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How To Become a CNA: A Nursing Assistant Guide to Training

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CNAs (Certified nurse assistants) perform a variety of duties. Regardless of their tasks, they always work under the direct supervision of registered nurses.

Their duties include: charting any changes in patient’s condition, as well as behavior and daily activities. They record every medication the patient is taking.

They document food and liquid intake of the patients. They also prepare patients for treatment or examination. CNAs often perform many of the same duties as LPNs – for example they may be responsible taking patients’ vital signs, i.e. monitoring their temperature, blood pressure, pulse and respiration.

The Training Involved for a CNA

Training requirements vary from on-the-job training to completion of a formal training program. Jobs not requiring prior training usually offer either formal or informal on the job training programs.

​Training schools to become a CNA are plentiful from vocational-technical schools to nursing homes, hospitals and community colleges. Nursing homes that offer CNA training classes require that the individual work at their facility for a certain amount of time in exchange for the training. Programs typically consist of a mix of classroom setting and hands-on practice sessions.

How Long Does Training Take to Become a CNA?

This largely depends on the state you work in and certification requirements as well as the type of healthcare facility you want to work in. But in general, training courses range from 4 weeks and up to 90 days. For those without a healthcare background, you may also have to take a few pre-requisites.

CNA Coursework

Students will learn about: patient care standards, legal issues, duties and responsibilities, the use of various medical equipment, proper daily care procedures as well as: nutrition, anatomy, physiology, infection control, body mechanics, nutrition.

Once you complete a certified nurse aid training program, you will be required to sit for the specific state certifying test to become certified and commence working as a CNA in a hospital, long-term care facility (nursing homes), care homes, private homes, adult day cares and clinics.

Licensing Requirements

These differ based on the state you plan to work in, but in general, each state requires CNAs to have:

  • Completed a 75-hour training of intensive classroom and practical experience in a state-approved facility, AND
  • Pass a competency evaluation

After completing the training program and pass the certification exam you can carry the designation of a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA). Your name will then be registered on the State registry of nurse aides. In addition to the above mandated requirements, CNA’s also have to: be physically fit, complete a physical exam, undergo state-regulated health and fitness tests and pass a criminal background check.

Briefly there are three main steps involved in gaining CNA certification:

  1. To become a CNA start by visiting your State’s official department regarding CNA certification since every state has its own unique set of criteria for CNA licensing.

  2. Research CNA training  programs that are approved by your State. Training instills valuable knowledge, experience, skills practice and confidence; all attributing to your future CNA career success. You will also be more marketable to future employers. Generally, CNA training programs dedicate 20 hours to skills practice and 40 hours to clinical training, for a total of 80 hours. However, training programs range from 60 hours to 125 hours.

    A CNA class can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to several hundred. The cost usually includes your tuition, textbooks, CPR training, and the fee for the CNA certification test. Additional costs to the student will include necessary immunizations, scrubs, a watch, and shoes.

    Face-to-face classroom time with a trained instructor does provide additional benefits over an online program. A day in the life of a CNA is a very hands-on experience, so having real-life practice in a classroom setting will give you a better idea of what to expect from your future career. It will further build your confidence and prepare you for the CNA certification exam.

  3. After completion of your CNA training program, you will be ready to take your State’s CNA Certification Test. 

Career Progression for a CNA

If this career is appealing to you, then later on you can consider progressing into other health care professions. You will require additional formal training and/or education depending on your choice for example you may decide to become a licensed practical nurse, registered nurse or a certified medical assistant – all of which will also entail a higher salary.

  1. Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)
    Training: 8 weeks – 16 weeks (Certificate Program)
    Salary: c. $18,790-$36,170

  2. Certified Medical Assistant (CMA)
    Training: 1 Year (Certificate Program) 2 Years (Associate Degree)
    Salary: c. ​$21,540-$42,760

  3. LICENSED PRACTICAL NURSE (LPN)
    Training: 12-18 months (Certificate, Diploma, Associate Degree)
    Salary: c. $31,640-$58,710

  4. REGISTERED NURSE (RN)
    Training: 2-4 years (Associate Degree in Nursing, Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing)
    Salary: c. $45,880-$98,880

​To become an RN, some colleges require you to have taken the CNA course as a pre-requisite. So completing a CNA course can be very useful if you wish to progress to an RN. As an RN, you can then further specialise in any of the following fields: RN in Emergency Room, Family Nurse Practioner (NP), a Charge Nurse (RN) and an RN in Operation Room.

The duties of an LPN are much more basic than that of an RN and are generally employed in general duty nursing such as in nursing home facilities. To progress from an LPN students complete the LPN-RN associated degree program.

Finally, a CMA can further their career by progressing to become an Office Manager within a medical office facility.

Why Consider a Career as a Nurses Aide?

CNAs are in demand right now. This is a rare opportunity and ideal time to join the health care field as a CNA. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics health care and social assistance jobs are envisaged to have the fastest growth rate for the next 10 years.

This projected growth trend is not only visible on the national level, but is visible on the state level as well. This increase in the demand for health care workers is due to an inevitable growing and aging population. Certified nursing assistants can begin work once they undergo the required training and pass the state examination test and may expect to earn between $9 and up to $17 per hour as a qualified CNA professional.

All salary figures courtesy of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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