What is a CNA? The Perfect First Step for Aspiring Nurses

Lineup of nurses leading to a flag

You’re considering becoming a nurse, but you’re not quite sure you’re cut out for the career. You want to help others and you’re interested in the medical field, but becoming a nurse seems like a big commitment. You don’t want to waste all that time and money on a career that turns out to be wrong for you!

If this sounds like you, it’s probably time to consider becoming a certified nursing assistant (CNA). But what is a CNA? You’ve most likely heard this title before, but it’s hard to keep all the different nursing acronyms straight.

We’re here to provide a rundown of exactly what CNAs do and how to become one. Becoming a CNA is the first step into the field for many nurses. Keep reading to learn if this is the right career choice for you!

What does a CNA do?

If you’re looking for hands-on experience in the healthcare field, you’re looking in the right direction. As a CNA, you will work closely with patients and residents on a daily basis, gaining valuable experience in patient interaction and care.

CNAs provide some of the most personal care a patient receives. Their job duties include cleaning and bathing patients, helping them dress, use the restroom, eat and more. CNAs also measure vital signs like blood pressure and temperature and listen to patients’ concerns, reporting those concerns to other nursing staff when necessary.

Where do CNAs work?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most nursing assistants work in nursing care facilities with 40 percent employed by a nursing care facility in 2016.1 However, CNAs are also employed at both public and private hospitals, residential care facilities, home health services and even government facilities.

Whether you’re looking for experience in a hospital or want to ease your way into the medical arena in a less excitable environment, you may have some options. Look into local CNA job openings to get a good idea of which work settings are available in your area.

How do I become a CNA?

When “certified” is at the beginning of a job title, it may seem a little daunting. But obtaining that title of “certified nursing assistant” is less intimidating than you may think. Most CNA programs can be completed in a matter of weeks, and you probably won’t have to look far to find them. Check out community colleges, tech schools and even local nursing homes to see what’s available for CNA training.

Once you’ve completed your CNA program, you’ll take your state’s CNA exam. Most positions will probably require some on-the-job training, and you may need continuing education to keep your licensing current. But before you know it, you’ll be a certified nursing assistant!

What is the career outlook & salary for a CNA?

In today’s job market, you want reassurance that you’re going into a field that is growing. As a CNA, you can be assured about your job outlook. CNA employment is projected to grow by 11 percent through 2026, which is faster than the average for all occupations, according to the BLS.1

The BLS reports that the median annual salary for CNAs was he $28,540 in 2018.1 This may not sound like a lot, but when you consider that most CNA programs can be completed quickly, it remains an appealing way to earn a paycheck while getting a feel for work in the healthcare field. Not only can a CNA program save you time and money compared to a longer term Bachelor of Science in Nursing or Licensed Practical Nursing program, you’ll be gaining valuable experience and exposure to the healthcare field. 

Is working as a CNA right for you?

You’re the only one who can decide if this career path is right for you. But before making your decision, read up on these insights from a former CNA who has been in your shoes.

Wendie Howland spent a gap year working as a CNA in a geriatric ward. Today she is a legal nurse consultant and life care planner with Howland Health Consulting. “The advantages were almost intuitive,” Howland says. “I got very familiar and comfortable with patient handling, bathing, mobility issues, feeding, taking vital signs, and doing simple treatments.”

Howland notes that these tasks cannot be seen as the “be-all, end-all of patient care.” However, she says, students and CNAs who recognize this will be in a better place to learn the “real skills in nursing — assessment, planning and implementation (and) delegation.”

If you’re intrigued by becoming a nurse but aren’t ready to commit to a long-term program, a career as a CNA can be the perfect place to get your foot in the door. Becoming a CNA offers a great opportunity to gain experience and see what you really think of the healthcare world, all by completing a relatively quick training program.

Your first step into the nursing world

Now that we’ve answered the question, “What is a CNA?” you probably have a good idea if this option is the route you'd like to take into the healthcare field. This entry-level role is an excellent way for you to build healthcare experience and get a feel for the field prior to committing to a longer-term program. Need help keeping nursing-related credentials straight as you map out your education options? Our article, "A Beginner's Guide to Understanding the Different Levels of Nursing Credentials" can help you get a better understanding of the potential paths ahead of you. 

Interested in becoming a CNA? Visit the Rasmussen College Nursing Assistant training page to learn more about your options at the Eagan, Minnesota, campus. 

1Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [accessed September, 2019] www.bls.gov/ooh/. Salary data represents national, averaged earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries and employment conditions in your area may vary.

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Megan Ruesink

Megan is a freelance writer for Collegis education who writes student-focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen College. She hopes to engage and intrigue current and potential students.

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Posted in General Nursing


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