quite a struggle since I'm still getting used to everything but thankfully everyone has been helpful and supportive. I do have a concern though, so I always hear "former CNAs make the best nurses" which kinda brings me down because I was never a CNA. I wanted to during nursing school but I was hesitant because I didn't want to overwork myself with juggling a job and school at the same time. I did life guarding for 3 years then volunteered at a hospital for one year before starting, but I doubt that's considered enough. During my first semester I was able to do all the "dirty" physical work during clinical, like bathe the patients, change their linens, clean out the bedpans, wipe butts loll but then COVID hit around my second semester and we hardly got experience after that. When I'm on the floor, sometimes I look out for the nursing assistants incase they need help with anything. The other day I assisted a CNA with bed sheets which made me feel good because the patient felt much better afterwards, when she thanked us it put a smile on my face!

The question I have is, can I still be a great nurse without prior CNA experience? Its something I totally regret not doing and I really wish I did .. but unfortunately I cant turn back time 😕 

Over course you can. The CNA experience would certainly have been a benefit, but that is not what makes one a great nurse. A genuine drive and desire to be your best is required. Neve settle for good enough.  Seek a mentor that looks out for your interests and wants you to succeed and will give you solid advice. Your willingness to learn and ask questions so you can develop skills will make you a better nurse. Being afraid to ask questions is a weakness, so never be afraid to ask. Don't let the inevitable mistakes wreck your confidence. Your ability to learn from those mistakes and not repeat them will make you stronger. All of that will make you a great nurse. Your concern about being a great nurse is itself an indication that you care and shows me that you are on the right path. Good luck to you!!

Jessii_, ADN, RN

Has 3 years experience.

Thank you for you response, yes I always ask questions! I know I have so much to learn and will always get help from my preceptor if I’m not sure about something. Whats funny is that sometimes the patients themselves will guide me (especially if they’ve been there for so long) since they see things almost everyday too! As a new nurse, any form of guidance is always appreciated ☺️  

YES! Of course you can! The benefit of having CNA experience is that you know what you are getting yourself into when you start your nursing career, but as long as you are not afraid of getting your hands dirty and doing direct patient care, you will do awesome! Your learning curve may be a little bit steeper than those who are able to confidently transfer or clean patients because they have done it as CNAs, but as with most things, it is your attitude that matters most! Keep up the good work! 

Beldar_the_Cenobite, CNA

Has 3 years experience.

On 11/18/2021 at 6:31 AM, Jessii_ said:

Hi everyone,

I'm a new grad RN who started on a Tele unit this week. It's been quite a struggle since I'm still getting used to everything but thankfully everyone has been helpful and supportive. I do have a concern though, so I always hear "former CNAs make the best nurses" which kinda brings me down because I was never a CNA. I wanted to during nursing school but I was hesitant because I didn't want to overwork myself with juggling a job and school at the same time. I did life guarding for 3 years then volunteered at a hospital for one year before starting, but I doubt that's considered enough. During my first semester I was able to do all the "dirty" physical work during clinical, like bathe the patients, change their linens, clean out the bedpans, wipe butts loll but then COVID hit around my second semester and we hardly got experience after that. When I'm on the floor, sometimes I look out for the nursing assistants incase they need help with anything. The other day I assisted a CNA with bed sheets which made me feel good because the patient felt much better afterwards, when she thanked us it put a smile on my face!

The question I have is, can I still be a great nurse without prior CNA experience? Its something I totally regret not doing and I really wish I did .. but unfortunately I cant turn back time 😕 

This is not relevant to the post, but does anybody know how to start a conversation for others to reply? I can't seem to find the answer. Also, for OP, nursing programs don't require you to be a CNA. Some do, but the one I'm in doesn't and our state university currently doesn't. At least they didn't in 2019 which is as far back as I can remember when I was trying to apply with them. I think it's great to work as a CNA. There's different types of shift (Day, PM, Night/graves, and 8/12 hour), different types of working shifts (part time, PRN, full time, travelling), there's all kinds of opportunities for CNAs. About close to the same for nurses. Some ICUs still don't like CNAs being around and for obvious reasons. I've been a CNA 2 years before I got accepted into my program. You also get to see things you'll learn in the field. I think a nurse that has a "can do it all" mentality and can actually do it all is a wonderful nurse. Can do it all meaning she/he knows how to change a brief, toilet a patient, prevent a fall, feed a patient, etc. You get better bed side manner I'd say. There's nothing wrong with being a CNA. To me it's second nature. Distractors of life are what create the weak and undesirable. 

Jessii_, ADN, RN

Has 3 years experience.

Quote

There’s nothing wrong with being a CNA. 

No I absolutely agree with you! I wish I worked as a CNA for the reasons you mentioned, but unfortunately I never have. Which is why I was wondering if I can still be a nurse without CNA experience. I’ve gotten told by several people that I would make a great nurse but since I’m new I feel like a huge idiot at work a lot of the time LOL. The CNA experience would’ve made the transition a bit easier. I know that if my kid wanted to do nursing, I would definitely recommend them to work as a CNA first! 

Hi Jessii: This discussion of who makes a better nurse-those who have worked as a CNA and those who have not-is as old as the hills. In my opinion it really doesn't matter. It is helpful to have some experience working in a hospital before you graduate. You will have a better understanding of different hospital procedures, patient issues, unit dynamics, and how to be a good team player.

If you don't have this background, however, and you are a dedicated, caring professional who never stops learning, and is always willing to help (even if that means emptying the dirty linen bags, because no CNAs are available to do so),you will make a fine nurse. The first year as a new nurse is the hardest. Just keep doing the best job that you can do. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Find a few good mentors on your unit.

I agree with all of the wonderful advice you have received so far. If nursing is your passion, you have made the right career choice.

Leader25, ASN, BSN, RN

Specializes in NICU. Has 38 years experience.

Nah,ignore this trash talk.Nurses talk too much crap that causes angst in new nurses .There will always be some one who "knows it all",or travelled nurse,worked for some doctor..whatever you put your mind to your work,read alot ,keep updated work hard ,the rest Does not count.

Silver_Rik, ASN, RN

Specializes in Perioperative / RN Circulator. Has 1 years experience.

Being a CNA made a difference in being more comfortable walking into a patient’s room in clinical in school. That lasted maybe 2 weeks and then most of the non CNA classmates were over their fears.

It exposes you to basic patient care skills that are useful, but all can be learned as an RN. 
 

Most of my CNA work (3 years) was in psych where a big part of the job is sitting 1 to 1s and escorting patients to activities and appointments versus patient care.

NurseSpeedy, ADN, LPN, RN

Has 19 years experience.

In the end I don’t think it matters. Having the experience prior definitely can bring more appreciation for what your CNAs do because they bust their butts just as hard as nurses do and I do see that nurses who started as CNAs are more likely to jump in and do whatever they can at times. I think it helps with learning how to juggle a patient load a bit and gives more exposure to what nurses do while you work as an aide. 

Now you are a nurse. Always be appreciative of you co-workers and learn as you go. With experience knowledge is gained and you’ll do fine. It’s normal to be nervous and you never stop learning. Going on 20 years as a nurse and I still learn new things everyday because things are always evolving.