How To Become A Certified Nursing Assistant

Working as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) can be a rewarding career in itself, or as a way up the healthcare ladder. To become a CNA, you’ll need the proper training and licensure. If this is a path you’re interested in following, the links below will help prepare you for that next step in your career.

  1. What Is A Certified Nursing Aide (CNA)?
  2. How Do I Become A CNA?
  3. What Should I Know About CNA Training Programs?
  4. How Do I Earn CNA Licensure?
  5. Can CNAs Become Registered Nurses?

What Is A Certified Nursing Aide (CNA)?

A Certified Nursing Assistant, or CNA, helps patients or clients with healthcare needs under the supervision of a Registered Nurse (RN) or a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN). CNAs work in a variety of healthcare settings. They are typically responsible for taking vital signs, height and weight measurements, assisting with bathing, toileting, dressing needs, and other daily care needs. A CNA may also be known as a Nursing Assistant (NA), a Patient Care Assistant (PCA), or a State Tested Nurse Assistant (STNA).

CNAs must possess a number of important skills, both personal and professional. These skills include the following:

  • Ability to follow rules and protocol: CNAs must know how to maintain a sterile and clean environment in order to keep patients and staff safe. These skills (and rules set forth by your employer) are essential for providing the best care to each patient. CNAs are also responsible for feeding and dressing patients patients as well as taking vitals and performing other patient care tasks.
  • Caring for patients while respecting their 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 that govern patients’ rights.
  • Demonstrate respect and compassion in every interaction: CNAs must possess compassion for others, enjoy working with the public, and have the ability to remain calm in stressful situations. 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 hard for them to care for themselves.
  • Ability to communicate effectively and in a professional manner: As a CNA, you’ll be the liaison between patients and nurses. Being able to understand each patient’s needs, and communicate them accurately to a nurse or doctor, is essential. Both oral and written communication skills about medical issues, medication delivery, and patient care are highly important in the daily work a CNA.

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How Do I Become A CNA?

You’ll need to earn a high school diploma or a General Equivalency Diploma (GED) to become a CNA. Next, it’s time to find a CNA training program. Training programs can be completed online or on-site. However, the clinical component requires on-site supervision and support from an experienced practitioner.

If you want to take classes online, it’s important to inquire about the clinical component. An accredited training program will require you to complete on-the-job training. CNA training requirements vary by state. This means that each state has its own classroom learning and on-the-job (clinical) training requirements. However, many states require students to obtain approximately 75 hours of classroom learning and 100 hours of clinical training.

CNA training includes instruction on the following:

  • Taking vital signs
  • Infection control
  • CPR, AED usage, and First Aid
  • Range of motion exercises
  • Special care instructions
  • Teamwork, communication, and diversity skills
  • Safety promotion

Below are accredited online CNA training programs that are recognized as approved training options by virtually all state licensing agencies:

Featured CNA Programs

South University

Accreditation: SACS

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UEI College

Accreditation: ACCSC

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What Should I Know About CNA Training Programs?

CNA training programs vary in length, but you can expect the program to last anywhere from four to 12 weeks. Again, each state has its own requirements, and programs vary. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) offers the information you need on becoming a CNA in your state.

A reputable CNA training program will be accredited. You can verify accreditation by contacting The Accreditation Commission For Education in Nursing (ACEN). Accredited programs undergo in-depth evaluations by trained assessors. Accreditation ensures that programs are safe, well prepared, and intentional about ensuring your success. If a program is NOT accredited, save your money and your time.

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How Do I Earn CNA Licensure?

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 typically have three to four months to take your state exam to become certified. 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.

What Comes Next?

Once you’ve finished your training and passed the CNA competency exam, it’s time to find employment. Good news, CNAs are in demand, and jobs are expected to rise. According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of nursing assistants is projected to grow 11 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations.

Below are a few tips to help you find employment after you’ve become a CNA:

  • Do Your Research: When you’re training to become CNA, or even beforehand, do your research to find places of employment. 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 hours are often requirement of the job, and if you’re hours are flexible, you’ll stand out among other candidates.
  • Apply Everywhere: Applying for a job might take a couple of hours, but the more jobs you apply for, the easier the process will be. It’s also a good idea to ask your colleagues and former instructors for job leads. Joining online CNA forums might also help you find work.

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Can CNAs Become Registered Nurses?

Yes! CNAs can become registered nurses, but you’ll need the proper training to do so. This means earning your bachelor’s degree in nursing.

You can earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree (BSN), or, if you’re not ready to become an RN quite yet, you might want to consider an LPN program. An LPN program is a relatively short time commitment for those interested in starting in the nursing field. While enrolled in an LPN program, you might have the option to apply to a bridge program. A bridge program is designed to meet the unique demands of working licensed practical nurses (LPNs), to help you work towards becoming an RN in shorter time.

The great news is that both CNAs and RNs are in high demand. Check out this graph below with strong job projections in nursing. (Source: BLS.gov: Occupational Employment And Wages: Nursing Assistants, source 2015.)

It might take a few years of working as a CNA to decide if the healthcare industry is right for you. If you know you want to become an RN, but can’t commit to a degree program just yet, working as CNA is a great way to get your foot in the door. CNAs often work with nurses and doctors, giving them valuable insight into the profession.

Over the past decade, nurses have taken on new and expanded roles in the healthcare industry. Nurse practitioners especially have seen an enormous increase in the amount of responsibilities. Having more autonomy to make decisions as a nurse is exciting, and is reason enough to venture beyond familiar territory.

When researching nursing programs, the same rules apply. Accreditation is key! You’ll also want to verify your state’s requirements for becoming AND working as a nurse. Each state is different, and in fact, each state also has its own regulatory board for licensing nurses.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics also has a very strong job outlook for RNs. Employment of registered nurses is projected to grow 15 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. This is due to an aging population. Growth is expected to be the highest in outpatient care centers.

No matter which path you choose, working in healthcare can be an incredibly rewarding experience. Patient care is at the heart of what CNAs and RNs do. If you’re willing to be flexible and have a strong desire to help others, training to become a CNA or an RN is a smart choice. And with a positive job outlook, your future looks very bright.

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