Individuals considering becoming a certified nurse assistant can be assured of a career that provides personal and professional fulfillment, with the possibility of advancement. Though the hours can be long and the work demanding, those in this field generally report satisfaction because they are helping people. Because CNAs work in many different settings and with a variety of populations, they can find positions matched to their interests. Those looking to become a CNA can use the guide below to find out more about how to enter the field, CNA training classes, components of a successful career, related occupations, salary information, and job prospects.
CNAs are on the front lines of providing basic care to patients in a variety of health care facilities, with responsibilities ranging from assisting with personal daily needs such as bathing and exercising to monitoring vital signs and dietary restrictions. All job requirements tend to be non-invasive procedures and revolve around daily routines that patients may not be able to complete on their own. Working under the supervision of licensed nurses, CNAs provide personal, professional assistance, ensuring patients are treated with dignity and respect and while receiving necessary medical care.
In addition to being able to provide day-to-day care to their patients, CNAs must be compassionate communicators who can support their patients through difficult and sometimes painful procedures. Because they provide many basic care services such as bathing patients and helping them transfer to wheelchairs, they must also have a certain level of physical fitness. CNAs are expected to be team players, serving as liaisons between other medical professionals and their patients. This often involves recording and conveying important information concerning the condition of those in their charge. CNAs are found in nearly every health care field, serving in locations such as long-term care facilities, rehabilitation centers, hospitals and hospices.
Nursing assistants date back to World War I, when the American Red Cross created a program for training individuals to assist nurses during the war. It was known as the Volunteer Nurses’ Aide Service
After learning about the various opportunities available for a certified nursing assistant, individuals are most likely interested in learning more about compensation. As of 2014, the median annual salary for CNAs was $25,100, although this number fluctuates based on level of experience and geographic location. The map below provides details of the 10th, 50th, and 90th percentile earners for each state.
Top five highest earning states:
Use the map below to compare teaching salary estimates by state:
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that employment opportunities for CNAs will grow by 21 percent between 2012 and 2022, faster than the national average job growth. This growth equates to an additional 321,200 jobs throughout the United States, though percentages of growth experienced by some states will be higher than others. The majority of this expansion can be attributed to a growing population of elderly citizens resulting in an increased number of professional caregivers needed in long-term care facilities.
Top 10 states experiencing the most growth:
Curious about growth in your state for this career? Select a state below for more information about employment and job growth for teachers.
CNA training requirements vary by state, so those interested in becoming CNAs will need to check local regulations before enrolling. Students should also check with the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing. CNA training programs are offered by a variety of institutions, including the American Red Cross, local health care providers, community colleges, vocational and technical schools, and online training programs.
CNA programs last from four to 16 weeks, depending on the institution. Those choosing to receive their training from a health care provider should be aware that some require students to work at the facility for a set amount of time after receiving their certification.
Once students have completed their CNA training, they will need to pass a state-specific examination to be fully certified. In many cases, graduates can work up to four months without certification while waiting to take the exam. While specific questions will vary based on state requirements, it will most likely include both practical and clinical components.
Students should note that some states have additional certification requirements, including passing a background check and undertaking a certain number of continuing education credits each year.
After CNA training, graduates can apply for their first jobs. It’s important to remember that certified nurse assistants can only practice under the supervision of licensed nurses, meaning it is illegal to offer their services as independent providers. CNA roles are expanding much more rapidly than the national average for job growth, providing graduates with a variety of options when pursuing their first positions. Because CNAs can be found in nearly every type of health care facility, they can also find a setting that is matched to their individual career goals.
In addition to completing their initial training and certification, some states mandate CNAs complete a certain number of continuing education credits each year to maintain their qualifications. These are offered by a variety of educational providers and health care facilities. Students should check with their state’s governing board to learn about requirements for their area.
A variety of educational providers offer CNA classes. In addition to traditional institutions such as vocational and technical schools and community colleges, a number of hospitals provide relevant training opportunities. As part of their training and certification offerings, The Red Cross also has a CNA preparation course.
|Vocational/Technical Schools||Community Colleges||Hospitals||The Red Cross|
|Curriculum Focus||Mix of classroom and clinical learning, including development of 54 CNA skills. Topics include nursing fundamentals, infection control protocol, anatomy, and nutrition||Fundamental nursing skills; overview of health topics with focus on the spectrum of nursing services||Typically all clinical, providing fast-paced training where students begin working with patients quickly||Emphasis on communication skills and the art of caregiving; procedural skills covered include vital signs, positioning, bathing, and dressing|
|Typical Duration of Program(s)||4–12 weeks||6–16 weeks||4–8 weeks||4–8 weeks|
|Learning Format||Day and evening classes; multiple campuses; hybrid||Day, night and weekend classes; hybrid||Day, night and weekend classes||Day classes|
|What’s Unique?||Focus on practical skills that quickly prepare students to enter the job market as competitive and competent candidates||In addition to practical care skills, students learn to communicate compassionately and professionally, and to work as part of a team||A number of facilities offer this training for free; provides real-world training experiences immediately||The Red Cross has been training nurses to enter the workforce for over 100 years; respected and well-known|
Though different states have different requirements, all require that CNAs pass a certification exam. Some states will allow those who have completed their coursework to work up to four months without certification while waiting to take their exam. The steps below outline all that is necessary to prepare for and take the CNA certification exam.
Many programs will help students prepare for the exam with practice tests or study guides. These are also offered online by a number of educational providers. Students should review the types of questions they will be asked while still in their program so they will have a good understanding of where to focus their knowledge.
In many cases, instructors will help students find the closest exam center and assist in scheduling the test. The exam should be scheduled as soon as possible after coursework is completed to ensure all of the information is still fresh.
The examination is divided into two parts: a writing portion and a clinical portion. Students often report that the clinical segment is more challenging than the writing component. In many cases, students are required to bring someone with them to act as their patient while demonstrating newly acquired skills. This demonstration requires the student to simulate common CNA tasks, including following infection control procedures, maintaining patient privacy, providing baths, completing vital signs, and transferring a patient to a wheelchair. Students will learn if they passed or failed on the same day they complete the examination. If the result is pass, students can begin working immediately. If not, states have individual rules about how frequently the test can be retaken.
The overwhelming majority of CNA training programs are not available online, and institutions that do have this option still require students to be on campus for the clinical component. Students looking to complete traditional course work online should check with local technical schools and community colleges to see if they have these provisions. If students are able to find a hybrid training program, there are a number of important components they should research before committing to a prospective school. The top three are discussed below:
While there is no national governing body for accrediting certified nursing assistant courses, prospective students should do their research to ensure the program they are considering is approved by their state. These requirements vary by location, so students should contact their governing board to confirm the program is on the list of accepted training providers.
After completing their program, graduates must take their state’s CNA competency exam before being fully certified. Numerous educational providers will help students prepare for this test by offering practice questions, reviewing components of the exam, and helping locate testing centers. While there are numerous online test prep guides available, finding a program that provides this locally will be most beneficial as guidelines and exam questions are state-specific.
A quality education starts with an excellent faculty and professors who have extensive and current experience, both in the virtual classroom and professional world. Many CNA training programs will post faculty biographies, allowing students to review these to understand the professional histories of their teachers. It is important to find professors who have both the educational and practical experience needed to deliver information accurately and clearly. Students should steer clear of any faculty who gained their certified nurse assistant qualifications and moved straight into the classroom, as their ability to share real-world experiences will be limited.
The best CNAs have a natural desire to help people as well as highly developed skills in areas of patient care and communication. In addition to assisting patients with daily living activities, CNAs must be able to make those in their care feel safe and comfortable during their time at the facility. CNAs should know their patients’ needs thoroughly, including dietary restrictions, allergies, and personal preferences. They must also be able to listen to their patients and convey important information about their needs and feelings to other members of the care team, such as licensed nurses, dieticians and physicians.
After completing their training, CNAs may choose to pursue further credentials that allow them to specialize their work. Individual state councils or subject-specific organizations, such as the National Council of State Boards of Nursing or the American Board of Wound Management, typically provide these additional credentials. Available specializations include opportunities to become activity assistants, medication aides, wound care associates, and patient care technicians. Continuing education could also lead to certifications as physical therapy assistants, occupational therapy assistants, and even degrees as registered nurses.
|Software||Billing software, health information medical history databases, GE Health care Centricity EMR, charting software, Microsoft Office|
|Personal hygiene devices||Shower or bath chairs, toothbrushes, hairbrushes, bed pans|
|Medical Apparatuses||Automated external defibrillators or hard paddles, electronic medical thermometers, heating or cooling pads, compression packs, wheelchairs|
After working as a CNA for a few years, some individuals may decide that they want to advance their careers. There are a number of paths for increasing career mobility and earning potential, and three are discussed below.
LPNs often supervise CNAs and work directly under registered nurses and physicians. While some of their tasks overlap with CNAs, they are able to provide higher, more specialized levels of care. The process of becoming an LPN involves undertaking further education in the form of a certificate, diploma, or associate degree, all of which can be completed within nine to 24 months. Graduates must then pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses to be licensed. Professionals in this career may choose to specialize by undertaking further qualifications.How to Become an LPN
Professionals in this field have a wealth of opportunities for taking on meaningful work and advancing their careers. Degrees exist at levels ranging from associate to postgraduate and offer varied prospects. CNA professionals looking to transition into an RN role can undertake an associate degree, which can be completed in two years of full-time study. Should they choose to complete further education at a later date, there are many accelerated bridge programs for obtaining a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Graduates will need to undertake the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses before they begin working.How to Become an RN
Should a student consider specializing after obtaining their RN licensure, neonatal nursing provides a career where professional caregivers can make a difference and earn competitive salaries. After completing either an associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing, students can gain experience in pediatrics and neonatal care. Many NICUs offer internships or on-the-job training programs to help students learn about the specific skills needed for this area of nursing. Students can also complete a certificate in pediatric nursing to be more competitive for positions.How to Become a Neonatal Nurse
For those considering an occupation related to certified nurse assisting, the chart below provides useful information on the salaries, growth projections, and education and training necessary for a variety of parallel roles.
There are many occupations within the nursing arena with a varied spectrum of required education and salary potential. A few of the top related occupations are listed below:
After reviewing the varied types of institutions offering CNA training programs, prospective students can use the search tool below to identify programs that meet their needs for flexibility, student support, location, and faculty experience.