From CNA to RN-A personal story

Debra Riley


This article is a submission for our scholarship award and details this persons journey to becoming a CNA and her hopes of becoming a RN one day.

In The Beginning

“Every summer, starting from the age of 8, I was sent to Port Au Prince, Haiti. I use the word sent because it was against my will (if I had any at that age). My things were packed, my ticket was bought and my brother and I were “sent”. I remember the very first time like it was yesterday. I thought my pleading and cries over the weeks leading up to the departure date would change my mother’s mind. Au contraire.

I had heard so much about the country my parents came from and I knew that I did not want to spend my summer “in the heat, with no hot water and no cable television”. But I had no choice; I was off to spend a summer and what would soon be many summers at my grandmothers’.

I remember the language barrier. The children (even sometimes the elders) would make fun of me because my Creole wasn’t the best but eventually I made friends. It was a hot, humid evening on the countryside where I was sitting on my grandmothers ‘stoop playing with the family dog since the boys would not let me play soccer with them. I was never allowed and I despised them for that at times.

To them, I was a little girl that had no use outside of the kitchen, aside from cleaning or other “feminine” duties that women should tend to. I saw Fritz (one of the strongest boys on the countryside) speed walking while carrying his wailing brother on his back, home. I stopped him and asked what happened as the cries of pain from the little boy pierced my ears. He told me a piece of “wood” was stuck in his brother’s foot (in Creole of course).

I looked at the bottom of the little boy’s foot and instantly realized it was a splinter. I knew both he and his brother would get in trouble once he got home (His mother was the loudest one in the neighborhood and always publicly scolded them for playing soccer without shoes on). I told him to wait right there and I went inside to grab some tweezers.

As I searched all over, I could hear the cries through the windows. That moment was definitely the most excitement I had that summer. Just then I found the tweezers! I ran back out and with a steady hand, I held the little boy’s foot and began to pull from different angles but finally hauled it out. I showed the tiny piece of wood to him and immediately, the little boy stopped crying, jumped off of his brother back (without a care in the world for the open wound) and gave me a tight hug.

I still recall the feelings I had. My insides were warm; it was a mixture between happiness and accomplishment. I was happy that I could give him peace. I was joyful that the tears that once ran down his cheeks had stopped and were dried up.


From that day on the children in that neighborhood looked to me for little cuts and scrapes when they were hurt and didn’t want their parents to find out. They called me “tidoktè” (which translates to little doctor). And from that summer on, I looked forward to going rather than being “sent” to Haiti for my summer breaks. These experiences in my life and many more are why I have chosen to take the path of becoming a Registered Nurse.

Graduating high school I had a battle within because although I wanted to be a Registered Nurse (RN), my notion of a Nursing applicant was someone who is either a child of a RN, NP, Physician, or at the bare minimum, the child of a college graduate and most likely someone that comes from an upper class family. I am neither. After long talks with school counselors/mentors and the support of family and friends throughout college, I had disposed of those misconceptions.

I thought long and hard toward the end of the summer, did some more research and came up with a plan that if done right could open more than one door in the medical field that leads to a great future.

My love for knowledge on the body and science and the complexities involved with it is my number one reason. To obtain a better understanding of the body and the medical profession, I took a Certified Nursing Assistant course in the evening while I attended University in Queens, NY.

cna to rn

My mother is a Personal Care Assistant in Cambridge, MA (same role but different name). She had always encouraged me to go for it to ensure that the medical field was indeed where I wanted to be. When I finally received my license to work as a CNA, I got a job.

While working as a CNA, I was able to build that one on one relationship with patients. I took their vital signs, tended to their hygienic needs, administered medication, changed linens and did simple things that meant the most to a vulnerable person such as listening and showing that I am here to help.


I also paid very close attention to the RN’s and Physicians. I was able to witness Doctors treating patients ranging from the common cold to serious traumas. I was also able to see the RN’s doing rounds and checking in on patients. I noticed the difference in work. The doctors were in and out (most times, very quickly). The RN’s seemed to provide a higher quality of care. This notion added on to why I want to become a RN.

Science courses (beginning in high school all the way up until college) have always been the most intriguing for me. To obtain a better understanding of science, I joined the Science for Girls club at Pine Manor College.

We would meet about 20 girls starting from grades 1-5 from low income families around the Brookline area. We were broken down into groups; each of us having 4 girls would create projects and teach them the basics of science.

I developed a new level of love for science. Courses such as Microbiology and Anatomy and Physiology fascinated me the most. For me the science field/medical profession presents the opportunity to continuously learn throughout my career. My desire to become a nurse practitioner now exists with a twofold purpose: to teach and heal the sick.

I would be an asset to the medical field because I have many qualities and skills that are required to be a successful RN. My strongest quality is my very diverse background. I have lived all over Mass from Boston to Brockton to Leominster and Shirley.

I have made friends with many different people. My experiences have taught me how to communicate with different people from a cultural and religious aspect.

As a CNA, I realized that you cannot relate to everyone in the same way, including patients. Some are definitely easier to work with than others.

Hurdles and Hopes

Adjusting to different personalities has never posed a problem for me because I have always strived to first understand, and then to be understood. I have come from working with a team as a Pharmacy Technician at CVS to working one on one in the hospital with patients. Working as a RN will afford me the opportunity to harness my knowledge and skills to obtain substantive results.

I am confident that my education has provided me with the framework to succeed in nursing school. My desire to contribute to society can best be satisfied by embarking on a career in medicine. I look forward to working side by side with doctors to provide a patient with the best multi-faceted approach to improving their health.”

I hope you agree that was an interesting read and pretty well written! This section covers some more general interest nursing articles – some to brighten your day and some to help you learn.

Have a look at my list of the best nursing magazines and journals – a broad selection to cover most specialties. Then for fun read Nurse Symbol – what is a nurse symbol and what do they mean. Interested in the future of blockchain in healthcare? – that is an interesting look into the future! Hope you have a good look around.