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How to Transition from CNA to RN

There are many ways to enter the nursing field; whereas many begin bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) programs straight out of high school on the road to becoming registered nurses (RNs), many others don’t have the resources to cover the expense of nursing school, or they are simply not certain whether nursing is the right path for them. If the latter is your case, we encourage you to first train as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) to help you decide whether the nursing field is right for you and, if you decide that it is, to help you to quickly and cost-effectively become an RN. 

CNA vs RN Duties: What Is the Difference?

Both CNAs and RNs work in the nursing field, but they carry out different tasks based on the extent of their training. Whereas CNA training programs can last as little as four weeks, RN education programs usually requires two to four years.

With this in mind, CNAs are usually responsible for patients’ daily care and carry out mostly nonmedical tasks, such as the following:

  • Turning, moving, or transporting patients
  • Assisting with patient hygiene by bathing patients, brushing their hair and teeth, etc.
  • Feeding patients and documenting their food and liquid intake
  • Cleaning rooms and changing bed linens
  • Taking and documenting vital signs, such as blood pressure and heart rate

On the other hand, RNs are responsible for many medical tasks, including the following: 

  • Assessing and monitoring patients
  • Recording patients’ symptoms 
  • Administering medications and other treatments
  • Managing patient care plans with the medical team
  • Caring for wounds
  • Assisting in medical procedures 
  • Drawing blood and collecting other samples for lab work

In addition to these clinical responsibilities, RNs educate patients and family members on treatment plans and answer their questions. Furthermore, RNs are in charge of supervising licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and CNAs.

Become a CNA for Free

If you have not done your CNA training yet, don’t miss the opportunity to train free of charge! Many places offer state-approved CNA trainings, including community colleges, vocational schools, and Red Cross centers, but these courses can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars. On the other hand, some hospitals and nursing homes offer CNA classes for free and even offer new CNAs jobs after training completion. The only catch is that facilities will often require CNAs who trained for free to stay on at the facility for a certain period of time. If you sign a contract stating that you agree to stay on for say a year, there would be financial consequences to not complying.

In addition to facilities being motivated by a need to increase their own staff, some states are investing millions of dollars from COVID-19 response funds to also train CNAs for free. For example, Minnesota set the goal of training 1,000 CNAs by the end of January 2022. Although the state is a little behind schedule, they have now trained or are in the process of training approximately 1,300 CNAs for free in order to be better prepared to face future COVID-19 surges. 

Unless you are bound by contract to work at a particular facility, there are many advantages to keeping your options open and working per diem shifts at different facilities: Not only does per diem work pay more per shift than staff positions do, but it also offers clinicians the opportunity to work when, where, and as much as they want to. 

CNA to RN Programs

Once you have had some experience working as a CNA, you might feel ready to take the next step to become an RN. As with training to become a CNA, there are many ways to become an RN — some much shorter and more affordable than others. 

  • Bachelor of science in nursing degree (BSN): RNs who have obtained a BSN, are among the highest-paid RNs. That being said, the BSN route is also the longest and most expensive way to become an RN. This type of program will take up to four years to complete and will cost between $40,000 and $200,000.  
  • Accelerated BSN programs: These programs are available for people who already have bachelor’s degrees. In this case, you can obtain your BSN in as little as 12 months. Evidently, the shorter your education, the less you will have to invest. In fact, these programs range between $17,000 and $90,000 — less than half the cost of a BSN. 
  • CNA-to-RN bridge programs: If you don’t already have a bachelor’s degree, but you have trained as a CNA, this option would be the fastest and most cost-effective way to become an RN. Through a CNA-to-RN bridge program, you can obtain your associate degree in nursing (ADN) in as little as 12 months and for an average of $10,000, making this option the easiest and most inexpensive alternative. 

Regardless of the program you choose, you will then have to complete your state’s board of nursing requirements and pass the NCLEX-RN, which is the RN licensing exam. 

Keep in mind that with any path you choose to go from CNA to RN, you can opt for online classes to further facilitate and expedite your studies. Furthermore, it is always worth a try to inquire whether your employer offers continuing education assistance or work-study programs. The facility you work for may offer tuition-reimbursement and other types of assistance in order to help you move up from CNA to RN while continuing to work.

Advantages of Working as a CNA through Nursing School

As we mentioned previously, working as a CNA could be your pathway to becoming an RN quickly and cost effectively — possibly even for free! In addition to this obvious advantage, working in the nursing field while studying to become a nurse can be an advantage for both your work and your studies. 

CNAs who are studying to become RNs have firsthand work experience, which helps them make sense of the information covered in classes. In fact, CNAs with a year or two of experience have probably already learned empirically many things that for other nursing students could be completely new. Evidently, these beneficial effects of working while studying go both ways: CNAs who are continuing their education, will constantly expand their knowledge of the nursing profession, which in turn will help them become increasingly better at their jobs.  

Should All CNAs Become RNs?

Working as a CNA is an essential and noble occupation in itself, and CNAs who feel fulfilled in their roles should not feel that they need to continue their studies. However, if income is an important consideration for you — and honestly, who doesn’t care about income? — then, you should seriously consider continuing your studies since on average RNs earn more than double the salary of a CNA. 

CNA vs RN Pay

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, CNAs earn an average salary of $33,250 per year, whereas RNs earn an average of $82,750 annually. Once you are earning an RN salary, those $10,000 you invested to advance from working as a nursing assistant to a registered nurse will seem like a small price to pay indeed.  

If There Is a Will, There Is a Way

Has becoming an RN always been your dream? Why haven’t you pursued your goal? At Nursa, our dream is to support your professional goals by offering nurses and CNAs the opportunity to access the highest-paying jobs while maintaining the freedom and flexibility to go after personal and professional goals. The facility you work for won’t pay for your tuition? Then, switch to per diem work, and you can pay for it yourself.


Blog published on:
June 30, 2022

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