As a certified nursing assistant, you have a meaningful job taking care of people. Lots of healthcare professionals in your (slip-resistant) shoes get their foot in the door the exact same way – becoming a CNA. And many CNAs later become a registered nurse (RN) or licensed practical nurse (LPN).
Sound like you? If you're a CNA who wants to advance in your medical career, transitioning into an RN might be the next step.
Why a CNA is a good starting career
Certified nursing assistants play an important supporting role when it comes to patient care and working alongside registered nurses, whether in a clinical setting or through home healthcare services.
Working as a CNA provides hands-on experience in the healthcare field, often working in nursing care facilities. You gain a real-world understanding of direct patient care, which is beneficial for future other nursing positions, understanding what nursing practice looks like in action, and deciding if nursing is the career for you in the long run.
Earning a CNA certification is much faster than other healthcare qualifications and the only requirement to begin certified nursing assistant training is often a high school diploma.
Many community colleges have programs for CNA training, and you may even be able to find some skilled nursing facilities who offer a state-approved training program for their employees before taking a clinical skills exam.
Becoming a CNA not only equips you with practical skills and knowledge of healthcare professions but is also a stepping stone to a rewarding, lifelong career in healthcare.
Why certified nursing assistants should become registered nurses
Many people make the transition from certified nursing assistant to registered nurse. One of the biggest reasons is that CNA salary expectations are significantly lower than that of registered nurses – the average salary for RNs is double what you'll probably make as a CNA, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Becoming a registered nurse means you can also pursue specific areas of interest within healthcare by practicing new skills or earning certifications to work with teams such as peds, NICU, ER, home health, and critical care nurses.
Another reason is an interest in becoming a traveling healthcare worker. While you can certainly become a traveling CNA, registered nurses are in higher demand nationwide. This heightened demand for travel nurses makes the nursing field attractive to lots of people in healthcare careers.
How to become an RN
The journey from a certified nursing assistant to becoming a registered nurse can be achieved through different nursing programs, each offering distinct advantages, but all involving earning a nursing education and nursing license.
How do CNAs transition to becoming a registered nurse (RN)?
Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing
One of the most popular options is taking an Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program. This accredited nursing program was designed for those who already possess a degree in a different field. Nursing students can complete an accelerated program in 11 to 18 months, making them an attractive option for those eager to move into a registered nursing role.
Traditional Bachelor of Science in Nursing
Another pathway is to pursue a traditional Bachelor of Science in Nursing Degree (BSN). It typically takes nursing students four years to complete and provides a comprehensive education in nursing theory, research, public health, and clinical practice. It's widely regarded as the gold standard in nursing education and is often preferred by employers.
A huge perk of this path is that you can still work as a CNA while earning your nursing degree.
Associate degree in nursing
This undergrad degree is not as robust as the longer programs, but still allows you to become a licensed nurse. Most ADN programs take around two years to complete.
CNA to RN bridge programs
Lastly, CNA to RN bridge programs allow those already working as a certified nurse assistant to transition to an RN role. These programs recognize the experience CNAs already have in the healthcare field and allow them to apply this to their registered nurse training. The completion times for these types of programs vary but are generally shorter than traditional bachelor's degree programs.
There are several ways for a CNA or other healthcare professional to become a registered nurse, and each has its own benefits and considerations. Make sure to do your research about the education requirements for each path to decide which program aligns best with your career goals and lifestyle.
Become a registered nurse and start traveling
Once you graduate from nursing school and pass the National Council Licensing Examination (NCLEX-RN), consider working in a perm staff role for at least a year. This time can provide invaluable clinical experience, enhance skills, and build confidence in the role. After a year of perm staff experience, you can start applying for travel jobs.
Becoming a travel nurse means you can make more money while helping those in need, in locations you've always wanted to see. Marketplace is here to help you on your journey, offering support, opportunities, and a bright career outlook.
What's the difference between certified nursing assistants and registered nurses?
A certified nurse assistant has many duties of daily patient needs, including checking vital signs, room cleaning, assistance with procedures, and meal service. Most CNA programs have education requirements such as having a high school diploma or GED equivalent.
To become a CNA, they must complete a state-approved program in nursing basics and clinical work, followed by a CNA exam to earn their CNA certification.
A registered nurse holds greater authority and responsibility for patient outcomes than a CNA. Patient care provision and health education are key RN tasks.
Their responsibilities involve patient condition assessments, they administer medication and treatment, assist with medical procedures, record patient responses, may assist doctors with diagnostic tests, and help analyze test results.
How much does a CNA to RN program cost?
The cost of a nursing program depends on which path you're taking, starting at around $5,000. One of the most expensive is a four-year bachelor's degree program which can be upwards of $40,000, while an associate degree will be more affordable.
Talk to an advisor about which is the appropriate degree for you! There are also some employers who will subsidize the cost of a college degree for BSN students, but make sure you fully understand any such agreement before jumping in.
Where do certified nursing assistants work?
Certified nursing assistants can work in a variety of healthcare settings with other healthcare professionals to provide patient care. These settings include hospitals, nursing homes, nursing care facilities, homes for home health care, and assisted living facilities alongside other healthcare providers.
Can I work as a CNA without certification?
While requirements differ by state, be prepared to complete a state-approved CNA program at an accredited institution before going through the state certification exam or similar process of becoming certified.