CNA, then What?


Hi all! I just got accepted to take the CNA training for Fall 2016. A little background: I already have a Bachelor's degree in Communications and a Master's degree in Social Work. Couldn't find a job to save my life! After numerous rejections in the years since graduation (yes YEARS), on the second rejection from the place I dreamed of working (and had interned/volunteered at!), I decided to stop looking for the dream jobs and find something more practical and in demand, yet also one that technically was still a "helping" profession.

Enter Nursing. My grandma, a lifelong surgical nurse, told me when I was like 11 that I should become one. Funny...

Anyway, as I have student loans that I'm paying off from all the degrees that didn't get me anywhere, I want to streamline my education and as such am doing the CNA to begin. Since most of you here are experienced and have a passion for the profession, I want to know if you'd recommend working as a CNA while pursuing my RN, or BSN or what? Some have said I should try to become a nurse practitioner for the money, but I'm not sold just yet. I have an aunt who is a nurse and got to do all sorts of cool work attending to survivors of hurricanes in Florida, and I admired the work done by nurses during a semester abroad in Africa when I was placed at a community healthcare center. Off the record, I got to help with vitals and count pills for patients on dirt floors in the slums of Uganda, and was amazed and humbled by how tenacious these nurses were. Their skill and compassion rendered me speechless.

So that's it--not necessarily the profession I first chose, but am choosing now. Not sure what path to follow. Will I find it in the CNA program or work afterwards? What helped you find your way?

TheCommuter, BSN, RN

226 Articles; 27,608 Posts

Specializes in Case mgmt., rehab, (CRRN), LTC & psych. Has 17 years experience.


Personally, I would have been turned off to the idea of pursuing a nursing career if I had started as a CNA. I do not enjoy ADLs such as toileting, bathing, feeding, dressing and transferring. The work is backbreaking and too physical for me.

I started as an LPN/LVN before becoming an RN.


47 Posts

I work part time as a CNA and I love it. I work one day a week in home health. I couldn't do a nursing home, I'm tall and it hurt my back. There are lots of opportunities for CNAs to work outside of a nursing home. Every hospital staffs CNAs.

Thanks for the input, guys. :)

At my college, you have to take the CNA course as a pre-requisite before any sort of nursing program. So even though I don't have to stay working as one, I have to take it prior to or concurrent with entry into a program. I'm just wondering what with my MSW where I might find career satisfaction without being out of thousands more in tuition by jumping into an RN or LPN program immediately. Money is such a factor here, so that's why I thought of the CNA work whilst saving up to enter a program.

I like the idea of hospital work, esp if I could work with patients who have neurodegenerative disorders. My best friend was just diagnosed with HD last year and years ago, we had to help care for his dad in a nursing home before he passed away in his early 50s from the disease. So many people don't understand or have compassion for what they and their families go through on their journeys. I might even be interested in becoming a hospital social worker because it's kinda cool being that broker of information and liaison for the families during a difficult time.

verene, MSN

1,790 Posts

Specializes in mental health / psychiatic nursing.

I found working a CNA incredibly beneficial to my decision to pursue nursing school. If you don't have another job that pays more and/or want to gain healthcare experience it is a good in. That being said, the pay is generally not good - expect in hospital settings and those usually take 1 year+ experience as a CNA in order to get a job. Depending on your cost of living you may not be able to save much on CNA pay towards future school or in paying down the loans you currently have. . I would expect you would be able to find something higher paying with your social work degree that could also be healthcare related. Just something to keep in mind. I think the best bet for health care exposure and pay would probably be trying to get a clinical social work or case management social work position for a hospital. Community mental health is another area that is always hiring social workers. The pay is a less than hospital but still higher than CNA and would still be a background looked upon favorably by admissions. Plus a lot of the soft skills used in that setting translate well to working as a nurse.

If you can't find anything directly social work I bet most mental health facilities would love you as a CNA or mental health tech - some of these positions pay more than a general CNA, others really don't, depends on the facility. Also if you are interested in neurodegenerative disorders a memory care unit of a skilled nursing facility or stand alone memory care facility could be a good fit.

Associates degree and LPN certification programs are the most affordable schooling options. Since you already have higher degrees you won't qualify for federal funding, but you may still qualify for merit-based or other non-need based scholarships.


237 Posts

You've received a lot of good advice about the CNA. :)

As for being an NP "for the money" - just become an RN first and see if you enjoy RN work. They are two different jobs. I would also not enter NP for the money, because in many cases, you can make just as much - if not MORE, working as an RN. It might take a few years to get your pay increased, but I wouldn't just go into NP for a significant pay increase. Especially considering they are very different jobs. If after a few years of being an RN you decide you would like to provide that mid-level care, then yes. Go for it.

I have friends who are RN's who decided against the NP because they love the pay and flexibility of their RN work, and one who actually has her MSN but still works as an RN because she would actually be taking a paycut being an NP. This isn't the case for everyone of course, but just know that NP doesn't always = more money. You are often sacrificing other things for more money, as well.

I have a friend who is happily an NP and strongly disliked RN work. I'm not sure you'll really know until you get there.

Best of luck to you, and just keep your options open.

Specializes in Telemetry, Primary Care. Has 8 years experience.

If you have the time, do your CNA cert and work in the hospital in order to get your foot in the door or healthcare experience in general. If you don't think you need the experience or cash, I don't think it's worth it. I'm glad I didn't work as a CNA as it is tough physical work. Some may say it's rewarding, I wouldn't know. I did work as a lift tech for rehab and that was a lot of physical work too, but CNA's do much more.