How to Become an RN (Registered Nurse) If you are CNA?

Certified nursing assistants (CNAs) are unlicensed health care personnel who provide very basic hands-on care under the supervision of a licensed nurse. Many registered nurses started their careers as CNAs and then went on for additional education. An experienced CNA may have some distinct advantages if she decides to move from CNA to RN. Most RN programs will not give credit for a CNA’s previous education, because the courses are not usually considered college-level curriculum. But her previous education and experience mean that she has already mastered many of the basics and can focus on other topics.

A CNA spends the bulk of her time giving hands-on care. Unlike a nursing student who moves from high school to college with little or no knowledge of what it’s like to provide direct care, a CNA already has many skills under her belt. CNAs may have already completed courses in topics like medical terminology, basic anatomy and physiology, and learned practical skills like bed-making, bathing patients and providing other hygiene care and skin care. The CNA knows how to feed a patient and transfer him from bed to wheelchair. In some states, CNAs can take special training to become certified as medication aides, which means they have some knowledge of pharmacology.



Prospective nursing students have three options for an RN degree. The first is an associate degree program (ADN). This is the shortest — about two years — and likely to be the least expensive, because such programs are typically offered in community colleges. Some ADN programs offer CNA to RN bridge programs, designed to capitalize on the CNA’s skills and knowledge. A nursing diploma will take two or three years; many diploma programs are affiliated with colleges or universities, so if the student chooses to go on for a higher degree, her credits can be transferred. A bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) takes four years; it is also the most expensive of the three options, but may offer more employment opportunities in the long run. Many hospitals prefer or require a BSN.

When choosing to move from a CNA to RN, one of the most important considerations may be whether the school offers online learning for didactic classes. This allows the student to complete the bulk of her education online, while continuing to work as a CNA. Once she has completed everything but the clinical courses, she may still be able to arrange her work schedule around her clinical time. It takes a little longer, but it does help to assure a steady income while going to school. Other options are employer-sponsored education, student loans and tuition assistance or scholarships.

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2016-25449  Exp. 10/17