Should I be a CNA first, before RN?


  • Career Columnist / Author
    Specializes in Tele, ICU, Staff Development. Has 30 years experience.

Hi Nurse Beth,

I am currently pursuing a career in nursing. My goal for right now is to earn my bsn at a Cal State or university. I am located in southern California and I've heard how competitive it is out here. However, I have not started my prerequisites for nursing considering this is my first semester at a community college.

The idea of becoming a CNA while I go to school and do my prerequisites for nursing has been lingering in my head for a while. I am basically just trying to ask if becoming a CNA is more beneficial before I start nursing school? Does it boost up my chances of getting accepted into a program? I heard it is a good idea to get your foot in the door so I can network and hopefully make a smooth transition into a rn.

Would CNA training be best or would I be okay with just volunteering at a local hospital until I get my bsn. By the way I am also a mother of one (toddler) and I don't know if this affects anything just thought I should mention that alot of my attention is wanted by a 1 year old! Thank you nurse Beth!

Dear Should I Be a CNA First,

Congrats in your decision to become an RN!

As far as becoming a CNA, there is no downside. Some nursing programs award extra "points" for healthcare experience, including CNA, but it's program-specific. By far the most important criteria for getting accepted into a nursing program is your GPA, and any pre-admission tests such as the TEAS.

The real (and long-term) upside to working as a CNA in a facility you plan to apply at as a new grad RN is that you will have "insider advantage" when it comes to competing for a new grad position.

As you choose your pre-requisites at community college, make sure they are transferable to the university where you'll be attending the BSN program.

You will have an extra challenge as a mother of a high-energy toddler, yes, but determination overcomes challenges.

Best wishes,

Nurse Beth

Author, "Your Last Nursing Class: How to Land Your First Nursing Job"...and your next!

Specializes in med-surg, med oncology, hospice. Has 36 years experience.

I say YES!!! I was able to take my CNA course as part of my high school. I worked as a CNA the summer I graduated from HS and the summers while going through nursing school. One, the experience will help you decide if nursing is for you or some other field in the health field. Take what I call the "101's" courses. These are the intro courses-intro to chem, intro to psyche, intro to sociology, A&P, etc. These courses will transfer to other health fields as well such as PT, ST, OT, Xray, lab, and so on. But I agree with Nurse Beth, check with the nursing program you are thinking about. And apply to several nursing programs. Some schools are tough to get into. Second, you will be more comfortable in the hospital setting. You will have the beginning inklings on how the various depts. work and interact with each other. Third, you will have an "AHA" moment from your experiences. Mine came while studying renal calculi. The textbooks make every disease and condition sound like a life-or-death situation. They can be if not taken care of properly, but on a gradient, renal calculi is near the bottom of the totem pole. When I realized that renal calculi is nothing but kidney stones, I laughed out long and hard. You see, I realized that renal calculi is not near the top like renal failure or so many others. I understood renal calculi treatment, initially, is pain control and screening the urine for any possible stones. Fourth, you will be a step ahead of your classmates in clinicals. My attitude the first day of clinicals was "okay show me where the utility rooms are and let me get to work." I had classmates that shook as they had never been in a hospital before. Nursing programs are tough. I think in some ways it is intentional to weed out some who are/were not meant to be nurses. The instructors need to watch and make sure no bad mistake can/will happen that may put a patient's life in danger. And they are also considering the future you. They don't want to send out a poorly-prepared nurse on graduation.

Now that I typed a mouthful, I will stop and wish you (and any others reading this post with similar thoughts) luck and perseverance. There will be trying times, but it is SO worth it. Nurses, as a profession, are highly viewed by the public and a good nurse is positively viewed by the medical profession as well.


1 Article; 508 Posts

I say Yes! also!!!! Not only will you learn valuable skills, but you will be a step ahead of other new grads in knowledge and experience. Also l think nurses in general would benefit from spending some time in CNA shoes! I know a lot of nurses who "delegate" without knowledge of all a CNA does during his/her shift. I think stepping into each other's shoes once in awhile promotes teamwork.

JofAllTrades, BSN, RN

2 Articles; 124 Posts

Specializes in Case Management. Has 4 years experience.

Absolutely - I'm a second degree student and while I had a lot of exp in "healthcare in general" I had never had any experience on the floor of a hospital.

I got an NA job (w/o taking the certificaiton test) and the experience has been invaluable. If anything it exposes you to the ebba nd flow of any particular unit. You also get to interact with patients and build on the "soft skills". You also get to get your hands dirty with bed baths, lots of "clean up" with total care patients, and the other generally unsavory aspects of nursing work that most people do not enjoy and tend to pass off to the NA. I think that in it of itself gives you a DEEPER appreciation for the CNA role, and will make you a better RN & teammate in the long run. Additionally, you'll et tons of exposure that many others will not have such as - what is typically in a supply room, what does mobility equipment look like, where can you find certain equipment like IV poles or linens.... Itr will make your Foundaitons class (which typically covers mainly CNA stuff) a breeze! Oh and did I mention NETWORKING? That is arguably the biggest advantage if you're able to secure a position at the hospital that you'd eventually like to apply to as an RN in the future!