Being a CNA Before Nursing School – Pros and Cons

The choice to become a CNA before nursing school is ultimately yours. There are pros and cons associated with the decision, which you should definitely take into consideration before making any decisions.

Pros for Becoming a CNA Before Nursing School

1) The best part of being a CNA before nursing school is that you have the chance to gain hands-on experience in an acute care environment. You’ll get to develop your patient assessment skills, sharpen your medical terminology knowledge, check vital signs, perform treatments, etc.- all things that will be extremely useful if you decide to enter into nursing school afterward.

2) Employers often value job applicants who have had prior work experience in the field. If you’ve worked as a CNA, you’ll definitely stand out from the rest of the applicants.

3) Another pro for becoming a CNA first is that you’ll make some serious cash on your way to nursing school. As a CNA, you can expect to earn around $14-$15/ hour. Since many students need money to pay for tuition, books, transportation costs, etc., this is certainly beneficial.

4) Many nurses enjoy working as CNAs because of all the benefits they offer (perks like uniforms not required). You might find yourself enjoying the experience so much that you might decide to stick with it for longer than just one year before entering nursing school.

Cons for Becoming a CNA Before Nursing School

Although there are plenty of pros to becoming a CNA before nursing school, there are just as many cons.

1) If you’ve been thinking about entering into an RN program but have been hesitant because of the high cost, you should know that acing nursing school is extremely expensive- and not just because of tuition costs.

You’ll be required to shell out thousands of dollars on books, transportation fees, uniforms, etc., which means that if you’re going to become a CNA first instead of going to work right away after high school or college graduation, it might be wise financially to work for a year or two and save up some money before applying into a nursing program.

2) You may find yourself getting burned out from all the physical demands associated with being a CNA first. If your dream is to become an RN, you’ll have to keep your grades up and maintain a positive GPA in order to be considered for the nursing program of your choice.

In addition to keeping good grades, it’s important that you don’t let yourself get burned out with all the physical tasks associated with being a CNA first.

3) Being a CNA doesn’t offer many benefits which can easily help students pay for school. The most you could probably expect as a CNA is free parking at work. You won’t be able to earn money from overtime or receive subsidized healthcare with a job as a CNA first.

4) Another con associated with being a CNA before nursing school is that the experience is often very different than what you’ll experience in nursing school. As a CNA, the main thing you’ll do is provide basic care to patients of all ages- something that may or may not be what you had expected.

5) Many of your learning experiences associated with being a CNA first will be things that you will never need to know as an RN. For instance, some CNAs are required to change bedpans and help patients get into the shower or tub.

You may also have to lift severely overweight individuals onto beds or gurneys 5-10 times per day, which can actually take a toll on your body in terms of muscle pain and joint pain. Being a CNA before nursing school can give you great real-life experience, but it can also be similar to ‘work boot camp.’

6) Not all nursing schools accept CNA experience as an adequate prerequisite course for entering into their program. You’ll need to research each school to find out if they do or not.

Where can you be a CNA before nursing school?

The best setting for being a CNA before nursing school would be a hospital, long-term care facility, or hospice agency. These places will have the highest level of acuity and a diversified patient population. You will also get a chance to learn more advanced skills such as IV starts, endotracheal intubation, and monitoring hemodynamic parameters.

Which facility would be best for you?

It depends. This is something you’ll need to personally consider. If you’re not sure what would be the best place for you, talk with your BSN coordinator or nursing program directors. They can help guide you in the right direction.

The main factors/ideas to keep in mind are:

  • Do you want to work with an adult population?
  • Do you want to work with critical patients?
  • Do you want a schedule that varies day-to-day (patient assignments may change)?
  • Am you okay working on my own most days?

If you’ve considered these questions and still aren’t sure where to begin, feel free to reach out! We’d love to help in any way we can :).

Read below if you want to learn more about each setting we have mentioned above.


Pros of Being a CNA in a Hospital Setting

1) Hospitals are often the most desirable setting for CNAs because they offer great pay, benefits, and many opportunities to advance in your career. CNAs in hospitals can also benefit from working closely with their nurses who can teach them valuable skills that might be difficult to learn on one’s own.

2) Working as a CNA in a hospital setting will give you an opportunity to work with some seriously sick patients- which is a good experience for nursing school since not every patient you’ll see once you’re an RN will be 100% healthy or require little care.

You may find yourself caring for post-surgical patients, cancer patients, or even trauma victims which can require you to have some serious snap.

Cons of Being a CNA in a Hospital Setting

1) CNAs working in hospital settings often work long hours, weekends, and holidays – something that may or be ideal for some people. You’ll also have to deal with sick patients who are vomiting on you, bleeding on you, or who have the flu which can make you sick too if you’re not careful!

2) Working as a CNA in a hospital setting can sometimes get very depressing due to the fact that many of the patients are unable to communicate with you because they are either unconscious or delirious. This means that all of your care is solely based upon what it says on their charts, which causes frustration when none of your care seems to soothe their pain or discomfort.

Nursing home setting

Pros of Being a CNA in a Nursing Home Setting

1) CNAs working in home settings often work part-time, which means they have more free time for school and homework since the demand isn’t as high as hospitals. Like hospital settings, nursing schools will give you an opportunity to shadow nurses on rounds through different units such as maternity, pediatric, or even the emergency room (ER). You’ll be working with acutely ill patients in need of more serious care like ventilators, suctioning, and tube feeding.

2) Home settings are very helpful if you’re looking to develop your bedside manner before nursing school since you’ll be working with some seriously sick people, but will generally spend less time lifting heavy patients than in hospitals (although there is still ample opportunity for heavy lifting!).

3) CNAs in-home settings often make great connections with their patients who can recommend them highly when they eventually apply to nurse programs. Being a CNA first also helps build up one’s confidence which is beneficial once they start taking care of acutely ill patients all by themselves.

Cons of Being a CNA in a Nursing Home setting

1) CNAs working in home settings often work part-time, which can be also a downside if you’re looking for a challenging experience right off the bat. The patients are also less likely to be as ‘interesting’ or more difficult but require similar skills like those found in hospitals such as tube feeding and suctioning.

2) CNAs working in home settings will have less opportunity to advance their careers since they won’t be able to shadow nurses on rounds through different units. You’ll still get some of that experience once you start taking care of your own patients though!

3) Home settings aren’t ideal for those who aren’t comfortable with getting close to their patients because many of them suffer from dementia and may not even remember your name.

Long term care facility

Pros of Being a CNA in a Long Term Care Facility:

1) CNAs working in long-term care facilities often work full-time, which means they get the experience and hours that they need to eventually become nurses. You’ll be working on units such as oncology (cancer), ortho (bone/joint injuries), and even surgical units. If you’re lucky, you may even have a chance to shadow a nurse practitioner if there’s one on staff!

2) CNAs in long-term settings will have more opportunities to advance their careers since they will likely have fewer patients than those working in hospitals but great chances to learn new skills from being around other nurses who specialize in different fields.

3) Long-term care facilities are great places to work if you’re looking for a mix of both sick and healthy patients. Depending on the unit or floor that you’re working on, many patients may be in need of little help since they have been there for several months to years.

Cons of Being a CNA in a Long Term Care Facility:

1) CNAs working in long-term care facilities often work full-time, which can sometimes get too overwhelming if your patient list is so high that it’s difficult to keep track of them all! You’ll also likely have less opportunity to shadow nurses from different units because these jobs tend to be much busier than home settings or hospitals.

2) If you don’t like getting attached to your patients, then working in a long-term care facility may not be for you since they often have complex needs that require complex skills.

3) CNAs in long-term care facilities will likely spend less time with their patients compared to home settings, which can make it more difficult to develop a good rapport with them. You’ll still build up bedside manner though!

Hospice agency

Pros of Being a CNA in Hospice

1) The patients that you will be taking care of usually have cancer and other terminal illnesses so you can expect them to be at the end stages of their lives. This means that your job will involve providing comfort measures only instead of the complex skills required to manage chronic conditions like diabetes or heart failure!

2) You may even get an opportunity (if it’s requested by the patient’s family) to provide bereavement support once they pass away! The experience that you get from working in hospice will definitely be unlike any other.

Cons of Being a CNA in Hospice:

1) Since the majority of work done for these patients involve caring for them at home or placing them in long-term facilities/hospitals where they will eventually pass away, there may not be as many opportunities to advance your career or learn new skills as quickly as you would like. You’ll still develop innovative ways to assist your patient though!

2) This is not the best place to work if you’re looking for a diverse patient population since most of your patients will be at the last stage of their lives and often have complex needs.

Your next steps…

If you’ve decided that working as a CNA before nursing school is right for you, there are several steps you should take in order to prepare yourself for your future career in caring for others.

  • Find an open nursing program by contacting the schools you’re interested in and asking for their application information.
  • Take the entrance exam (if required). Also, obtain letters of recommendation from previous employers and professors (if possible).
  • Obtain proof of immunizations (such as a Tdap shot, MMR [measles/mumps/rubella], etc.) before joining your chosen nursing program.  Keep all records so you can provide them if requested.
  • Work and volunteer at local healthcare facilities to expose yourself to various types of units and patients under different conditions. This will help prepare you for when you join your nursing program. Also, keep in mind that some units will require you to pass an entrance exam first (such as the CNA test).
  • Try not to stress – it’s all part of the process! Before you know it, graduation day will be here and you’ll be taking your NCLEX-RN (the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses).  This is the final step before starting your new career!

Lastly, keep in mind that choosing the right facility to work as a CNA before nursing school is an important step. Some states allow CNAs more independence than others do regarding patient care, which can prepare a CNA better for working as an RN later on down the road.