If you have dreams of a career in healthcare, a great introduction is by working as a Certified Nursing Assistant, or CNA. Because of the relatively short training period a CNA position requires, you’ll be able to jump in quickly and get practical, invaluable experience that will shape your future.We think of CNAs as one (crucial!) part of the healthcare industry ecosystem. While some people find work as CNA a perfect long-term fit, others may want to explore additional options. Beginning as a CNA creates multiple avenues for progression. And since you’re already familiar with the field, you’ll be able to make more informed decisions about what course of action is best suited to your passions and abilities.
Here are some common career paths for a CNA:
Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)
Sometimes known as LVNs (Licensed Vocational Nurse), LPNs work under the supervision of registered nurses. Like CNAs, LPNs specialize in general patient care. LPNs differ from CNAs in that they have additional medical responsibilities, such as changing sterile bandages and administering medicine. One benefit of becoming an LPN is an increase in pay. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for an LPN was a little over $45,000 in 2017, and the job growth outlook is higher than that of most jobs. The LPN Path: You’ll need to find and enroll in a training program through a local community college or technical school. LPN programs are 1-2 years, which is half the time it takes to become an RN (Registered Nurse). Many programs offer at least some level of an online component for those with busy schedules. An added bonus: many programs will let you use your current job as a CNA as part of your clinical requirement.You’ll also need to take a national standardized exam called the National Council Licensure Examination-Practical Nurse (NCLEX-PN).
Registered Nurse (RN)
Those with the time and money to dedicate to an advanced degree might prefer to bypass the LPN certification and move right into an RN position. This is definitely an option. In fact, your skills and experience as a CNA will put you ahead of many in your RN program. If you’re interested in taking on more responsibility (you’ll supervise CNAs and LPNs) and having a more active involvement in medical decisions (reporting directly to doctors), an RN position might be right for you. Your increased responsibility and training mean a bump in pay, too; the median annual wage for registered nurses was $70,000 in May 2017.The RN Path: You’ll need either a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing (BSN) or an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN). While both will garner you the title “Registered Nurse,” some hospitals are beginning to require the BSN, so pay close attention to qualifications in your area. You’ll also need to take and pass the National Council Licensure Examination-Registered Nurse (NCLEX-RN).RN training is more extensive than LPN training, and you can expect to take courses in chemistry, pathophysiology, microbiology, and psychology, among others. Most programs take 2-4 years, but going from CNA to RN will be faster than starting from scratch. Your experience will prove very valuable as you continue toward this goal.
Geriatric Care Manager
If you’d prefer to focus more on interactions with patients and their families, you may consider pursuing work as a Geriatric Care Manager. In this position, you’ll be trained to help families lay out long-term care plans for aging relatives. This includes evaluating living options, coordinating medical services, and offering emotional and logistical support. This position is a good fit for CNAs who are interested in advanced degrees in human services such as social work, psychology, and gerontology. The average salary for a Geriatric Care Manager in 2018 was just short of $50,000. The Geriatric Care Manager Path: Like most positions in healthcare, there are both direct and indirect paths to become a Geriatric Care Manager. The most direct path is to earn your master’s degree in a related field, such as gerontology, social work, or nursing. Anything less than a master’s degree requires work experience in a related field. Finally, while certification is not required, it’s certainly recommended, so long as it’s through a reputable institution such as the National Academy of Certified Care Managers. Assisted Living AdministratorIf you’re curious about jobs outside typical nursing positions but still related to the field, you may consider becoming an Assisted Living Administrator. Assisted Living Administrators oversee the general operation of an assisted living facility: staff management, finances, building maintenance, clinical paperwork, and activity planning. In this position, you’ll work closely with others in the medical field as well as residents and their families. Although it will take some additional training to reach this level (every state has a nurse administrator’s licensing requirement, for instance), you’ll find your experience and familiarity with the nursing field as a CNA will make you an excellent candidate for this position. The median annual pay for NHA’s in 2017 was $98,350.The NHA Path: Since experience in the field is one of the requirements for obtaining a license as a nursing home administrator, your work as a CNA puts you well on your way. Additionally, while a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field (such as healthcare, healthcare administration or business management) will suffice in some situations, most facilities are moving toward requiring applicants to hold a master’s degree. Apply for a program in healthcare administration to have the most job prospects!Additionally, you will be required to have a nursing home administrator’s license; requirements for this license vary by state. You must also pass a national or state-specific exam. For more information, click here or locate your state’s Board of Examiners.