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The Pros and Cons of Being a Certified Nursing Assistant: Is It Worth It?

Each job has its own unique set of perks and benefits, as well as its challenges and drawbacks, and the role of certified nursing assistant (CNA) is no exception. While working as a CNA can be a great way to start your career in the medical field, it can also be a highly demanding job. Whether you’re just starting to search for CNA training classes or you’re already taking practice tests for the licensing exam, it’s crucial to fully understand the difficulties you could face — and the myriad benefits you could enjoy — to determine whether or not this is the right career choice for you.

Advantages of Being a Certified Nursing Assistant

There are many benefits of being a CNA that could make this career worthwhile for you:

Short Training Period

One of the biggest benefits of becoming a CNA is the short amount of time it takes to get fully trained and properly certified for this role. Though it varies depending on the requirements in your state and on the course itself, many CNA training programs only take four to 12 weeks to complete. This short training period allows you to start working sooner than many other positions and gain relevant, hands-on experience in healthcare without spending several years covering educational expenses.

Job Security

Becoming a CNA offers a lot of job security. Regardless of what the economy looks like, people still need healthcare professionals to treat illness and injury. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects employment of nursing assistants to increase 9% by 2028, adding almost 200,000 new positions each year. While this doesn’t guarantee employment, it does mean there is a growing demand for qualified CNAs and plenty of job opportunities that you can explore in this role.

Future Educational & Professional Opportunities

Becoming a CNA paves the way for many further educational and professional opportunities. With CNA training under your belt, you can go down many different career paths, from becoming a registered nurse to moving into healthcare administration. It’s also a highly flexible career, allowing you to specialize in a variety of areas, such as hospice care or operating room assistance. It’s also a great career choice if you want to start a family. No matter what your personal and professional goals are, being a CNA is a great way to start and establish your career in the healthcare industry.

Skill Development

Being a CNA allows you to develop valuable clinical skills that are vital for a future career in healthcare. Some of the basic, crucial skills you’ll learn include how to properly position patients for care and comfort, correctly take someone’s pulse, help patients eat, and how to safely move patients from a bed to a wheelchair. All of these provide you with a baseline understanding of how to interact with and care for patients that will be helpful if you move into another healthcare role or act as a caretaker for someone else in your life. Additionally, you’ll develop soft skills — like communication and empathy — that are highly beneficial in other workplaces, as well as your daily life.

Rewarding & Emotionally Gratifying Work

Though it can be emotionally draining and cause burnout, being a CNA is also rewarding. You have the opportunity to help other people and make the world a better place. Knowing that you’re serving other people, while still being able to support yourself and your family, can be incredibly fulfilling. Though there are many reasons to be a CNA, for many people, this is the biggest reason to enter the healthcare field to begin with.

Disadvantages of Being a Certified Nursing Assistant

Even if you have your heart set on becoming a CNA, you need to be familiar with some of the disadvantageous aspects of working in this role:

Low Entry-Level Pay

Like other entry-level positions, when you first start out as a CNA, your salary won’t be as high as other healthcare positions that require more experience or education. As of May 2016, the average annual salary for CNAs was $26,590, or $13 per hour. Of course, a variety of factors can impact your earnings, particularly your location. According to data from 2018, CNAs in California earn almost $16 per hour, while CNAs in Oklahoma earn $10.49 per hour, on average. No matter where you live, however, you will earn a higher rate as you get more experience in this role.

Limited Advancement Opportunities

As a CNA, you have limited advancement options available to you without additional training. Your CNA training will fully prepare you to work as a CNA, but not for much else outside the scope of your day-to-day responsibilities. Luckily, there are many different environments you can work in as a CNA. Getting experience in a variety of work environments will continue to challenge you professionally and could open up new career opportunities without having to pursue any further education.

Physically Demanding Duties

Like other healthcare professionals, working as a CNA is a physically demanding job. Among other job responsibilities, you have to be on your feet during most of your shift, may need to lift heavy objects or people, and transport or move items needed for treatment or care throughout your workplace. One study estimates that registered nurses walk four to five miles during the course of a 12-hour shift. Depending on the length of your shifts and your specific job duties, you could expect similar physical demands. This makes working as a CNA a great option if you don’t want to be stuck inside an office or like to be very active throughout the course of your day.

Emotionally Demanding Duties

In addition to the physical requirements of the job, working as a CNA is also emotionally demanding. To properly care for your patients, you must be compassionate, empathetic, and understanding. You have to put your own emotions on hold to help your patients with their needs. You may also encounter many different emotional or upsetting situations throughout the course of a single shift, including patients who are in pain, rude or abusive patients, or even dying patients. If you aren’t careful, this emotional labor can take its toll on your own health and impact your ability to care for your patients. If you work as a CNA or in any other healthcare role, you must prepare yourself for these difficult situations and take the time you need to care for your physical and mental health.

Risk of Burnout

Burnout is a serious issue facing people who work in the healthcare industry. Dealing with the daily stress of caring for people who are ill or injured can be physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting — to the point where you may no longer want to work in healthcare at all. This, in turn, puts greater stress on remaining healthcare workers and negatively affects their ability to care for their patients. Avoiding burnout can be difficult, but researchers note that CNAs should focus on general stress reduction to protect against it. Though it is a widespread issue, burnout is also highly personal; your own experiences with it depend greatly on where you work, who you work with, and your own personal feelings.

Is Being a CNA Worth It?

Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide if becoming a CNA is the right choice for your career. Depending on what you want and need, it might not be worth it. If, for instance, you don’t want to work in healthcare or have a hard time dealing with stress, being a CNA may not be worth it for you. However, if you like to help others or plan to pursue a long-term career in healthcare, the benefits of being a CNA almost certainly outweigh the drawbacks.

No matter what you decide to do, it’s important to know what you can expect when working as a CNA before you make this decision about your career. Being a CNA can be challenging, but it can also be incredibly rewarding. And if you do choose to go down this career path, you just might discover that being a CNA can provide you with a gratifying career for years to come.