Becoming a Certified Nursing Assistant, or CNA, is one of the most popular career paths for those interested in working in the medical field. And it’s no wonder why – CNAs enjoy a challenging and rewarding career caring for patients in a variety of settings. CNAs are also one of the most in-demand professions in the nursing industry, there are currently 1.3 million CNAs in the United States according to the BLS, and that number is expected to increase by 8% by 2030.
Steps For Becoming a CNA
How to become a CNA may be a different process depending on where you live. Each state sets their own certification requirements which may have varying educational, training, and on-the-job learning specifications. For example, some states allow you to take all of your classes online, while others require that all or some classes be taken in person.
Nearly all programs require that applicants have a high school diploma or equivalent. You can do this by graduating from high school, passing a GED test, or completing an adult education program. You can apply for CNA programs while still in high school, but acceptance into their programs will usually be contingent on you obtaining a high school diploma.
1. Finding a Program
The first step in your journey to becoming a CNA is finding a school, employer, or training program that offers training. All CNAs must complete a state-accredited certification program, which can be found at community colleges, trade schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and some non-profit organizations.
Most programs last anywhere from 4-12 weeks and can be taken part-time or on a full-time schedule. The flexibility of CNA program schedules means that you can continue to work while you complete your training, or become a certified CNA in a little over a month.
The cost of tuition can range anywhere from $500-$2000 depending on the length and location of the program. While applying to programs, be sure to inquire about grants, scholarships, or financial aid that may be available for students of the program. Financial aid sources can be found through a variety of
sources, so be sure to tap into these opportunities to ease the financial burden of becoming a CNA.
Some programs advertise “free” CNA training, where they provide everything needed to help you become a licensed CNA in your state. In return, you agree to become an employee of their organization once you are licensed as a CNA. Sites like CNA Free Training allow you to search for employers and programs that offer free training and certification in return for employment.
2. Complete Classroom and Clinical Training
After finding a program, the next step is to complete your classroom and clinical training. Classroom instruction will cover topics such as infection control, basic patient care, human anatomy, and medical terminology. As mentioned before, these classes are offered in-person or online depending on the program and your state’s requirements for classroom learning. You will need to complete a minimum of 60 hours and possibly up to 160 depending on your state.
While completing clinical hours, you will also be asked to complete a minimum number of clinical hours. These hours are spent working under the supervision of a licensed nurse in order to gain hands-on experience in patient care. Most states require between 75-200 clinical hours, so be sure to check your state’s requirements before beginning your program.
3. Pass the Certification Exam
After completing your classroom and clinical training, you will then need to pass the certification exam. The certification exam is a written test that covers the topics you learned in your classroom education, and will assess your knowledge of infection control, anatomy, patient care, and medical terminology. There are nine sections of the CNA exam:
● Basic Nursing Skills
● Activities of Daily Living
● Member of the Healthcare Team
● Restorative Skills
● Client Rights
● Spiritual & Cultural Needs
● Emotional & Mental Health Needs
● Legal & Ethical Behavior
Take online practice tests to get a sense of the questions asked and how you can prepare. Your training program will likely provide you with learning material that you can use to help prepare for the exam.
When ready, schedule a time to sit for the exam and pass with a score that qualifies you to be a CNA in your state. Testing location options will likely be provided by your training program, but you can also find these through your state’s nursing registry website.
4. Register as a CNA
The final step to becoming a CNA is to register with your state’s nurse registry or board of nursing. This will officially allow you to be a legal CNA in your state. If you need to move to a different state in the future, you will need to transfer your license, which requires a different process depending on where you move to and where you moved from.
You will also need to renew your license periodically to stay in compliance with your state. This is typically once every 2-3 years. The renewal process is simple but an important step to ensure that you maintain your status as a legal CNA. It is important to keep up with the requirements needed in order to maintain your license, so be sure to review frequently and submit any required renewals on time.
5. Begin Your Career as a CNA
Once you have completed the steps above, congratulations! You are ready to begin your career as a CNA. This can involve finding employment at a hospital, nursing home, or private healthcare organization. You can also consider starting your own in-home care business to work with patients in their homes and provide non-medical support that they need on a daily basis to improve their quality of life.
There are many different opportunities available for you as a CNA, so be sure to research the options available in your area and follow your passion as you begin your career. Many healthcare professionals start off their careers as CNAs and over time become LPNs or RNs.
Regardless of which path you choose, becoming a CNA is an exciting step towards starting a rewarding healthcare career. With the right training, support, and determination, you can be on your way to become a certified nursing assistant.
— Taylor Haskings is a freelance writer born in Denver, Colorado. She graduated with a bachelor’s in English from the University of Colorado, Denver. She enjoys hiking in the Colorado Rockies and loves the fine arts, such as playing the violin. Her true strengths include networking with others and expressing herself through the written word.