How to Become a Certified Nursing Assistant

How to Become a Certified Nursing Assistant

The Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) role is rapidly becoming one of the fastest-growing careers in healthcare. This is mainly due to the increasing age of the Baby Boomer generation and advancements in medical care, allowing for longer lifespans. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, CNA job growth is expected to be 21% for the decade from 2012 to 2022. To meet this demand, numerous schools offer Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) programs to prepare students for the federally mandated state exam.

CNA program options vary, ranging from 100% online courses to 100% classroom courses, with costs ranging between $400 and $3000. With a plethora of options available, starting a career in healthcare has never been more accessible!

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About the CNA Role

The CNA’s primary responsibility is to support licensed practical nurses and registered nurses by providing patients with basic care. They are primarily employed by hospitals, long-term care facilities, acute care facilities, and home health agencies. The pay rate varies significantly by state, type of facility, and shift preference. However, the core job duties remain relatively consistent.

While the CNA’s tasks cover a broad range, primary responsibilities include obtaining vital signs, recognizing and reporting abnormal values, answering call lights, setting up and removing medical equipment, and assisting patients with activities of daily living (ADLs). Activities of daily living encompass basic activities individuals engage in to maintain their daily health and well-being.

CNA’s Role in Assisting Patients with Activities of Daily Living Includes:

  • Meal preparation and delivery
  • Assisting patients in ambulating to the bathroom for the elimination of bowels and/or bladder
  • Providing or assisting with hygiene, including showers and baths
  • Assisting with ambulation
  • Assisting the nurse with repositioning the patient in bed and/or range of motion for the immobile patient
  • Grooming the patient
  • Maintaining a clean patient environment

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)s must possess compassion, care, empathy, kindness, and patience with others. They may be the only person a patient sees in a day, such as in home health care, and can bring tremendous joy and happiness through companionship. In some instances, CNAs may know the patient and family better than any other member of the healthcare team, and their expertise is valued when discussing and determining the plan of care.

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) vs Registered Nurse (RN)

Considerations When Choosing a CNA Program

Certified Nursing Assistant programs are widespread, with every state now having at least one Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) program, and more being established regularly. From online programs with on-site clinical requirements to 100% classroom models, potential Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) students have various options for obtaining CNA education. When selecting a program, ensure it complies with state and federal requirements.

The 1987 Nursing Home Reform Act mandates Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) students to have at least 75 hours of training, with 16 hours being clinical or “hands-on” training. A quality program should provide at least these minimum requirements, although actual program hours may vary greatly. When choosing a CNA program, it’s essential to select one that aligns with your schedule and family commitments.

Some Considerations When Selecting a CNA Program Include:

1. Do you have a preference for day or evening classes?

If you’re deciding between day or evening classes, consider your personal schedule and obligations. It’s essential to find a program that aligns with your lifestyle.

2. If you plan on working your current job during the CNA program, be sure you will have time to study, maintain family life, and, don’t forget, sleep!

If you intend to work while pursuing the CNA program, ensure you allocate time for studying, family responsibilities, and rest. With various program options, you can likely find one that suits your needs.

3. Are you an effective online learner?

Some students excel at online learning. Successful online learners are typically self-starters, highly motivated, possess good reading comprehension skills, and have sufficient time for each class. Check the recommended study hours for each online class, although it may not always be accurate, it’s a helpful starting point.

4. Is childcare an issue?

For many parents, finding quality daycare during school hours is crucial. If affordable daycare is a challenge, consider online programs or evening classes as alternatives to daytime classroom sessions. Remember the federally required 16 clinical hours and inquire about their placement within the program. Some schools may even provide daycare services.

5. How fast do you wish to complete your CNA education and start working?

Certain schools offer fast-track programs to expedite CNA education. These programs typically involve longer days for a shorter duration compared to shorter days over an extended period. Keep in mind that fast-track programs may be pricier due to their convenience.

6. How much money can you afford to spend?

Ensure the program fits your budget and pay schedule. Some schools offer a pay-over-time option and may provide financial aid. Fast-track and online programs may have higher costs because of their convenience. Therefore, carefully evaluate all options before committing to a program.

General program requirements vary by program but usually require the student to be at least 16 years of age, hold a state driver’s license or social security card, be able to pass a physical exam, background check, and drug screen, have proof of vaccinations including a tuberculosis test, and have completed basic English and math courses. Being fluent in English is required by most schools, as well.

Program requirements typically include being at least 16 years old, possessing a state driver’s license or social security card, passing a physical exam, background check, and drug screen. Additionally, proof of vaccinations, including a tuberculosis test, and completion of basic English and math courses are usually necessary. Fluency in English is a common requirement.

To qualify for graduation, CNA students must demonstrate knowledge of basic patient care while performing tasks under the direct supervision of a licensed nurse and pass the state exam. Meeting program requirements involves good attendance in the classroom and at clinicals, along with achieving passing scores on tests.

Choosing a Quality CNA Program

Choosing a school for healthcare positions requires careful consideration, similar to choosing a career not in healthcare. Similar to selecting an LPN program, choosing aCertified Nursing Assistant (CNA) program must be thoroughly researched.

Considerations When Choosing a Quality Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) Program:

State Exam Pass Rates:
State exam pass rates, with at least a 75% pass rate being ideal

Social Media:

Feedback from students on social media platforms such as AllNurses, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn

Required Hours:

Meeting the state-mandated minimum of 75 hours of classroom instruction and 16 hours of clinical experience


Understanding the cost variations, which can range from $400 to $3000, depending on factors like clinical or classroom hours, convenience of online courses, and school reputation

Careful consideration of these factors will help ensure a successful and fulfilling experience in a CNA program, setting the foundation for a rewarding career in healthcare.

Getting Ready for the State CNA Exam

Attending a good CNA program should prepare its students for the state exam. In addition to what’s taught in the classroom, students can benefit from online resources. A simple online search for “CNA state exam practice questions” will provide extra study materials. Flashcards, practice exams, and various study topics are available for free or at a small cost.

Working as a CNA

After passing the state board exam, the newly certified nursing assistant can start applying for positions. While positions in acute care hospitals are often in high demand, this role might not be the best fit for every Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA).

CNAs working in a hospital mainly take vital signs, conduct point-of-care blood sugar tests using a glucometer, respond to call lights when patients need help, assist patients in using the bathroom, aid patients in walking around the hallways, help with meal consumption, and assist nurses with dressing changes or treatments. Relationships formed with patients in the hospital are usually short-lived since patients don’t stay for extended periods.

CNAs working in acute care or long-term care facilities primarily focus on distributing and assisting with meals, showers, helping patients with bathroom use, ensuring incontinent patients are clean, and helping patients prepare for the day. This involves performing oral care, dressing the patient, and assisting them in getting into their wheelchair for the day. Vital signs and blood sugars are not checked as frequently in this setting as in hospitals. CNAs in these settings may experience great joy and pride as they build lasting relationships with patients and provide them with dignity and companionship over an extended period.


When deciding on a nursing career path, Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), LPN, and RN are the options to consider. While a master’s level education is possible, nurse practitioners typically start as a CNA, LPN, or RN.

Similar to considering the LPN vs RN path, comparing the CNA vs LPN career is essential:

– CNAs work under the direction of a licensed nurse, either RN or LPN, depending on the healthcare setting.
– CNAs are not licensed; they are certified.
– CNAs attend fewer hours of school than LPNs to become certified and start working more quickly.
– CNAs earn less money than LPNs in the same setting.
– The CNA role focuses on completing tasks and daily activities, while LPNs consider overall goals and the plan of care.
– CNAs do not usually hold supervisory positions.

Many CNAs use this role as a stepping stone to gain experience in healthcare and understand the roles of LPNs and RNs. While the CNA position is entry-level, it plays a crucial role in the healthcare field. CNAs provide a personal level of care that LPNs and RNs may not be able to provide, and these higher-level nurses often rely on the expertise of CNAs for certain aspects of patient care.

Many CNAs later return to school and complete licensed practical nursing (LPN) or registered nursing (RN) education while working in a CNA role. Some states offer CNA to LPN bridge programs and LPN to RN bridge programs, crediting students with courses already completed and potentially making the educational journey less expensive.

Finding a CNA Job after Graduation

Once a student graduates from Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) school and successfully passes the state CNA exam, finding a job quickly becomes a priority. But where should the search start?
Most facilities post job openings online, along with job requirements and sometimes hourly pay rates. Completing an online application and sending an updated resume and cover letter can hopefully result in a positive response. Online resources and experts can provide helpful tips for crafting an effective resume and performing well in interviews.

CNAs have a crucial role in the healthcare team, and a career as a CNA can be highly rewarding. With job growth expected to increase in the next decade and schools offering flexible programs to accommodate various schedules and budgets, there has never been a better time to pursue a career as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA).

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