CNA to RN: My Nursing Journey

By: Erica Deery, LPN

If you want to be a nurse but are scared or don’t know where to start, I GET YOU. I was 24 and completely lost, with no idea what direction I was going in, career wise. I wanted to be a nurse but was afraid to start. I was convinced I was too old, not smart enough. I thought I had missed my chance. Someone recommended I start as a CNA and just see if I even liked the medical field, considering I was coming from being a makeup artist. Slight change right? So that’s what I did. I took the 8 week course, jumped in, and haven’t looked back.

I still laugh when I remember when my biggest anxiety was doing a manual blood pressure check off. 

My path into nursing looked a little different. I did my CNA, LPN, and now my RN. During my entire LPN program I worked as a CNA–geriatric psych, memory care, and hospice. IT WAS HARD. Emotionally, physically, and mentally. You see the memes about sweet little granny sundowning–it’s no joke. I still have scars. There was a point where I went to work at a mortgage company for a summer because I needed a break. Then, before I knew it, I was back to being a CNA and got accepted into nursing school. There were a lot of late nights, overnights, and studying. I was tired, my body hurt all the time. I could not have done it without the nurses who took every teaching opportunity to show me skills I would need in the future. They took me under their wing and guided me. Today, I work alongside some of the same nurses. I still look up to them as I did when I was their CNA. I go to them for nursing advice and ask questions ALL the time. 

As a CNA, I got better with communication, learning how to talk to patients and families. I became stronger and more confident as a person and student, and that built me into the nurse I am today. I still get anxiety, but I can say being a CNA helped my transition a lot and made it a little easier. Mostly, I learned to listen to my gut. 

Two months into my first nursing job, COVID hit. We were one of the first. It was still new, so no one knew what was about to happen, and I was TERRIFIED. I had no idea what I was in for. 

For me, without my background as a CNA I don’t think I could have handled the pandemic as a new nurse in the RN program. I am so thankful for that background. Despite my fear and anxiety (emphasis on anxiety), I was able to be there for others. My experience gave me that level of compassion, to be there when a patient’s family could not. We were their only advocates at that time. As I am getting ready to venture out and look for a new job with a new title, I’ll still take my experience as  a CNA with me. 

Looking back, I used to always say, I’m JUST a CNA. Now, as a nurse, it’s so much more. I would never ignore a task because I am a nurse now. We are all there for one singular reason. I could not do my job without CNAs. I am so grateful everyday for all the hard work they put in because I have been there. I get it, we get it. It takes teamwork. We are all here to help each other. The way those nurses once helped me, I hope I can pay that forward one day. Everything I have today stemmed from that job as a CNA. Those were some of the best years of my life. Regardless of the lack of sleep and dark circles under my eyes, I wouldn’t change those friendships, memories or lessons for anything. 

Everyone’s path is totally different. My best advice: if you think you want to be a nurse but aren’t sure, volunteer. Try caregiving. You don’t need a certificate to do so. Get your feet wet, then get the CNA. Figure out if it’s what you like. Even if it’s not what you like, you’ll meet some amazing people and get some great stories in the process.

For you CNAs out there who want to be a nurse but are scared, DO IT! TRUST ME!  You’ll be surprised how far you make it. YOU are never too old, YOU are smart enough, and YOU did not miss your chance.


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