CNA to RN: How to Switch to Nursing School in 5 Steps

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How can you go from CNA to RN? Making a career transition from being a certified nursing assistant to a registered nurse requires a nursing degree. Sometimes, CNAs can enroll in an accelerated program. You’ll need to meet the program requirements and you may need to take some prerequisite courses.

nurses walking together in hallway

If you’re already a certified nursing assistant (CNA), you may be thinking about taking the next step in your career by becoming a registered nurse (RN). Making the switch from CNA to RN would be a wise decision because RNs have strong job prospects and can choose from a wide range of nursing specialties. Plus, as someone who already has healthcare experience, making the switch from CNA to nurse might seem like a natural fit for you.

There is no single path into nursing, but for individuals with prior non-nursing college education, it may be possible to earn a nursing degree in far less time than through a traditional four-year program. In fact, at Averett University, students in our Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program can graduate with a nursing degree in as few as 16 months.

What is a CNA?

Before exploring how to transition from CNA to RN, it’s worth taking a closer look at the two professions and assessing their similarities and differences. A certified nursing assistant may hold job titles such as “nursing assistant” or “nursing aide” and work as part of a healthcare team in which they are supervised and directed by RNs and licensed practical nurses (LPNs).

Nursing assistants provide direct patient care by measuring and recording vital signs, such as blood pressure and temperature. They also observe and record patients’ symptoms and other health issues, before passing the information along to an RN or LPN. Moreover, depending on state regulations, CNAs may sometimes dispense medications.

nurse putting hand on elderly patient's shoulder

On the whole, though, CNAs’ primary job responsibilities involve assisting patients with the following activities of daily living (ADLs):

  • Eating
  • Bathing, grooming and dressing
  • Toileting
  • Turning, repositioning and transferring between wheelchairs and beds, and assisting with mobility, such as walking

CNAs often find work in hospitals, home health agencies, nursing care facilities and retirement communities.

What is an RN?

A registered nurse is a licensed healthcare provider who delivers direct patient care and patient education as well as guidance and emotional support to patients and their families.

Like CNAs, RNs work as part of a healthcare team. They are responsible for coordinating care among different providers, implementing treatment plans and advocating for their patients. An RN can provide many types of patient care, including the following:

  • Patient assessments and exams
  • Medication and treatment administration
  • Establishment of patient care plans
  • Operation of medical equipment
  • Performance and interpretation of diagnostic tests
  • Patient and family caregiver education, including post-discharge instructions
  • Coordination of direct patient care activities
  • Evaluates direct patient care activities including the patient’s response

What is the Difference Between a CNA and an RN?

Although there are some similarities between CNAs and RNs, there are also a number of differences. As a CNA, you are unable to provide a wide range of patient care, whereas if you become an RN, your scope of care would expand considerably.

nurse sitting outside with elderly patient

Indeed, as an RN, you would have greater autonomy and a far more varied range of job responsibilities. Here’s a closer look at some of the main differences:

  • Education: RNs must earn a nursing degree, whereas CNAs typically complete a shorter training program, depending on the state and employer.
  • Licensure: RNs must hold a nursing license, whereas CNAs must usually earn a certification.
  • Work environment: CNAs typically work in hospitals and long-term care facilities, whereas RNs often work in hospitals and a wide variety of other care settings, including schools, urgent care centers, residential addiction treatment facilities and many others.
  • Specialization: CNAs have limited potential to choose a specialization, whereas RNs have myriad of opportunities to specialize by patient population, care setting or medical condition.
  • Advancement: RNs can progress their careers, such as by becoming nurse managers, healthcare administrators or advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). In contrast, CNAs have limited opportunities for progression.
nurse with blue scrubs standing and holding patient charts

Curious to learn more about nursing specialties? Check out these top 7 nursing specialties!

How to Transition from CNA to RN: 5 Steps

As you can see, there are several advantages to making the transition from CNA to RN. Once you become a licensed nurse, you can enjoy greater career flexibility in terms of work environments, more opportunities to follow your passion for a particular area of healthcare and the possibility of career advancement. With these benefits in mind, let’s take a look at exactly how to go from CNA to RN.

1. Research Your Options and Assess Your Starting Point

Before you can make the switch from CNA to nurse, you’ll need to earn your nursing degree. Bear in mind that it may not be necessary to apply for a four-year BSN program. Instead, you may qualify for a 16-month ABSN program, such as Averett University’s ABSN, which would enable you to sit for the NCLEX and enter the workforce much sooner.

Take some time to research ABSN program options, and don’t rule out the possibility of relocating for nursing school if it means finding the right program for you. You’ll also need to determine the starting point for your training by comparing your current qualifications to the program requirements.

Averett ABSN student studying at table

At Averett, we’re pleased to accept nursing students who have either a non-nursing bachelor’s degree or a minimum of 60 non-nursing college credits from an accredited school with a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.8. No prior healthcare experience is required, but your experience as a CNA certainly can’t hurt. In fact, it can provide useful material for your application essay.

2. Contact an Admissions Advisor

The next step is to contact an admissions advisor. At Averett, our applicants and prospective applicants are assigned their own dedicated advisor. Your advisor will answer your questions about the program, review your current qualifications and develop a plan to help you meet the ABSN requirements.

3. Complete the Prerequisites for a BSN Degree

You may need to complete some prerequisites before you can enroll in nursing school. Prerequisite courses teach foundational knowledge essential to successfully transitioning from CNA to RN. ABSN programs typically have both science and non-science prerequisites.

To enroll in the ABSN program at Averett, you must complete the prerequisites with a grade of C or higher at an accredited institution. You may opt to complete some prerequisites online at Averett. Of course, it’s entirely possible that some of your prior non-nursing college credits will be transferable and you might not need to complete each prerequisite.

Averett nursing student working with sim manikin

Before committing to a career transition, it’s helpful to learn more about what being a nurse entails. Explore the pros and cons of nursing here.

4. The TEAS Exam

The Test of Essential Academic Skills (or TEAS exam) is a standardized multiple-choice test often used by nursing and allied health programs across the U.S. to evaluate your readiness to enter the nursing program.

The TEAS exam evaluates your knowledge and skills across the following areas: English and language usage, reading, mathematics and science. If you plan on applying to Averett, you’ll need to earn a score of 65% or higher within one year of your application date.

5. Complete Your ABSN Application

Once you’ve met all of the program requirements, the final step is to complete your ABSN application. Again, you’ll be able to rely on the guidance of your admissions advisor as you work on your application. Take your time with it, ensuring that all information is accurate and that it offers a strong representation of your abilities and potential as a future nurse.

The Benefits of Switching from CNA to RN

Averett ABSN student standing outside with backpack

Now that you know how to go from CNA to RN, you may want to take a quick look at some of the potential benefits of making this career transition:

  • Greater autonomy as an RN
  • More opportunities to favorably impact patient outcomes
  • Ability to choose a nursing specialty
  • Capacity to work in a range of care settings
  • Potential to pursue career advancement
  • Potential to command a higher salary as an RN (2021 median pay of $77,600 per year according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics versus 2021 median pay of $30,290 per year for CNAs)

Transition from CNA to Nurse at Averett

With three start dates per year and online nursing coursework paired with in-person learning, the ABSN program at Averett offers both flexibility and convenience to CNAs who aspire to become RNs.

Contact us today to be matched with a dedicated admissions advisor, who will walk you through the process of switching from CNA to RN, step by step.