How to work in nursing (when you’re not a nurse)
Want to work in the field of nursing without attending nursing school? Thinking about going to nursing school but not sure if it’s the career for you? Thankfully there is a way to work in nursing without attending nursing school. You can train to become a Certified Nurses Assistant, or CNA. A certified nurses assistant is basically the helping hands of a nurse. CNA’s assist with vital signs, bathing and dressing patients, feeding patients, helping patients to walk, assisting them to transfer to and from the bed, toilet, wheelchair, as well as maintain medical equipment and supplies.
CNA’s can choose to work in many different areas of nursing care. The most common places nursing assistants work are long-term care facilities or nursing homes, and hospitals. Many CNA’s also work in home health care, which involves going directly to a patients’ home and providing care. CNA’s are always in demand, yet there is an expectation that there will be an overwhelming need for more CNA’s in the next decade. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, CNA jobs are expected to increase by 17% in the next ten years due to the increased aging population.
There are many different programs available for training as a CNA. Typical time to train as a CNA is three weeks of full-time study, but many part-time and flexible schedule programs exist. The easiest way to find a program near you would be to google CNA training + your location. Make sure to take some time to investigate all of your local options, as costs for CNA training can vary widely depending on the program you choose. Some programs may be sponsored by local schools or health departments and the cost for these tends to be a lot lower versus attending a private school or college program. Some national resources for finding CNA training are The Red Cross CNA training program or check out this CNA training help post for a listing of training available by state.
There are some schools that advertise they can train you as a CNA online or through correspondence (mail) lessons. I advise you to steer clear of these programs, as they often require the student to figure out and set up their own clinical learning hours, which is very difficult to do if you are not already employed in healthcare. If you’re unable to take three full weeks away from working to train as a CNA, another option is an on-the-job training CNA class. Many nursing homes and some hospitals offer this option, and will train you with pay at their expense. The best way to find these options is to do a local job search online with the keywords “free CNA training” or “CNA training provided.”
Many people make a decent living working as a CNA. According to Salary.com, the average yearly salary for a CNA is $30,362. Of course this pay amount can vary depending on the area a CNA works in, and with overtime and/or weekend pay. As a general rule CNA’s tend to make more money when they work off-shifts (evenings, nights and weekends) and acute care facilities/hospitals tend to pay higher than Long-term care facilities/nursing homes. Of course this rule doesn’t apply to every place of employment, it helps to do some research on your own to get an idea of what to expect. Do you know someone who is already a CNA? If so, talk to them about where they work and why they like to work there. Nursing in general is a small world and co-workers do talk to each other about past employers so they can probably give you a heads up on which employers to avoid due to poor working conditions or pay.
While working as a CNA is a career choice on its own, if you are thinking of entering nursing school being a CNA first gives you some huge advantages!
– First off, it gives you excellent hands-on experience with patients that can help you in your clinical rounds in school. You won’t feel as nervous being a student in a healthcare environment because you already work in one! This hands-on experience can also solidify your desire to be a nurse, or possibly show you that nursing isn’t the career for you. If that is the case, better to find this out before you invest your money and time in nursing school courses!
– Another benefit of working as a CNA prior to nursing school is that it can offer you financial opportunities you otherwise wouldn’t have. Some workplaces do cover up to 100% of the cost of nursing school tuition if a current employee attends and makes a commitment to work for them after they graduate. This can go a long way in helping with the financial burden of attending nursing school.
– Working as a CNA in a specific practice area can help you get a nursing job in the same area upon graduation from school. Where it is very difficult to get into a specialty area of nursing immediately following graduation (such as labor & delivery, NICU, etc.) often times managers will offer to train a new nurse who has prior experience working as a CNA on the same floor. This is definitely something to keep in mind if you are certain you want to work in a specialty area of nursing after you finish school.
If you are wanting to get started in a nursing career, working as a CNA first is a great way to start!