Not Sure if Nursing is For You? Start as a CNA

Not Sure if Nursing is For You? Start as a CNA

A career as a Registered Nurse is desirable for more reasons than one. You typically get to work three days a week rather than five. Nursing is also a stable career path, nurses, and more importantly, you get to make a difference in people’s lives. Did I also mention health care benefits? Nursing may sound appealing, but if you’re not sure if it’s for you, rather than spending years in schooling and a few additional years working in the field to find out, you may want to start as a CNA. 

CNA Schooling 

Unlike many healthcare professions, obtaining your CNA Certification is fault painless, and it will give you great insight on if nursing is for you. The schooling is commonly done at community colleges or through occupational programs and generally lasts 4-6 weeks.

The initial weeks are spent in a classroom setting with most classes, and the remaining weeks are for clinicals. This is where you will shadow and get hands-on experience. Clinicals are commonly held at Skilled Nursing Facilities, which are a night and day difference when it comes to standard patient care in a hospital setting. 

CNA Options 

Much like any other profession, there are many options when it comes to what industry you can use your certification. Granted, it’ll still be healthcare; however, you can work in a hospital, assisted living center, as a home care assistant, at a skilled nursing facility, some physician offices, cruise ships, schools, and more. Something to watch out for when applying are the different terms that help describe a CNA. When you apply, a CNA isn’t always called a CNA. For example, at many hospitals, CNA’s are referred to as Patient Care Technicians, Patient Care Assistants, Healthcare Assistants, Orderlies, Nurses Aid, NASR (Nurses Aid State Registered) or STNR (State Tested Nurse’s Aid). 

CNA Experience 

One of the key things you’ll get to understand working for a CNA is what the life of an RN is like (for the most part). Granted, you won’t get to see and feel what it’s like to have their duties and responsibilities, but you’ll better understand what it’s like to experience a code blue, prevent a patient from becoming a code grey, saving a life, and so much more. Working as a CNA will also increase your chances of being hired directly out of nursing school. Much like any career, you’ll have an easier time getting hired with experience in the medical field on your resume. This is especially true if you’re applying to the business you’re currently working at. 

Additional Income 

Many nursing students work as CNA while they are attending nursing school not to gain experience but also to help them with additional income. The medical field has a great thing called Per-Diem, which allows you to work minimal hours while still maintaining your position. At some hospitals, you can work as little as two 12 hour shifts a month.

Another option is to work at an agency where they place you at different hospitals around your area whenever you list that you’re available. It works much like a typical staffing agency except rather than being placed temporarily for a few months or weeks; you are only there for the day because an employee called out. This is another excellent way to gain experience in different units and hospitals to determine which unit or hospital might be the best fit for you after you’ve completed nursing school. 

Tuition Assistance 

Some hospitals offer to pay for your schooling if you’ve worked for them for a certain period of time and if you commit to working for them for a specified duration of time after you finish nursing school.

This is an excellent opportunity to again gain experience, income, and have your schooling paid for. Most commonly, this is referred to as tuition assistance or tuition reimbursement. Keep in mind, not all hospitals will pay 100% of your schooling. The tuition assistance or reimbursement rates are commonly public on their website, or you can call and request the requirements and reimbursement rates.

It’s highly recommended that you consider this while applying to work there with your CNA. If you’re unable to get a job at the location with the highest reimbursement rate, go to the next one down. 


If you’re not ready to commit to 4-6 weeks of schooling and applying for roles after that waiting to get hired, you can also apply to be a volunteer. This will not give you any real hands-on experience, you won’t receive compensation or tuition assistance, but this is sometimes a way to dip your toe in the water if you’re not ready to put your feet in. 

Are you considering nursing school? What’s holding you back? Start as a CNA; we don’t think you’d regret it. 


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About the author

Ashley Carty

Ashley Carty is a seasoned medical professional with over 8 years of experience working at the top hospitals in Southern California, including Hoag, Saddleback Memorial, and UCSD.

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