Nursing Assistants: Should You Become One?

Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) are healthcare professionals who work closely with Registered Nurses and other medical professionals in hospital or clinical settings, typically being the middle contact between them and patients. CNAs are in high demand in home health and elderly patient-care as their education centers in providing “compassionate care” to their patients. CNAs day to day responsibilities are to provide intimate and immediate care to any patient who isn’t able to be attended by the nurse on call. 

Are you wondering what the difference between a CNA and a RN is? It is a matter of education and the role they play in medical settings. CNAs earn a certification to practice nursing by taking an exam while RNs take an exam to have themselves registered as nurses to practice nursing. If you are in nursing school and wondering what your next step should be, you can take many different paths, however, here are the two most common next steps:

  1. You can take the National Nurse Aide Assessment Program (NNAAP) exam to be a CNA, or
  2. You can take the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX) to be an RN or LPN (licensed practical nurse). 

The CNA certification exam has two components – oral or written, and a hands-on skills evaluation. It is a slightly less rigorous exam than the NCLEX which is why CNA jobs are a great way to get your foot into the nursing world professionally. 

However, becoming a CNA doesn’t require an associate or bachelor’s degree. Lots of people earn their CNA certification through online courses and land a job. Getting an online certification and working as a CNA is a smart way to gain clinical experience if you hope to attend med school but wish to work before applying. It can also give you prior knowledge and insight to the nursing world if you choose to go to nursing school and become an RN/LPN. If you have a knack for hospitality and interest in medicine, getting a CNA certification is a great idea to explore a career in medicine eventually. 

Shobha Ambi, an MSN (Master’s of Science in Nursing) student at Johns Hopkins said, 

“Becoming a CNA is a good introduction into what a typical medical floor can look like, and you can become familiar with the different workers that interact with patients and see how their roles intersect to provide the best possible care for every patient. Another reason is that you become confident in your patient communication skills because patients often get overwhelmed with how many nurses and doctors come in asking about their symptoms. So, as a CNA, you can focus on one patient at a time and become the frontline contact between patient and other staff members. You can genuinely ask how they’re doing and have conversations with them without being bound by time like nurses and doctors are.” 

Miss Ambi is a first year student who has worked with many CNAs during her employment as a mental health assistant at Children’s Hospital, Orange County. According to her, CNAs seemed to have the best relationship with patients on an individual level compared to other staff members each patient interacted with. 

A common misconception among people is that CNAs aren’t as important as licensed nurses in medical settings. This idea seems to bounce off of the fact that CNAs simply earn less money than nurses and aren’t required to go through as much education as licensed nurses. This idea is very false and ignorant. Nurses have constantly testified that their jobs are made a lot easier with CNAs aiding them throughout the day. People possibly have this misunderstanding because they think of nurses already being aids to doctors and therefore CNAs must be the “help of the help”. However, nurses function very much as independently as doctors do. In fact, nurses do a lot more paperwork and patient filing than doctors, have a lot more patient interaction than doctors and perform more patient care than doctors. While doctors are very important, of course, they wouldn’t be able to execute their day without a nurse by their side. 

With that being said, nurses have a bigger day to day workload compared to doctors, therefore, CNAs are very important in any medical setting. Some nurses were asked to give their honest opinion under anonymous usernames on a blog post about their relationships with the CNAs they have worked with, here’s what someone said:

“I love most of the aides I work with. I started out as an aide, got my LPN, then my RN, and I am not working on my MSN. I personally find that nurses who have never worked “through the ranks” to become a nurse are less understanding of how hard a job it is to be a CNA or anything other than nursing. CNAs are a very important part of the medical team and I appreciate the ones I work with.” 

As you can see in the graph above, in the past decade, the job market for nursing assistants has increased by over 21% and it is only going to keep increasing since the healthcare industry is the fastest growing career in the United States. In the next ten years, the industry is projected to have 2.6 million new jobs. If you don’t wish to follow a “traditional” path to a career (college, grad school, etc), getting online certifications is an excellent way to start building your career. Online trade schools also keep you from going into academic debt and helps you create a path for yourself at your own pace. CNA certifications cost $2000 at most for the entire training while nursing school can be anywhere between $10k-$35k depending on the school you attend. Working as a CNA first not only gives you a deeper understanding of a medical environment from a professional perspective but also pays you rather than putting you in debt before you can make it up earning as a nurse. Sure, if you choose to become an RN or LPN eventually you’ll need to further your education, but it wouldn’t be as intense or expensive as it would be without any clinical experience. 

If you’re interested in working as a CNA for hospitals near you, Gigzio can help you find a job close by. And, since a rise in healthcare jobs is nationwide, you can find a demand for CNAs in any city you’d like. Just head over to their job search portal and get started!