Going to school to become a nurse takes anywhere from two to six years, depending on your program and degree type. While the stable nursing job market and great pay make this educational investment well worth it, this much school isn’t for everyone. If you still haven’t decided if nursing is the career for you, or if you’d like to start in an entry-level nursing job and take classes over a longer period of time, you may want to consider a certified nursing assistant (CNA) degree.
What Does a CNA Do?
A nursing assistant does just what the name implies – assists the other nurses in patient care. In most cases, these professionals are the assistants to the registered nurses on the floor, doing everything from taking vital signs and helping with patient hygiene to patient transport. Because the length of the educational training is relatively short, things like dispensing medications and advanced medical procedures (like putting in an IV or catheter) aren’t in the job description.
By performing so many of the required daily tasks the patient needs, the CNA plays a strong supportive role in the larger health care team. So many hospitals and nursing homes are understaffed when it comes to nurses, so having nursing assistants means that the amount of attention given to patient is increased and the level of care goes substantially up.
CNA training typically only last from six to twelve weeks, depending on the school and program. Upon completion, students may sit for an exam to become certified in the field. Although this certification isn’t required for all jobs, it is a professional step most individuals should take – especially if becoming a registered nurse is the ultimate goal.
How to Transition to Nursing
Many nursing programs transition from CNA to LPN (licensed practical nurse) to RN (registered nurse), so you might be able to take small steps as you reach your professional goals. However, most professionals will need to enter a nursing program from the start even if they’ve been working as a nursing assistant for years, especially if you get your CNA degree from a private school or a one-time six week program.
In either case, your skills and experience may help you to find and secure financial aid, and you may even find an employer willing to pay for part or all of your tuition for becoming a registered nurse. Your experience may also get you into a more competitive program, and pave the way for an easier time with clinicals, since you’ll already know much of the hands-on work taught there. Specializations as a CNA can also make your nursing education better. For example, you might already know that you like working in neurology or in geriatrics, and you can focus your education on these types of settings.
It doesn’t matter whether you want to transition slowly from a nursing assistant profession to a registered nursing job, or if you intend to “try out” nursing before you invest your time and money in nursing school – both options are a great career choice. Nursing, whether you do it as an assistant or a registered professional, is one of the fastest-growing fields, and there are opportunities for just about everyone.