Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) and Beyond - The CNA to RN Path

As our nation's health care system continues to push into the future, there is perhaps no group more directly involved with the day to day changes than the Certified Nursing Assistant. Also known as CNA's, these individuals operate on the front lines of patient care.

“They call us the eyes and ears of the health care profession.” ~ Samantha Reed

Unlike those serving at the head of other industry-changing forces, however, CNA's have a relatively easy time gaining certification. While many colleges and tech schools offer standard six-month training, there are others which can compact the vital courses into a much shorter amount of time.

One living example of this modern efficiency is Samantha Reed, who currently serves as a CNA in the Wisconsin town of Green Bay.

“I did an accelerated program one summer when I was home,” she says, “at Mid State Technical College in [Wisconsin] Rapids]. It was four days in a row for about eight hours a day in training classes. Then I had to do nine eight hour shifts at a nursing home for clinicals.”

After completing the requirements, Reed then passed another test to gain her state license. This step is vital, she states, as nearly all health care facilities require that their patient-involved employees be certified by the state.

“I chose to be a CNA so that I could work in the field while I get my RN license,” she says. “So I kind of did this to get a foot in the door.”

Many and most of the medical world's CNA's are, in fact, still studying their craft. While making their way toward higher degrees, nearly half of of these individuals find themselves working in nursing care facilities. Many others also earn employment in general medical and surgical hospitals, while still others serve in community care facilities for the elderly. Several thousand of our nation's CNA's also have found jobs as members of home health care services, or even as fixtures in local government.

“They call us the eyes and ears of the health care profession,” Reed states, “because we work mostly more with the patients than any other person would. We see them more than the RN's do, we see them more than the doctors do, because we're working with them 24/7.”

CNA Stats

As of May 2009 , there were approximately 1,438,000 Nursing Aides, Orderlies, and Attendants employed in the United States. Many, if not most, of these individuals are CNA's working their way toward higher degrees. Even while studying however, they are paid a healthy wage. On average, they take home just over $24,000 per year, which breaks down to $11.56 per hour. Those just getting their start can expect to make somewhere in the neighborhood of $9.85 per hour, which results in an annual income of nearly $20,500. Experienced CNA's can expect to see their pay rise all the way to $16.33 per hour, or just under $34,000 annually.

An Academic Path

As to choosing an academic path, Reed has a few words of caution for those seeking to use their CNA licenses as a stepping stone to the RN world.

"I have all this experience, and I have tons of nurses I've worked with who can write me letters of recommendation." ~ Reed

“When you work as a CNA, there's a glass ceiling over your head. You have nowhere to go up from unless you go back to school. But now I have all this experience, and I have tons of nurses I've worked with who can write me letters of recommendation."

“And once you get your RN license, everyone wants you to have experience. So if you've worked somewhere like I have for the past few years, it'll help you get a better job.”

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