Making the Most of Learning Time Outside the Classroom
Students preparing to embark on a CNA career have valuable resources available to help learn more about potential workplaces, build strong networks of peers and professionals, join professional organizations and know what to expect from a CNA career. Learn about gaining CNA experience while still in school, discover useful student resources, and get tips on building a resume, networking and navigating that first CNA job upon graduation.
Exploring Certified Nurse Assisting
Workplaces to Explore
CNAs provide care to patients and facility residents in different settings, and with each setting may come different responsibilities and expectations. Common CNA workplaces include:
Skilled Nursing Facilities
Skilled nursing facilities are regulated by Medicare and generally hire often, so it's common for CNAs to start out here. CNAs in skilled nursing facilities can expect to care for multiple patients at once and should be prepared to get through large volumes of work rather quickly.
Nursing homes are similar to skilled nursing facilities, except they aren't regulated by Medicare and are therefore not required to provide nursing services. However, nurses and CNAs often work in these settings to provide custodial care and assistance to residents.
Assisted Living Facilities
Residents of assisted living facilities often need limited help with certain activities. Unlike residents and patients in other CNA work settings, residents in assisted living facilities can do many activities on their own, making for a less intensive care-based environment with the opportunity to develop strong relationships with residents.
Hospital work is highly sought by CNAs for scheduling reasons, having the support of highly trained staff and the employee benefits that hospitals typically provide. These positions usually aren't easy to get, but a good way to get a foot in the door is by volunteering at a local hospital and expressing interest in working there as a CNA.
Home Health Aide Agencies
Home health CNA positions are also popular among professionals. Rather than provide care for many patients at a time, home health CNAs provide one-on-one care to patients, usually in that patient's home.
Career Exploration Resources
Students can gain hands-on experience and knowledge while still in school with internships and job shadowing. The chart below details some of these work experience options commonly available to CNA students, with more information on how to obtain each type of position.
WHAT IT ENTAILS
Students follow professional CNAs through a typical work shift, mostly observing but occasionally helping with basic tasks. Students may be able to shadow multiple professionals to get a fuller view of CNA job duties.
- See exactly what CNA professionals do on a daily basis
- Learn about different, related care positions and how they interact with CNA care
- Observing different professionals provides insight into various opportunities, techniques and professional interests
HOW TO GET STARTED
- Talk to a school career counselor, CNA instructor or program director to learn about facilities that welcome job shadowing
- Search for local health care facilities
- Reach out to facilities directly, explaining you are a student looking for a job shadow assignment
Mosaic Life Care in Missouri offers students the opportunity to earn observation hours through their job shadowing program.
Florida Hospital offers job shadowing and observation along with internship, career and education opportunities
WHAT IT ENTAILS
Students learn how to perform the job duties and carry out the responsibilities of a professional CNA. A combination of observational and hands-on learning gives students a feel for the actual work CNAs do in clinics, hospitals and other health facilities.
- Gain real-world professional experience while still in school
- Gain practical skills that directly apply to future careers and look good on resumes
- May provide college credit or monetary compensation
- Build a professional network
HOW TO GET STARTED
- Contact local hospitals and clinics and ask about internship opportunities for students
- Talk to a school career counselor or ask an instructor or program director about local internships
MedStar St. Mary's Hospital in Maryland offers paid and unpaid internships to high school and college students interested in becoming CNAs.
Many hospital systems around the nation, including United Hospitals in Wisconsin offer Student Nurse Intern Opportunities for those interested in working and training as a nurse.
WHAT IT ENTAILS
Volunteers provide a great deal of help in health care facilities, performing a range of tasks from clerical work to basic patient care. While volunteers aren't able to perform full CNA duties, students can test the waters and make observations in various settings to see if CNA work will suit them.
- Low-pressure opportunity to get familiar with the field and job duties
- Give to the community while gaining resume-building skills
- Generally requires little prior knowledge or experience
- Meet and connect with medical professionals, students and other volunteers
HOW TO GET STARTED
- Call or visit local health care facilities and inquire about volunteer opportunities
- Get all required vaccinations
- Complete orientation and training
Students can volunteer in a number of different settings at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center to experience many different care aide areas.
Students can help UC San Diego health care workers provide the best care they can by volunteering in a variety of ways.
WHAT IT ENTAILS
Through mentorships, prospective CNAs work with nurses earning advanced degrees or full time nursing professionals to gain insight into the health care field and get advice on CNA education.
- Get personal advice from a CNA who has been in similar circumstances
- Have a solid support system to keep motivated and confident
- Establish personal relationships and become an active part of a nursing community
HOW TO GET STARTED
- Search online for CNA mentorship programs in your area
- Reach out and ask about how to get involved
- Talk to an instructor or education program director to connect you with mentorship opportunities
- See if any clubs, organizations or professional and student associations offer mentorship programs
The Canadian Nurses Association offers online mentoring, so CNA students can get guidance without being restricted by location.
Penn State connects nursing students with mentoring alumni who work in related fields.
Questions to Ask
At the Interview
CNA students can ease some of the stress of interviewing for work experience opportunities by making sure they are well-prepared for their interviews. The lists below offer examples of the questions CNA students should be prepared for.
Why are you interested in becoming a CNA?
Could you describe your education/training up to this point?
How do you feel about helping provide personal care, particularly to patients of the opposite sex?
Some patients may refuse your help or become aggressive. How would you react to a situation like this?
Do you have any questions for me?
Students looking for CNA internships, mentorships, job shadows or volunteer opportunities should always come into the interview prepared with questions for the interviewee. A solid list of questions can be one of the best student resources for those seeking work experience while in school. Some suggestions are listed below:
Questions to ask the Interviewee:
- What are the CNA-to-patient and nurse-to-patient ratios?
- As a volunteer/intern/mentee, how would my roles and responsibilities as a caregiver progress?
- Who would I get to work with? Would I work with multiple nurses or just one?
- How often are employment opportunities made available to interns/volunteers?
On the Job
While completing an internship, job shadow, mentorship or volunteer program, CNA students should not only ask questions of those guiding them, but they should also perform self-checks to see if they are getting the information and experience they want from their work opportunity. Here are some questions CNA students will want to get answered during their time at an internship, job shadow or mentorship:
What are your favorite and least favorite aspects of being a CNA?
What are the dynamics between CNAs, nurses, doctors and other staff members like?
What are some of the biggest challenges you've had to overcome as a CNA?
How does what I've learned here compare with what I've learned in school?
What other training opportunities are available for future CNAs?
CNA Student Networking Resources
- Join student groups and local associationsStarting with small organizations for medical students and professionals is an excellent way to get to know members of the local medical community. Not only can this reveal job opportunities, but it's often easy to find career-specific groups at the local level. This means CNA students can join associations specifically for CNAs as well as other groups in related career fields, thus broadening their networks.
- Volunteer or intern in a setting that interests youVolunteer and internship opportunities are great for gaining professional experience and academic credit, but CNAs can take these experiences further in a few ways. Students should aim to volunteer or intern in places they can actually see themselves working. If the facility is hiring near the end of the internship or volunteer period, students may end up with the ideal job right away. Interns and volunteers should also go beyond performing tasks to build their networks.
- Attend CNA and nursing conferencesGoing to conferences hosted by professional associations, academic institutions or health care facilities not only gives CNA students the opportunity to keep up with current issues in the care aide field but also allows them to meet professionals and students. Often, the same people will attend different conferences, which can result in more familiarity and opportunities to strike up conversation.
- Use social mediaSocial media site like LinkedIn are popular networking tools for professionals in many fields, but CNAs can also use nursing-specific social networking sites to gain professional questions and learn more about the field. Websites like Nurses Lounge and NursingNetwork can help CNAs connect with one another and other medical professionals, find jobs and showcase their experience.
Clubs & Organizations for CNA Students
CNA-affiliated clubs and organizations are excellent student resources that allow CNAs and students to connect with peers and professionals, learn about education and career opportunities and engage in an ongoing dialogue about the profession.
CNA students can begin their search within their institutions and local communities, or they can look into national nursing organizations and associations like these:
The ANA offers special benefits and tools for student members, including discounted membership, access to journals and publications and information about conferences and events.
This organization strives for the continued improvement of CNA performance by providing support and advocacy resources, like peer coaching, assistance transitioning to a new state and continuing education opportunities.
Members of this organization have the opportunity to participate in projects, education and training programs, and professional and legislative discussions.
This association is comprised of and run by nursing students in degree programs of all levels with the goal of providing mentorship opportunities to nursing students. The organization also hosts many conferences and conventions for students.
CNA Student Certification Prep: Study Resources
In order to practice as a CNA, students must pass a state certification exam. Get complete information on CNA certification here. There are many study resources for CNA students that can help them tackle the written and practical portions of the exam. Practicing with mock personal health scenarios and understanding empathy-gauging multiple choice questions can take some pressure away from CNA exam stress.
This comprehensive website provides tons of information, guides and tools in various formats to help students prepare for their CNA exams and beyond.
This student resource provides study guides, practice exams and test-taking tips for CNAs.
The official must-have study book for prospective CNAs breaks down all portions of the test, contains practice exams and study guides and has tips from industry professionals.
After Earning a CNA Degree: What's Next?
Completing a CNA program can be both exciting and intimidating. On one hand, it means a huge accomplishment has been made; on the other, graduates have to figure out what comes next. These tips can help CNA graduates land a job, connect with other professionals and advance their careers.
Building a Resume & Interviewing
- Showcase CNA experiences simplyDetailing relevant experience on a resume is important, but CNAs should keep their resumes short and simple. Recruiters will look for work experience but often rely more on the interview process to feel out good CNA candidates.
- Practice good bedside mannerWhile this is sound advice for any interview, being friendly, empathetic and easy to talk to is vital for CNAs, because it will be a major part of their day-to-day work. Interviewers want to see how a potential employee might act around patients and will assess the interviewee's communication skills, also known as bedside manner.
- Include relevant certificatesBringing a hard copy of your resume to the interview is generally a good idea, but CNAs should also bring proof of CPR certification, vaccinations and any continuing education credits they have earned that are pertinent to the job.
- Be prepared to answer situational care questionsGetting an idea for how a prospective CNA will treat patients and residents will include sometimes difficult situational care questions. When asked “What would you do if…” or something similar, remember that empathy and patient safety are top priorities. CNA candidates should aim to back up their answers by explaining how they handled a similar situation in real life.
Tips & Advice for Your First Job
- Take notes on the jobA CNA's first job can be overwhelming, especially at first. Policies, especially those specific to patient care information and how to best answers questions can take time to remember. Jotting these things down in a notebook not only gives new CNAs something to reference but also can help them remember information more quickly.
- Get to know your patientsUnderstanding patient or resident care needs and idiosyncrasies comes with time, but CNAs can prepare themselves and, as a result, relieve some of the stress of caring for multiple people at once by taking the time to read and review their patients' information. By familiarizing themselves with specifics, like who prefers showers over baths or who needs assistance with prosthetics, new CNAs can provide care with more confidence.
- Watch othersNew CNAs often try to complete their work “by the book,” which isn't a bad thing. However, by observing seasoned coworkers, new CNAs can learn tricks that increase efficiency. If any activity looks questionable, though, new CNAs should ask about it before doing it themselves.
- Stay fitThis tip might seem odd at first, but being a CNA can be an extremely physical job. Not only can the work be fast-paced, it also often requires the strength to lift and steady patients. By staying on top of their health, CNAs can navigate through their rounds more easily and, hopefully, still have some energy at the end of the day.
Joining a Professional Organization
- Start with local CNA groupsWhile national organizations for CNAs and nursing professionals can be excellent student resources, budding CNAs may want to start by joining smaller local associations. Student, alumni and local professional groups provide CNAs the chance to meet people in their own communities who have similar goals and interests, find job opportunities in their area and attend events and conferences without having to travel far.
- Branch out beyond CNA specificsNew CNAs might be tempted to only join organizations specific to CNAs and other health aides, but if associations for other medical professionals don't have credential and experience restrictions, CNAs should consider joining some of those, too. By doing so, CNAs add variety and depth to their professional networks and can learn about other related professions they might want to pursue in the future.
- Go to CNA eventsOrganizations and associations typically provide their members with resources that can be accessed online, but the best way to get to know other professionals and engage in discussions about the current CNA climate is by attending organization conferences, conventions and community activities.
- Consider presenting or running for a positionNew CNAs should not be discouraged from being active participants in their organizations. Putting together presentations to be given at association conventions or even running for office within the organization can increase a CNAs exposure, boost confidence and engage other members in discussions they might not otherwise have.
- If you're not satisfied, say soWhile many care facilities offer continuing education through in-services, these sessions may not be as full of information as a new CNA would hope. If CNAs feel they aren't getting helpful information from their facility's training, the should address this with a superior. If nothing can be done, CNAs might want to earn their continuing education units (CEUs) outside of the care facility.
- Be receptiveMedical findings and care techniques change and advance all the time. If your textbook or mentor said one thing, and your new training says something else works better, be open and willing to try new methods, even if the old way seems to have been working for you.
- Consider nursing advancementSince CNAs have to earn CEUs anyway, they might want to do so while getting more advanced information and training that can help them branch out into different medical areas, like nursing. After earning a nursing credential, CNAs can still continue their CNA work if they choose, but the additional education increases job opportunities if they outgrow their positions.
- Keep recordsNo matter how long a person has been a CNA, it's extremely important that he or she keep record of all CEUs earned. Many employers require these records before hire. New CNAs should keep a digital or physical file of all their CEUs as soon as they begin taking them.
Additional Resources for CNA Students
This online support group for CNAs provides professionals a forum for asking questions, getting and giving advice, connecting with one another and expressing concerns and frustrations.
This advocacy group and support community works to honor and promote the work done by CNAs and build a community of professionals. Find stories and interviews about and by CNAs.
This blog and information resource provides personal insights into the CNA profession, like CNA basics, job interview dos and don'ts, dealing with doubts and understanding credentials.
This online national library is an excellent resource for materials related to direct care work.