If you’re thinking about a career in the medical field but you’re not quite sure, becoming a certified nursing assistant (CNA) can be a good way to explore nursing. CNAs, also known as nursing aides, or orderlies, perform all of the basic tasks within a healthcare facility. CNAs work closely with doctors and nurses, and tend to be in high volume, fast paced atmospheres. An able body and high threshold for stress are helpful in this line of work, but most people find it worthwhile. Working as a nurse’s aide often motivates individuals to take the steps to become an RN.
You may work in a variety of settings as a CNA. Hospitals, nursing homes, outpatient clinics, group homes, mental healthcare facilities, and at-home care agencies all employ certified nursing assistants. Generally, you will find nurse’s aides anywhere patients are treated. Responsibilities for nurse’s aides include: cleaning, bathing, dressing, and feeding patients; changing bed linens and cleaning rooms; turning patients who are confined to bed; taking vitals; assisting mobility-challenged patients; monitoring and assisting physical therapy and rehabilitation; and monitoring patients for changes.
You don’t need a degree in nursing to become a nurse’s aide, which is why this is often the first step for individuals considering nursing as a prospective career. You will, however, need to complete CNA training, which is available at community colleges, vocational schools, and some high schools and hospitals. The requirements for CNA certification are different from one state to the next—some facilities don’t require certification at all. Still, it is wise to have first aid and CPR training if you plan on working in the medical field at any level.
Demand for CNAs is always high, as this position is characterized by a high rate of turnover. The work is physically and often emotionally demanding, and starting pay varies from state to state. The median hourly wage for a CNA is about $11 per hour, although experience, education, and training can increase expected earnings to almost $20 per hour.
Working as a CNA is a terrific way to embark on a career in medicine. First of all, you will have the opportunity to garner experience in many areas, as nurse’s aides tend to work long hours and with a wide array of patients. The inability to get on-the-job experience is a common complaint among nursing students, so starting out as an aide is a savvy move. Below are some of the career advancement options you may explore if you see CNA work as the first step in your medical career:
- Registered Nurse (RN): This is a common choice for CNAs and there are plenty of bridge programs that can lead you to your RN licensure in as little as 1½ years. Many programs offer flexible hours as well as online and hybrid classes so you can continue to work while you complete your coursework. While RN work is also very demanding, the improvements in salary and benefits are well worth it
- Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN): Becoming an LPN will take time and dedication. You will need to go through an associates or bachelors program in nursing, which will take anywhere from two to four years. CNA to LPN programs are available at most community colleges and some university medical schools. You will need to perform well academically, but as with the RN programs, there are plenty of options for those who need flexibility for work or family reasons. It bears repeating that your experience as a CNA will only improve your chances of finding the job you want. Additionally, since you will have likely worked across populations, you may have a good idea of a specialization to study.
- Elder Care Manager (Geriatric Nursing): You will need to get your BSN to begin working as an elder care manager, but when you consider that the median salary for these healthcare providers is over $60,000 per year, it seems well worth the commitment if you enjoy working with senior citizens. This job requires individuals to be sensitive and excellent at communication and organization. You will be in charge of creating treatment and wellness programs for aging, chronically ill, and disabled patients, as well as providing comfort and education to both patients and caregivers. Considering the aging population, career outlook in this field is quite good.
- Nursing Home Administrator: Some CNAs may also choose to advance their careers by moving to the administrative level of healthcare. Administrative work typically requires a BSN, and your experience in the field will have you poised to get a job more easily. Nursing home administration programs vary from state to state. You will be responsible for keeping track of patients’ records, overseeing patient care and counseling, managing staff, and keeping track of finances.