Being a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), is a rewarding and fulfilling career, offering opportunities to care directly for patients in a variety of clinical settings. Many health care professionals enjoy a CNA career that comes with vital job responsibilities, the relationships they form with patients while on the frontline of their care, and the flexible schedules. However, for CNAs looking to grow, there are numerous exciting career paths that they can take.
1. Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) or Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN)
Becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN — also known as a Licensed Vocational Nurse or LVN in California and Texas) is often what comes after a CNA career. LPNs work under the supervision of RNs and have many of the same duties as CNAs, with some additional responsibilities such as administering medications, changing sterile wound dressings, inserting catheters and IVs, and managing CNAs.
To become an LPN, you must attend a practical nursing program, and these usually take around six to 12 months full-time to complete (program requirements and length vary by state). In the program, you will study topics such as practical nursing skills, anatomy and physiology, nutrition, and human health and disease. There is also a clinical requirement, which may be, in part, fulfilled by your CNA experience. After the program, you will need to take the National Council Licensure Examination-Practical Nurse (NCLEX-PN) exam to obtain licensure. Many programs build test prep for the NCLEX-PN into the program.
LPNs work in a variety of clinical settings, including hospitals, physicians’ offices, and skilled nursing facilities, and some perform in-home healthcare services.
Going from CNA to LPN can mean a sizable jump in annual salary — the average annual salary for an LPN in the United States is $47,480, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2019). The job outlook for LPNs is very good, with expected job growth of 11% from 2018 to 2028.
2. Registered Nurse (RN)
Many CNAs go on to become Registered Nurses. For some CNAs, becoming an RN was the plan, to begin with, and they just wanted to get started more quickly or wanted to test out nursing before committing to a degree program. Experience in a CNA career can help you stand out in your application to RN programs, and in the future, when you are applying for RN jobs.
RNs work in hospitals, physician’s offices, outpatient clinics, and long-term care facilities. They are responsible for assessing patients, working with doctors to formulate a care plan, administering medicines and treatments, performing diagnostic tests and analyzing the results, making observations, taking detailed notes, and teaching patients how to care for their condition at home.
An associate’s degree or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree is required to become an RN, as well as passing the National Council Licensure Examination-Registered Nurse (NCLEX-RN) test. RN programs teach nursing skills, anatomy and physiology, microbiology, women and infant health, psychology and mental health, math, chemistry, and communication, to name a few topics. They also offer electives in specialties like geriatrics and oncology. Required skills for RNs are similar to those of CNAs and include critical thinking, communication, organization, compassion, attention to detail, emotional stability, and physical stamina.
In the U.S., RNs earn an average salary of $73,300 annually (as of May 2019), according to the BLS. Job growth of 12% is expected from 2018 to 2028, which is better than average. RNs also experience above-average job satisfaction rates, with 83% reporting feeling satisfied with their career choice according to a 2017 survey by AMN Healthcare.
3. Certified Medical Assistant (CMA or MA)
While more of a lateral move, some CNAs may decide they want to move into a Certified Medical Assisting position if they find they want to take on more administrative duties or have more job opportunities available to them in physicians’ offices. CMAs typically report directly to doctors and assist them with booking appointments, answering patient questions, taking patient medical histories, taking vitals, performing diagnostic tests and interpreting the results, and administering medications.
Training programs usually take about a year to complete and culminate in the CMA exam. After passing the exam, CMAs can become clinical medical assistants, phlebotomy technicians, medical office manager, and front office managers.
CNAs bring their clinical experience and communications skills to a CMA job, and some schools offer CNA to CMA bridge programs, which shortens the length of the program to as little as 12 weeks. On average, CMAs earn $34,800 annually, according to the BLS (May 2019). It’s one of the fastest-growing jobs in healthcare with an expected job growth rate at 23% from 2018 to 2028.
4. Geriatric Care Manager
Geriatric Care Managers are typically nurses or social workers with experience working with patients and families by creating and implementing care plans for older adults. They often work in hospitals, long-term care facilities, or private consultancies. They assess each unique situation and use their knowledge of local resources to provide guidance, support, and often management of the care plan. They can be particularly helpful for families who live far apart or who are overwhelmed by the circumstances of caring for an older adult.
A Geriatric Care Manager can work with a family short-term by assessing the patient’s condition and available resources and providing a care plan for the family to carry out. Or, they can be involved with a family long-term, and manage all aspects of the care plan from scheduling doctors appointments to visiting the older adult weekly and assessing and making updates to the care plan.
Typically, Geriatric Care Manager jobs will require a BSN or Master of Social Work (MSW) degree. Qualified Geriatric Care Managers with experience can earn a certification from the National Academy of Certified Care Managers, the Commission for Case Manager Certification, or the National Association of Social Workers.
CNAs who obtain these additional education requirements bring their experience working directly with patients and their deep understanding of patient care to set themselves apart when looking for Geriatric Care Manager jobs. In the US, the average annual salary is $50,580 for Geriatric Care Managers, according to payscale.com.
5. Assisted Living Administrator
Assisted Living Administrators work to keep assisted living facilities running smoothly. They oversee the operations of the facility, which may vary depending on the size and mission of the facility. Assisted Living Administrators usually have a group of directors who report to them and take charge of different areas like nursing and activities.
You would be responsible for the facility’s budget, hiring and staffing, marketing, overseeing the logistics of the foodservice program, maintaining equipment and supplies, and cleaning and maintenance of the building. Assisted Living Administrators will often do walkthroughs to engage with residents, take prospective residents and their families on tours, and serve as a liaison between residents, staff, families, and the community.
To qualify for this position, you will need at least a bachelor’s degree, typically in healthcare or business administration. You may need an MBA (Masters of Business Administration) or an MHA (Masters of Healthcare Administration), as well. Additionally, Assisted Living Administrators need to be licensed by the Term Care Administrator Boards (licensure requirements vary by state). Previous experience working in assisted living facilities, including as a CNA, is generally required.
According to payscale.com, Assisted Living Managers in the US earn $58,345 annually, on average.
Although many CNAs elect to continue being a CNA for the duration of their careers, for those that are looking to move on or move up, there are many career paths where CNA experience is valuable. For CNAs looking to grow, many will need to fulfill additional educational requirements, and they may need more flexibility in their job as they work through their courses.
Clipboard Health can help by allowing CNAs to pick up shifts in their area that work with their schedule. Sign up with Clipboard Health today to get started.