Nursing Bridge: CNA to RN

In some places, becoming a CNA is part of the pathway to becoming a nurse. It may even be a mandate that you work under a CNA or other nursing credential while you’re doing your clinical placements. This doesn’t necessarily mean you will have had to have paid experience in that capacity. Individual circumstances will determine how valuable the experience is.

The whole process is highly individual. Working as a CNA can be a good foundation for becoming a nurse. You will want to consider how the experience can help you as a nurse and whether it is likely to increase your chances of getting into the particular nursing school you’re eying and/ or having your education funded.

True CNA to RN programs are few and far between. If you find a program with that title, it won’t necessarily be your best option. Nursing assistant programs are simply too short to earn you much academic credit or shorten your path a lot. On the other hand, some nursing programs are designed for easy articulation – they allow you to earn a credential and then continue on for a higher one. A nursing assistant license may be accepted in lieu of a prerequisite or foundational course. If you begin a nursing program in some locales, your program could be reduced slightly by having the CNA credential already in hand. Generally, you can expect to shorten the timeframe only if you’ve also had academic prerequisites.

Accruing Health Care Experience

CNA experience is sometimes included in an admission formula. Saddleback College, for example, is among those that uses a Multi Criteria Point Distribution for its associate’s (ADN) program. Just having the license is worth 5 points; if you have 1,000 hours of experience, it’s worth 15.

Healthcare experience is sometimes mandated prior to program admission. The experience won’t necessarily have to be as an CNA or even be for pay. However, some schools will look on it very favorably. The University of Washington School of Nursing, for example, requires at least 100 hours of hands-on experience in patient care ( The school notes that a “significant number” work as CNAs, but it’s not mandatory. Work performed under the supervision of an RN is considered particularly relevant, though, and it’s an asset to have your recommendation letter come from a nurse. On the other hand, your CNA experience may be at a long-term care facility where you don’t have a lot of contact with RNs. In that case, you may want to seek an opportunity to shadow an RN and/ or look into volunteer roles. Ultimately the UW has a lot of suggestions.

On the other hand, academic performance alone will get you admitted to some BSN programs. Recognize that schools won’t all have the same expectation for experience, but that there are reasons why some do – they want you to understand the role and have a commitment to the reality as well as the ideal. It’s a choice you can make for your own peace of mind.

Some organizations are very vested in developing the CNA to RN pipeline – at the state level even. These organizations recognize the value of diversity to their patient populations. The New Hampshire Nursing Diversity Pipeline Project recommended outreach to the state’s Licensed Nursing Assistants and LPNs (

Bringing a CNA Perspective to Nursing

Your experience as a CNA can be conducive to developing empathy not just toward your patients but toward your co-workers. If you work in long-term care, you’ll generally spend more time interacting with patents — and get to know individuals better — as a CNA than an RN. Once you get your RN license, you may find yourself supervising nursing assistants. It can help to have been on the other side. It’s more likely you’ll count nursing assistant supervision among your major duties if you provide long-term or post-acute care.

In some ways, being an RN is a lot harder than being a CNA. You have more decisions to make and more in the way of judgement calls. In some ways, though, being a CNA can feel harder. The job may be more physical. While working conditions vary a lot from place to place, you may find yourself running around more. And of course, the CNA isn’t getting the level of compensation for their hard work.

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Starting as a CNA

It’s easier to become a CNA, and that’s part of why many people like to begin there. You may receive a lot of support in becoming a CNA even if you’re not ready to study nursing. One example is the Dorothy D. Rupe grant at Santa Barbra College. The program gives would-be health professionals a little added incentive to take the plunge: It’s free for in-state students ( An RN program at the same school is much pricier — $6,500 — though of course students may offset the costs with financial aid and/ or scholarships.

Tuition reimbursement for CNAs who take jobs in nursing homes soon after completion is very common. There are federal mandates supporting this.

Support in Climbing the Nursing Career Ladder

You may be aided by tuition waiver or scholarship programs. Some funding opportunities are limited to individuals who are already working in a healthcare system. Some CNAs have tuition reimbursement benefits. This is by no means universal, however. It can help to be under the banner of a major healthcare system.

Multiple organizations provide scholarships for workers who want to move up the ranks in long-term care; they are designed for those who are already employed in some capacity and want to achieve a higher credential but remain in a similar setting. Often these are state level. The Massachusetts Senior Care Association, for example, has a scholarship program for employees of senior care facilities such as nursing homes and assisted living ( You will need to be ranked as above average by a supervisor. An essay is among the requirements. You will need to have begun the journey toward a higher credential – at least prerequisite courses. A video on the website profiles several healthcare professionals (a nurse manager, among them) who were aided by the scholarship.

The Commonwealth Long Term Care Foundation in Virginia is another of the many scholarship providers (

One caveat: These opportunities depend on having a level of success. Excellence increases your chances, and it’s not just what you bring to healthcare but how good your training is at the onset.

One Thing to Count On

There is one thing, though, you can count on: Successful CNA experience will give you the opportunity to make a difference now, even if you’re not at the stage yet of drawing a professional nursing salary. Finding quality workers for long-term care is even more challenging when the economy is strong, so if you’re idealistic, energetic, and committed, chances are good you’ll find organizations that want you on board now.

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