How to Become a Certified Nursing Aide
Working as a nurse’s assistant can be a rewarding career in itself or a launch pad to better paid and more involved patient care careers. Becoming a nurse’s aide does not require a degree, but you’ll have better job opportunities if you become a Certified Nursing Assistant, which calls for between 75-150 hours of training and a state-sanctioned competency test. If this is a path you’re interested in following, the steps outlined below can help you get started.
Prerequisites to Entering a Training Program
First, you need a high school diploma or a GED before you can register for a nursing assistant course. If you’re still in high school, try to take some extra science, chemistry, or biology classes. While these courses may not help you with your CNA training, if you plan to become an RN, these courses will be invaluable. Also, be prepared to submit to a background check (criminal) and drug tests as you study for the nurse’s assistant training and work.
Some high schools offer courses tailored for students who intend to become CNAs, so check out the availability of those courses at your school.
Handy Skills for a Nurse’s Assistant
Strong communication skills are preferable for the person who enters this position as well, since the nurse’s assistant is the link between the patient and the RN or LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse). Teamwork is essential for the benefit of your patients, so flying solo is not an option with this career.
If you decide to receive CNA training through a local healthcare facility, be sure to read the contract they provide with this training. Many facilities require that you commit to working for them for a certain length of time after you become certified. You can also receive training through organizations like the Red Cross and through college or online training programs.
No matter where you take your courses, most nurse assistant training programs last anywhere from two to six weeks, and some courses can run from six to nine months. There are no degree programs oriented only toward preparing you for work as a CNA, so if you’re set on getting a bachelor’s or master’s degree, you should consider diving straight into nursing or even going the long haul through medical school and becoming a doctor. Of the training courses that focus only on CNA work, most incorporate some on-site training at a health facility. Just make sure that your program is accredited by the National League for Nursing Accredited Commission (NLNAC) so your time and money are not wasted on courses that aren’t accredited.
Once you finish a training program, you’ll have to take a competency test with a multiple choice section and a practical section in which you must demonstrate three to five nurse’s aide skills on an actual patient or someone who is acting as one. Practice tests with sample multiple choice questions and performance tips for the practical section are available online.
At the end of your training program, you usually have three to four months to take your state exam to become certified. Some places will allow you to work without your certification, but if you want more pay and if you want to climb the nursing assistant career ladder, certification is a must.
Remember that not every state requires the same amount of time for training and testing. Before you begin your nursing assistant training, contact your State Nurse Aide Registry and/or State Licensing Board to learn about their requirements. You also might check the requirements for nursing assistants in any state where you’d like to work to make sure you meet those qualifications.
The skills you’ll develop or perfect in CNA training will become routines that you have to use every day, so getting them right and forming good habits early on is vital. Some of the traits that make up the core of a CNA’s responsibilities are:
- Cleansing and Sterilizing: You’ll administer medication and tests to patients as a CNA, and being able to cleanse a work area, or even just wash your, or the patient’s, hands correctly is important.
- Preservation of Privacy: Maintaining patient privacy and complying with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) are absolutely critical for anyone working with medical patients. You should know medical privacy laws and build habits that help you stay within them.
- Respect and Compassion: The clients you’ll work with as a CNA may be in some extremely difficult circumstances. Patients living in, or receiving treatment at, a nursing care facility can have substantial disabilities, impaired mobility, memory loss, or other difficulties that make it difficult for them to care for themselves in ways that the able take for granted. Being able to help these patients maintain their dignity will take you a long way as a CNA.
- Communication Skills: As a CNA you’ll be the liaison between patients and nurses, and being able to understand each patient’s needs and communicate them accurately to a nurse or doctor will be important skills. Both oral and written communication about medical issues, medication delivery, and patient histories will be daily parts of any CNA’s job.
A CNA Job Search Primer
Once you’ve finished your training and passed the CNA competency exam you’ve still got to get a job as a CNA. Growing employment and high turnover rates mean this shouldn’t be too hard, but you’ve still got to get out and do the legwork to make it happen. Here are a few tips for getting through this final step of your journey toward becoming a Certified Nursing Aide:
- Do Your Research: When you’re in training to become a CNA, or even beforehand, you should find out about all the facilities in your area that hire CNAs. This could include nursing homes, hospitals, clinics, and private doctor’s offices. Getting a general picture of the employment scene for CNAs in your area will make your job search easier.
- Stay Flexible: CNAs are often asked to work odd hours, because patients in nursing care facilities need care 24/7. Night and weekend work will probably be a regular fixture of your job, and showing potential employers that you are willing to work these hard-to-fill shifts will make you stand out in a sea of applicants.
- Apply Everywhere: Applying for a job might take a couple of hours, but the more jobs you apply for, the faster you’ll get at filling out the forms, writing cover letters, and doing all the other little steps that it takes. Even if you’re the most skilled CNA out there, an element of luck will influence your job search. Applying for many jobs helps diminish the effect of luck and randomness on your opportunities.
How Much Will You Earn as a CNA?
If you made it this far in this article, you know that becoming a nursing aide is a lot of work! So what makes all that work worth it? Helping people and getting paid, of course. The Bureau of Labor Statistics collects wage data on a range of careers, including for nurse aides. Their most recently collected data, from May 2008, is as follows:
- Mean Annual Wage: $25,140
- Total Number of Jobs: 1,469,800
- States With Highest Employment Levels: In Order: California, New York, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania.
With the above skills, you shouldn’t have too much trouble getting a job as a CNA, and other medical support staff positions aren’t looking too bad either. The graph below shows the predicted number of CNA jobs, compared to a few related fields, in 2018, according to The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ data from May, 2008.
Whether you decide to start out as a CNA or go straight into an associate’s, bachelor’s, or master’s degree program for nursing or another medical degree, an array of educational options are available to you. Both online and on-campus options exist for many medical and medical support related degrees. If you want to get into the industry and aren’t sure where to start, check out some of the accredited programs linked at the bottom of this page to find out more about the degrees and certificates that are available, and take action to get your education and get into a well-paid job with good opportunities for advancement.