- Getting over the awkwardness of touching people. I went into nursing school for the first time and the only job I ever had was a job as a sales representative. My touching experience was limited to handshakes. When I had my first patient, hell, even my first female nursing student, it was really awkward for me to touch them. You'll be doing quite a bit of touching your patients and getting over this hump as a CNA in clinicals is way better than being an LPN/RN student experiencing this awkwardness for the first time. You really need to be thinking about what your instructors are saying and you really need to get as much learning from your clinical as possible.
- Develop an immunity to gross things. Fact: nursing is gross. You will see all bodily fluids. Guess whose job it is to clean it up? Usually the nursing assistants. When you go into your role as a nursing student for a patient, you definitely don't want your gag reflex acting up. When you are a student nurse, you are the client's nurse and nursing assistant. Whether you are a CNA student, a nursing student, or even working as a CNA, it pains me to say this, but you need to be used to cleaning up bowel movements and urinary incontinence. Remember, on clinical day, nearly everything you do will be observed by your proctor and you don't want this on your evaluation. Just take it in stride; hopefully one day you will be delegating the poopy cleanup task. You need to come into nursing school with the ability to to look objectively and professionally at someone who needs to be cleaned up; making faces, gagging, or acting inappropriate is incredibly embarrassing for a patient who, more often than not, is absolutely mortified that they need your assistance at all.
- Get some healthcare experience! Just being around it helps. Quite a bit. As a CNA, I was taught all the basic CNA stuff (bathing, ambulating, dressing, etc.) and some more technical things (IV removal, urinalysis specimen procedures, post void residual bladder scans etc.) and it made that material second nature when I learned it again in my first semester of nursing school. I work overnights as a CNA and I heard a nurse griping about the previous shift giving a patient Lasik right before bed giving him obvious nocturia (that's night time incontinence; see I did remember something from my first semester!). Well, next time I was in class, the instructor suggested we give our patient's diuretics earlier in the evening. It's like my job and my school complement each other... at times. Textbook rules seem to go right out the window when I get assigned my alcohol detox patients at work ;)
- Figure out if this is for you! Faint at the sight of blood? Smell of poop make you hurl like a prom queen in the back of a pickup? Nursing probably isn't for you. If you can't make it through CNA class because of intolerance to these things, there's even worse things in the nursing world. A few examples are irrigating decubitis ulcers that look they they were formed from a claymore landmine rather than from laying on the same spot, inserting a rectal tube to relieve gas from a patient with a distended abdomen, or my personal favorite, removing fecal impaction digitally (FYI: We ain't talking about a PDA!) No one particularly likes these procedures, but we enjoy providing relief to our patients. Nobody enters into a CNA class or job without some apprehension to doing this, but if you don't feel you can get past it in time, then this might not be for you... just give it a few times to see if it gets easier for you.
- Complete part of nursing school before you go! Most CNA classes are 6 weeks long... plenty of time to get accustomed to your new career choice. I've often said that the 6 week CNA class was like the first 2 weeks of nursing school. If you've got that in the bag, you can concentrate on things you don't know about: drugs, pathophysiology, procedures, etc.
Can you do nursing school without being a CNA? Sure you can! It will be more difficult though. I entered nursing school after ten years of having a sales job: bad move... I failed out about 3/4 of the way through the class. I went and got my CNA license, worked for a few months, and now I'm doing much better than the average student in my class; and I still manage to work full-time!
If you're fortunate enough to have a place to stay and few financial obligations you're even more fortunate and you may want to tackle nursing school without a CNA license; I absolutely wish I had done this long before I had got married and had children!