My Journey from CNA to RN

Debra Riley


This article is part of a series of scholarship award submissions received from students training in different nursing fileds.

“I am part of a very small group of people who are truly thankful for their disease. Although I do not enjoy the pain and discomfort that comes with Crohn’s and Arthritis, my diseases have made me who I am today, and have also reshaped who I want to be in the future.

When I was hospitalized at the age of 13, a month before I started high school, there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to be an engineer. I love machines and how they work, and designing complex machines for manufacturing intrigued me.

However, within my first year of being chronically ill, I realized something: humans are the most complex machines, and my dreams changed quickly from engineering to medicine – and registered nursing in particular.


I realized that I wanted to help people in my situation, especially children and teenagers, deal with immune issues while they are developing. I chose nursing because I want to care directly for the patient as a whole person rather than just a disease. While Crohn’s and Arthritis may cause me nausea and pain, I cannot help but think that it is worth it, because one day I will be able to understand what my patient is going through.

I have been given the gift of empathy. My diseases may have slowed me down at points in my life, but they also ignited my passion to educate others on what immune diseases mean and how we as patients can live a fulfilling life with them.

I know the impact that an amazing nurse can have. After six years I still remember the names and faces of the three nurses who took incredible care of me and inspired me to pursue nursing. Each nurse had their own moment that I will always remember as the hallmarks of who I want to be as a nurse.

One of the best, and funniest looking backwards, was from when I was on Prednisone, a drug that increases appetite. However, I was still on a chicken broth-only diet and had not eaten solid food in over three weeks. When my family left for dinner so they would not torture me with food, I was left alone in my room.

My nurse walked in and saw me sitting on the bed bawling over my laptop, on which I had pulled up the take-out menu of my favorite Chinese food restaurant. I am sure she had the same reaction as you: “Why on earth are you crying?” Likely, it was the combination of extreme hunger, constant pain, and fear of my newly-diagnosed chronic conditions.

My nurse pulled up a chair alongside my bed, held my hand, and talked me through what was going on; she used her compassion to understand my situation and help me through it. By the time she left, my world had changed.


She was the first person who helped me realize that positive things can come from terrible experiences, and that it is okay to be terrified of my future because I do not know how to handle my new painful and debilitating medical conditions. To this day that conversation motivates me to use my bad experiences to help others get through their own troubles.

However, leaving the hospital was not the end of my journey. Crohn’s Disease is chronic, meaning it can never be “cured,” I can only manage it. I started high school thirteen days after being discharged from the hospital. With my newfound love of medicine I was lucky enough to land a spot in Anatomy and Physiology. Sadly, due to my new diseases I missed six days of school in the first two weeks, and I had to be moved out of Anatomy and Physiology because I could not keep up with the course.

I love expanding my knowledge and understanding the world more, so being faced with missing school for a long period of time terrified me. Surprisingly, I was able to make the volleyball team due to the low interest in sports at my school. However the high doses of Prednisone I was on triggered the development of Arthritis and Fibromyalgia and I could not play.

Prednisone is a steroid that can cause “Cushing’s Syndrome” in which patients swell like a balloon and get “moon face.” Mine got so severe that I was ridiculed at school for it and I would avoid leaving the house because I was too embarrassed.


I continued to miss school and stayed isolated in my home and I became clinically depressed. As my absences increased and I fell further behind my peers, my parents tried to convince me to take a year off from school to heal and start high school the next year, a proposal I was resistant to. I did not cope well with chronic pain, and I felt as if my diseases had robbed me of my life. I remember telling myself that a life this confined and miserable was not a life worth living. I had hit rock bottom.


Then something changed. My mother brought me to a therapist and she showed me the blog of a girl in her twenties who was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease and Arthritis in high school. The blog followed her journey through life with the diseases, but instead of seeing paragraphs about her pain and nausea I saw pictures of her graduating from college, adopting a puppy, traveling through Europe, and getting engaged.

It was in that moment that I realized my diseases are not who I am, they are just a small part of me. I started to take a new perspective on life. I know I am stuck with the pain and sickness, but by living my life to the fullest I can distract myself from it and do everything I dreamed of before I became sick.

The road to overcoming my diseases was not quick, nor easy. It took well through my sophomore year to learn how to manage my pain through medications, physical therapy, and homeopathic solutions. I worked hard to convince my parents and teachers that I could handle staying in school.

Even though I did not get to attend school every day, I worked through the pain and fatigue at home to learn as much as possible with the support of my family. I discovered that nursing was my passion, and from my junior year on I actively pursued my nursing career by getting myself as prepared educationally as possible for nursing school, but also evaluating my life and experiences so I can use my past to help other people’s futures.

I graduated with High Honors after working endlessly to catch up to my peers.


Now that I am in a Bachelor of Science in Nursing program, I have my sights set on pediatric or neonatal nursing because I want to help children and teens learn how to cope with chronic diseases and never feel like their life is not worth living.

I still struggle with my diseases, but I know that my experiences are positive in the long-run because they are how I found nursing, and they are how I will empathize and understand my patients. I have a learning disability from the Fibromyalgia that makes memorization difficult, but I work past this by studying even harder and adapting my study methods to fit how I learn best.

At the end of my second year in school I have a 3.98 GPA. I struggle with fine motor skills from Arthritis, so I do hand exercises every day and practice nursing psycho-motor skills repeatedly in the lab; I logged more than 45 hours of lab practice time in two months. My Arthritis makes it difficult to walk for twelve hours during clinicals, so I adapt my caregiving to include sitting with the patient and organizing my day to accommodate rest periods.

I am dedicating my career to helping patients in my situation. Whatever pain I experience from my diseases is worth it, because one day I will be able to understand what my patient is going through. Furthermore, I want to make it clear that being a nurse by passing the NCLEX is not my goal, because nursing to me is about the patient. I will be the person who sits at the bedside and holds the patient’s hand as they cry over a take-out menu.

I will be the healthcare provider that looks at my patient as more than a disease. There is nothing I want more than to dedicate my life to learning how to understand my patient and their struggles and teach them that we as patients can live a fulfilling life with chronic conditions.

Since I started my journey I have become a Certified Nursing Assistant, and solidified my love for caring for patients. I have logged hundreds of hours volunteering in hospitals alongside nurses. This is my journey to becoming a Registered Nurse, and I am committed to following through no matter what obstacles life throws at me.”

Don’t forget to have a look at our nurse blog section – we cover a wide range of topics all related to nursing in some shape or form. Some entertaining subjects – Funny and Inspiring Nurse Quotes – some a little more thought provoking such as – The Philosophy of Nursing or even The Symbol of Nurses. I hope you find something to interest you!