How to Become a Certified Nursing Assistant – Everything You Need to Know About CNA Certification
Certified nursing assistants, or CNAs, occupy an incredibly important position in the healthcare system. Not only do they provide professional assistance to other medical staff, they also directly help with patient care in numerous ways.
Despite the fact that there is always a high demand for certified nursing assistants, many people overlook this exciting career path. A career as a certified nursing assistant can be highly rewarding and involve an exciting variety of duties and roles.
What is a Certified Nursing Assistant?
A certified nursing assistant is a medical professional that works directly under a registered nurse or licensed practical nurse. A CNA will help patients with daily activities as they are under the care of a hospital or long-term care facility.
Essentially, CNAs bridge the gap between patients and nurses by providing quality of life care. Their varied skills allow them to care for patients in nursing homes, assisted living centers, end of life facilities and hospices, residential settings, and just about any other medical facility where patients are being cared for.
While caring for patients is typically the primary role of a certified nursing assistant, they are often responsible for gathering vital information about the health status and well being of patients in their care. This information is relayed to nurses and doctors to determine the best course of action for improving the patient’s health.
Will CNA Certification and Experience Help You Become a Nurse?
While certified nursing assistants have rewarding jobs, many will use the knowledge they gain in the position to further their education and career and become full licensed practical nurses or registered nurses. In fact, many certified nursing assistants will enroll in a nursing school program shortly after they have gain employment as a CNA.
There are many people that will become a certified nursing assistant in order to explore the world of nursing and see if they want to further their education in the healthcare industry. As a CNA, a person will learn the ins and outs of how various healthcare facilities operate and what patient care actually looks like from the inside.
Why Should You Pursue a Career as a Certified Nursing Assistant?
As mentioned above, CNAs occupy an important position in the healthcare industry. The opportunity to play a crucial role in patient care and gain valuable experience working with healthcare specialists are compelling reasons to look into CNA certification; however, they are far from the only reasons why becoming a certified nursing assistant can be a smart career choice. If you are unsure if obtaining CNA certification is the right decision, consider the following:
- The Opportunity to Specialize – As previously mentioned, becoming a CNA presents you with the opportunity to experience healthcare work firsthand and determine which area of the field appeals to you the most. The work will afford you the opportunity to become familiar with the healthcare world and decide where you would like to take your career from there. There is a reason so many CNAs pursue further schooling to become specialized nurses.
- The Affordability of the Education – Pursuing a higher education is incredibly expensive and time consuming. However, CNA certification is surprisingly affordable and flexible. Many CNA programs can be taken at community colleges and online. In fact, it is even possible to find individual CNA prep classes online for free.
As it turns out, choosing to become a certified nursing assistant is actually one of the fastest and most affordable ways to enter the healthcare industry.
- Career Flexibility – As a certified nursing assistant, you would have the ability to work across various sectors of the healthcare industry. You will find CNAs working everywhere from small retirement communities, to busy hospitals in major cities.
- Improved Chances of Being Accepted Into a Nursing Program – There are plenty of nursing programs out there that look favorably upon CNA certification during the application process. Experience working in the field is always an attractive credential when applying for any program. Not only will CNA certification and work experience improve the chances your application will be accepted, there are many accelerated programs out there for CNAs to become nurses faster than they would by enrolling in a standard nursing program.
- The Opportunity to Network and Gain Connections – Working as a CNA will afford you the opportunity to network with individuals that have higher qualifications than you. If you plan on furthering your career in the healthcare industry, connections could prove to be incredibly valuable in the future.
- Certified Nursing Assistants Have Emotionally Rewarding Jobs – As you might suspect, working in patient care can be incredibly rewarding. You will have the opportunity to work directly with patients and their families and make a real difference in their lives. Helping patients recover can be demanding, but it is also a satisfying experience. Knowing your job has real meaning will provide you with an abundance of personal and professional pride.
While becoming a certified nursing assistant offers its own rewards, many people choose to go down this path because they know they want to work in the healthcare industry, but they are unsure where to start.
Obtaining CNA certification would allow you to explore the industry and see which area of the field is right for you. For example, if a person was unsure whether they wanted to work in geriatric, pediatric, or psychological care, working as a CNA would allow them to try those fields out before making a more permanent decision.
Not only will working as a CNA afford you the opportunity to explore the healthcare industry from the inside and add valuable work experience to your CV, it would allow you to earn a salary while you do so.
How do Certified Nursing Assistants Differ from Medical Assistants, Registered Nurses, and Licensed Practical Nurses?
While it may seem a little bit confusing at first, there are actually fairly significant differences between each of the positions listed above. While all four careers involve working with patients in a professional healthcare setting, each has its own roles and responsibilities.
CNAs vs. Medical Assistants:
While certified nursing assistants and medical assistants do share many of the same responsibilities, it is important to understand that they are different types of medical professions.
While both positions involve working with patients and providing them with care, the ways they assist doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals with various tasks differs significantly.
Medical assistants are primarily focused on patient assessment, status evaluation, and directly assisting doctors and nurses with patient care and treatment. On the other hand, certified nursing assistants are more focused on direct patient care. As a CNA, most of your duties would involve caring for patients.
CNAs vs. Licensed Practical Nurses:
Licensed practical nurses, or LPNs, are required to obtain a license and pass a state-mandated exam before they can work. Where certified nursing assistants only need to obtain a certificate to practice, LPNs are usually required to take classes that are similar to those taken by registered nurses. During their education, LPNs are taught about the intricacies of the healthcare industry, the human body, and medication.
In practice, LPNs carry out numerous duties that CNAs are not qualified to perform, such as inserting peripheral intravenous catheters into patients.
CNAs vs. Registered Nurses:
CNAs and registered nurses, or RNs, work in different environments and perform different roles. For starters, CNA programs will often take less than a year, while RN programs can take between two and four years to complete, depending on the type of nursing and the specialization. While the CNA certification process tends to be more general, RN programs can offer specializations in specific types of healthcare.
RNs have greater levels of responsibility and often work more directly with doctors. While both CNAs and RNs perform vital roles in the healthcare system, the greater level of education RNs undergo allows them to take on more complicated tasks. This is why many CNAs will use the experience they gain in the workplace to pursue a nursing education.
What Duties and Responsibilities do Certified Nursing Assistants Have?
CNAs help keep their work environment running smoothly. They look after patients and make sure nurses and doctors are able to provide the proper level of care their patients require.
Some of the duties and responsibilities CNAs have are as follow:
- The scheduled repositioning and rotation of patients
- Retrieving supplies and equipment for doctors and nurses
- Obtaining patient vital signs
- Answering patient calls and making sure they are not in distress
- Bathing and washing long-term patients
- Obtaining patient information and relevant documentation for doctors and nurses
- Feeding patients and ensuring they are following the correct food and liquid intake
- Grooming incapacitated patients; including combing hair, shaving, clipping nails, and brushing teeth
- Making sure patient rooms are clean and sanitary
- Stocking supplies, so doctors and nurses are not scrambling in the event of an emergency
- Preparing rooms for new patients
- Assisting with various medical procedures when required
- Dressing and cleaning wounds according to the recommendations of the doctor
The duties and responsibilities listed above are far from the only tasks a certified nursing assistant will perform. Direct responsibilities will vary significantly depending on where the CNA is employed and the needs of that particular facility. In many ways, CNAs need to be adaptable and willing to act quickly when the situation calls for it. Their main role is to make sure doctors and nurses are able to provide effective treatment to their patients.
CNA duties will even vary from state to state and it is up to the individual and their employer to know what sort of responsibilities they allow to perform according to their state’s guidelines.
As you would suspect, roles differ between one type of patient care facility and the next. The tasks performed by a CNA in a long-term residential care facility will be very different than those performed by a CNA working in a hospital.
What Qualities Would Help a Person Become an Effective Certified Nursing Assistant?
While it is true that a career as a certified nursing assistant can be incredibly rewarding, it is important to remember that the job does come with its challenges.
Not everyone will enjoy those challenges or have the right attitude to face them; however, if you possess the following qualities, there is a good chance you would be an effective CNA:
- You enjoy interacting with different people on a daily basis
- You have good communication skills
- You have excellent time management skills and can keep track of a scheduled list of tasks
- You are a compassionate and empathetic person that enjoys making others feel more comfortable
- You are a reliable person that will not let your colleagues down
- You have patience and handle stress well
- You are an adaptable person that does not mind learning new things
If these attributes apply to you, there is a really good chance you would make an excellent certified nursing assistant.
What Sort of Salary Does a Certified Nursing Assistant Earn?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS, the median average annual salary for a certified nursing assistant working in the United Sates was $29,660 in 2019.
Remember, this number reflects the median average salary and it would differ from one region to another. The type of facility where a certified nursing assistant works will also impact their annual salary. For example, CNAs that work for government organizations, such as VA hospitals, tend to have a higher average salary. CNAs that work in home healthcare services tend to make less than those working in hospitals, but, again, salaries vary from one city to the next.
On average, CNAs tend to earn more when they work in metropolitan areas than they do in rural areas. The state where the CNA is practicing will also impact their income. According to the BLS, CNAs working in New York, Nevada, California, and Alaska are amongst the highest paid in country.
While CNAs do earn less than registered nurses and licensed practical nurses, it is important to remember that the level of education required for each profession reflects the pay. You can obtain CNA certification quickly and without having to spend a significant sum on your education.
How Certified Nursing Assistants Are Paid:
Since CNAs can work a wide range of schedules and practice in variety of different healthcare facilities, the way they are paid is also varries.
Some CNAs will work more of a part-time schedule and they are therefore paid hourly. This is a popular arrangement for CNAs that are working as they further their education. Many will work evenings and weekends and attend nursing classes during the week. Those that work on an hourly scale also have the option to earn overtime pay if they choose to pick up more shifts during breaks in their education.
Other CNAs will work a full-time schedule and earn a salary. Their salary will often be determined by their hiring manager and will usually reflect the individual’s experience and the type of duties and responsibilities the particular position will require.
Essentially, a certified nursing assistant’s earning potential will be determined by a number of factors, including their experience, availability, type of facility where they are hired, and the particular needs of the employer.
Job Prospects for CNAs:
While there are certainly higher paying jobs out there, one of the major advantages of becoming a CNA is the fact that there are plenty of employment opportunities. According to the BLS, the demand for certified nursing assistants is set to grow by at least 18 percent by 2024. For perspective, the national job growth for this period is estimated to be around 7 percent.
Given that the number of Americans aged 65 and old is set to double over the next 40 years, it is no surprise that there will be plenty of work for those that are qualified to provide basic personal care. North America’s aging population will increase the demand for healthcare professionals, so obtaining CNA certification would qualify you to work in a field that is about to experience a boom.
How Do You Become a Certified Nursing Assistant?
As mentioned above, there are very few careers in the healthcare industry that you can get into as quickly as becoming a certified nursing assistant. The fast-tracked education allows you to obtain all of the certification you need to get started in the industry in a relatively short period of time.
While you will be required to take on a fair amount of coursework in your studies, if you have a high school diploma or equivalent, you can become a fully certified nursing assistant in less than a year.
The affordable and fast certification process is part of the reason why it is such an attractive career option for so many people.
Essentially, there are four steps you need to follow to become a certified nursing assistant:
- Earn or already possess a high school diploma or a GED
- Complete the state-approved CNA training for where you plan on working. (This training is offered online, in hospitals, community colleges, or through The Red Cross)
- Complete and pass the in-person clinical requirement
- Pass the certification exam and get added to your state’s CNA registry
As you can see, becoming a certified nursing assistant is a relatively fast and straightforward process. When you compare it to the requirements for just about any other healthcare profession, you can see why so many people are attracted to CNA certification. It also helps that the only prerequisite a person needs before they enter a CNA program is a high school diploma or the equivalent.
Types of Classes Required to Become a Certified Nursing Assistant
Program requirements will vary from state to state, so it is important that you check the regulations where you are looking to work before you enroll in classes.
Many different institutions and organizations offer programs that meet CNA educational requirements. While most people will end up taking classes at a local community college, they can also be offered at qualified high schools, hospitals, and even nursing homes.
Another popular option for CNA classes is to take them online; however, it is wroth noting that you will almost always have to complete a short in-person training segment before you can obtain full certification.
Once you have found a state-approved CNA education program, you can enroll in classes and start the learning process. Most of the CNA programs you will find take between one and four months to complete; however, the program’s duration will depend on how often classes are offered.
During your CNA education, you will study several topics, including anatomy, physiology, medical terminology, patient care, and pharmacology. The coursework on these topics will be brief, but you will gain an understanding of the relevant terminology you will need to succeed in your new job.
Essentially, the classes are designed to prepare you for work as a CNA. In a short amount of time, you will learn how to communicate and interact with nurses and doctors in a professional manner.
As mentioned previously, you will also need to complete some degree of in-person training. This segment is usually referred to as the clinical segment of the program. During this phase, you will work under the guidance of a medical professional and gain valuable experience that will prepare you for work as a CNA.
Most of the clinical segments will involve practicing the types of tasks you will carry out when you start working, such as checking vital signs, changing bedding, and providing in-person patient care.
Where to Find In-Person CNA Classes
There are plenty of options for in-person CNA classes. One of the easiest ways to see if you can take your CNA classes nearby is to consult your local community college. Most schools will offer the program and the classes will almost certainly meet the requirements for your state.
If you are looking for a way to take classes in-person, one of the most popular options is to enroll through The American Red Cross. They offer one of the best-regarded training courses, which makes it an excellent choice. It is available in most states and usually follows a hybrid online and in-person model. Credentialed instructors that have professional experience teach the classes and they are designed to give you all of the skills you will need to work as a competent CNA.
The link below will take you to their CNA training portal:
Courses taken through The American Red Cross only cost a flat rate of $1,300, so they tend to be more affordable than other options. This sum includes the supplies you will need for the in-person segment of the course, but it does not include a uniform, which you will need to purchase separately.
Other In-Person Courses:
As mentioned previously, you can usually find in-person classes at your local community college.
Many nursing homes and larger hospitals will also offer their own CNA training programs. These programs are designed to give prospective CNAs extremely relevant training and the opportunity to gain work experience in a legitimate medical setting.
While training that takes place at a hospital or nursing home can be advantageous, these programs tend to be fairly selective about who they will accept, as they are essentially training individuals they plan on hiring. Another advantage of these sorts of courses is the fact that the training fees are often reimbursed if the individual is hired.
Online CNA Classes
Taking online CNA classes allows you the freedom to study at home on your own time. However, it is really important that you make sure the online classes you are enrolling in are approved in the particular state where you plan on working.
GetEducated offers a comprehensive online CNA program that is designed to teach students all of the skills they will need to become effective CNAs. The program features video-based courses that are led by experienced professionals. As with in-person classes offered at community colleges, these online classes cover all of the basic topics that you would need for a career as a CNA.