Certified Nursing Assistant

How to Thrive in Healthcare: 5 Tips from Active CNA's

Brandon Martinez
September 13, 2022
Screenshot from a video call with Dreambound alumni and team members

Have you ever wanted to level up in your career? Do you find it challenging or daunting to start? Or, do you see too many obstacles in the way or an unclear path to start a program (or finish)?

Students from Dreambound enter our vocational programs with a wide range of experience in healthcare, and by the end, all of them have the capacity to pass their state exams and find a new job. Many of these alumni have returned to our programs to mentor students; that way, every student can partner with a mentor. In this blog post, we'll give you an exclusive sneak peek into some of the tips and mentorship that alumni CNA have provided students, as well as key lessons they have gained from working with Dreambound.

Tip #1: Prioritize Ethics

CNA's have demanding jobs: they serve patients, they communicate with nurses, and they have to handle life-and-death situations. In a fast-paced place like a hospital or a nursing home, it can be hard to know how a patient needs your care. Our mentors recommend that you keep some ethical principles in mind:

  • Put the patient first in your role
  • Help, not harm
  • Treat everyone with respect
  • Empower each patient to make choices

These rules apply across healthcare roles and help with assessing situations. By remembering to put your patient first, for example, you will find it easier to handle complex procedures or address emergencies. Many procedures remind CNA's to consider privacy and patients' agency, and if you keep principles like these in mind, it will greatly simplify your job. That, and you will stand out for always serving your patients with care and all the respect they deserve.

Tip #2: Clarify Your Values

Once you have prioritized the ethics of healthcare, you have a lot of freedom to shape your experience on the job. Dreambound's mentors have succeeded because they connected with values (personal estimates of what matters in life) and used them, both in their application process and on the job, to define a good experience for them.

Here are questions they used to evaluate jobs on the basis of their values:

  • Who/what matters to me?
  • What should others know about me? What should they know is important in my life?
  • What's a time when I felt happy/proud/fulfilled? What was I doing and why?
  • What are 3 qualities I must have in my work environment? Which matters most?
  • What are 3 qualities that I cannot have in my work environment? Which matters most?

Your values are personal, and they are yours; they are not right or wrong. For example, you can value money and still be an ethical person. Money can help people support their families, serve causes and others, and develop independence, so if you feel something is important to you, give that priority time in your life. A value can come from greed, envy, and more, of course, but you need to know what you value to find the best motivation for it.

Many CNA's do not stay with their employers for very long. A value exercise can give you the criteria to choose the best employer for you.

Tip #3: Seek out a Mentor

Whether it is on the job or in your life, mentors guide us through important decisions. At Dreambound, we ensure every student can access an alumni mentor. Mentors have passed through all the steps to working as a CNA and now find purpose and fulfillment in their role. They offer bottomless wisdom on the journey they underwent to find a rewarding career path, and the students they mentor often find better jobs than what they had initially dreamed they could do.

Unfortunately, many CNA's take shortcuts with care or develop their own approaches to procedures. These choices can end up harming patients. That is why it is important to find a mentor who aligns with CNA ethics and your values. Not only can they help you prepare for your future, but they can keep you from making mistakes now that will hinder your goals and hurt your patients. A good mentor will give you feedback that helps you address accidents and missteps in a way that will help you learn and improve (at your job, in life, and more).

Tip #4: Set SMART Goals

With ethics, values, and mentorship, you will probably have a good sense of where you want to go in your career. However, you may still have trouble knowing where to start or how to make real progress on your dreams and your career.

At Dreambound, we have taught our mentors to develop and practice SMART goals. SMART stands for

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Actionable
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound

SMART goals allow you to break a large goal into chunks or practice (repeatedly) something that helps you stay tied to your goals.

For example, say I wanted to live my value of being present for my friends. A SMART goal I could form is to call or text 3 friends every week. It is "SMART" because I can follow my progress week after week, I consider it manageable, and I have a specific action to take by a deadline. The process will help you clarify your goals until you know exactly how much time, effort, and space you need to accomplish them.

One last note: beware of two pitfalls with SMART goals. One is to set a goal without knowing your values or ethics. You have the power to accomplish your goals, but you will only gain purpose from ones that mean something to you. The other is to rush through the process and skip a step. Ask yourself if your goal is SMART: you may have forgotten to set a deadline for yourself, or you may have created an unrealistic or vague goal. Taking time now for your goals will save you the frustration and disappointment of falling short and not knowing how you can improve.

Tip #5: Join a Community

CNA's are community workers. They work with a team, they serve many patients at once, and they need others to take on a caseload. Dreambound's program helps prospective and active CNA's from all over the country meet each other, share stories, and help each other through the highs and lows of their career journeys. Mentors report this networking as the best part of their program experience.

Just like mentors, community can come from anywhere. You can reach out to your coworkers and chat with them during breaks. Perhaps you can give each other feedback that helps you on the job. Maybe you have healthcare workers in your family: spending time with them could be enough to remind you you are not alone. The importance of community is that it can help you stick to the rules, follow your values, and practice your goals.

If you ever feel like you have found the wrong community for you, you can always turn to Dreambound for help. We trust our mentors, employer partners, and training programs to help students and CNA's feel safe and respected; they have helped many students before you. And it is critical that you find a new community to replace whatever you have, or you risk going back to familiar people. Surround yourself with people who help you grow and serve others, and you will have limitless potential in healthcare and more.


Our mentors have learned valuable lessons through Dreambound and their CNA roles. We encourage you to use these tips and share them with a friend. If you want to learn more about Dreambound, you can visit our website or apply for our partner programs.

View the full video of our alumni panel discussion here or below. Enjoy!

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Written by
Brandon Martinez
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