I have been talking with some more folks in my area and have been told to consider working as a CNA as opposed to an EMT-B. In North Carolina, ED Techs are CNA’s. For this reason, it seems you would have much more clinical experience and involvement with doctors as a CNA.

Any thoughts? Any CNA’s turned pre-med out there?


I suppose either way it would be decent clinical experience. In my area we have two hospitals, one employs EMTs and nursing students as ED Techs (where I work) and the other in a nearby city employs CNAs in a similar role (they call them Patient Care Techs but just semantics). I know that the PCTs at the nearby city do get plenty of patient care, they help patients in various aspects (read: cleaning up, moving, some bandaging, transporting), but they are not allowed to do a LOT of the stuff that I do on a daily basis, such as starting IVs, drawing blood, foley catheters, splinting.

At the end of the day though, clinical experience is really just what you take from it. Getting your hands dirty (metaphorically and sometimes literally) helping patients is invaluable, not to mention the face-time with all of the other hospital staff. If, in order to work in your local ER, you need your CNA license I’d say get it. I would however caution against working as a true nurse aide (same as I would caution against working as a true EMT-B), especially somewhere like a nursing home, as you will not be likely to get anywhere near doctors, and certainly not have the opportunity to sit down and talk to them (let alone get to know them well enough to vouch for you in a LOR). I have a friend who got his CNA because it took slightly less time for him, and while he did get into medical school, he’s always said he wished he had gone the EMT route as it would have prepared him better for a lot of the stuff that he sees.

Hey friend. I don’t post here often…a terrible fault on my part, but I lurk enough to have read this post. This is one of those rare occasions where I feel like I have more to add to the conversation than to learn from it, so I would like to add my proverbial 2 cents.

I work full time in an ED as a paramedic currently, and have for nearly 3 years while going back to school to get a BS in biomedical sciences at the local state university. Currently taking my last med-school pre-req (Ochem II… and it’s killing me) as well as Human Genetics and Medical Assessment (my ‘easy A’ for the semester). I am also a preceptor for the EMTs and paramedics that are undergoing clinical rotations at my ED, as well as any new hires (be they paramedic, EMT, or CNA).

Where I live the CNA certification does not require any schooling, as the test can be challenged by anyone and easily passed. The EMT-B certification, on the other hand, requires at the very least completion of an EMT course, and passing both the national (NREMT) and state tests before getting an actual Department of Health certification. (this is issued in the same format that my paramedic license and any nursing license are issued in… as opposed to the CNA).

I live in Florida (Thanks OPM for the Orlando Conference, it was a great experience), so I don’t know the license/certificate rules in NC, but I can’t imagine they are that much different.

All this being said: The EMT-B schooling itself will give you patient contact and access to EMS personnel who (most likely) have a wealth of knowledge that can help you learn about the basics of providing health care. CNA training probably will not.

Like all schooling, however, you only get out what you put into it. I have EMT students who seem lackadaisical and uninterested, and they will sit there using a machine to get vital signs. (Surprisingly many of these are pre-med or pre-PA students taking the classes because they want to be more competitive). Occasionally I get a student who asks questions and jumps in without me asking… and I am honestly overjoyed. The key is not to wait to be asked to do something… DO IT, and ask questions while you are doing it.

Yet, EMT-B is not that far from CNA in the roles assigned to it… pretty basic stuff. Get vitals, move the patient, clean a room. Nobody in the ED is going to ask you to fully assess a patient at this level (but you can use that training from EMT school to assess on your own and compare it to the doctors).

Where I work you will not be starting IV’s, running labs, or splinting patients. That is for the paramedics or the nurses. You may be asked to draw blood, but that is usually as a benefit to you to learn if you show an interest, but given that most ED blood draws are consecutive with IV access, few will ask you to pull out a butterfly.

My ED is also not currently hiring either CNAs or EMT-Bs, despite the shortage of ED techs, preferring to move to hiring paramedics only (but this changes each year) But an EMT cert is more likely to land you a job in transport or patient access (financial services) than a CNA.

End of story: As someone with a deal of experience in this area, I would advise you to take an actual EMT-B certification, and make yourself as useful and knowledgeable as possible in every ED rotation you can get as opposed to CNA. But don’t forget that it could be time wasted, EMT jobs are scarce and getting scarcer. The best advice to get actual clinical experience in an ED would be one of these 3: 1) Become a paramedic 2) become a RN or 3) Get EMT-B and have some connections.

Sorry for the long post, especially since I shamefully do not post enough in order to repay the inspirational group of people who run and participate in OPM, but I think I finally have a thread here that I can honestly contribute to in detail.