How to Become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

How to Become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

How to Become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

The need for healthcare workers in the United States is growing at a rapid pace, and the need for CNAs is at the forefront of that demand.

With an aging population and more healthcare providers offering ongoing medical care, there is currently a shortage of Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs).

Compared to other career paths, becoming a CNA only takes a few months’ worth of training, classes, and testing to become certified. This allows you to quickly join the healthcare workforce while opening doors to future career opportunities.

Before signing up for classes, you are probably interested in learning more about a CNA job description and what a typical day as a CNA looks like. 

What Does a CNA Do?

CNAs work under the supervision of Registered Nurses and other healthcare staff to provide basic everyday healthcare needs to patients. This can include checking vital signs, helping with meals, assisting with movement, and answering patient calls.

CNAs are also responsible for addressing the immediate medical needs of patients as they are often the first point of contact for many patients. This requires CNAs to be skilled and well knowledgeable on a wide range of medical topics so that proper action can be taken.

CNAs work in a wide range of settings but are more often found in hospitals, nursing homes, and adult care centers.

Finding CNA Classes

Before locating a class near you, you will need to either graduate with a high school degree or obtain a GED. You can use a source like CNA Classes Near Me to locate a training center that offers CNA certification classes. These training centers typically fall within three categories:

  • Red Cross
  • Community College
  • Medical Center

Red Cross

The Red Cross is a great training option for many students and is a great starting point as many Red Cross locations offer some form of classes or training for free. While training is offered in dozens of US cities, unfortunately, these locations are often located too far away. Classes also fill up quickly, as they have a limited number of classes and they cap class sizes. Use the Red Cross website to see if there are any locations in your area to get started. 

Community College

These are often the most common and widely available options for CNA training. Classes are usually easy to find and you will not need to wait long to enroll in a class. 

If you choose to use a community college, you should ask the financial aid department if there are any recommended scholarships or grants that they are aware of that previous students have applied towards their program. Check your state’s department of education website for up to date listings of grants offered as well as scholarship and financial aid postings provided by your community college. Finding some type of financial aid options can significantly reduce the overall cost of the program.

Medical Center

Many medical centers like nursing homes, hospitals, and adult day care centers provide training and certification for their employees. Job applicants can apply for CNA openings that state that they will provide CNA training for potential employees. This will often require signing a job contract with the employer. They will provide training for free if you agree to work for them for a set period of time. If you willingly terminate employment, you will likely be required to pay for the cost of training yourself.

This is often the fastest option for CNA certification compared to the other options. However, your pay at first may be reduced to help cover your employer’s cost of training you. It may not be a good idea to go this route if you are uncertain about the quality of the employer, if you are not fully committed to working for the set period of time, or if you are considering moving anytime soon. 

Whichever option you choose, be sure that the program is licensed with the state in which you intend to practice. This typically is not a problem unless you attend a school located in a state like Connecticut but plan to work in New York. Many schools fulfill the requirements of multiple states, but it is always a good idea to double-check.

CNA Training Process

Depending on your program, CNA training will last anywhere from 3 – 16 weeks. Some programs only offer classes once per week while others (notably those provided by medical centers) try to complete training as quickly as possible. 

During training, you will learn about the following standardized concepts:

  • Basic nursing skills and safety
  • Personal care skills
  • Patient and professional communication
  • Emergency procedures
  • Restorative services
  • Patient mental health and social service needs
  • Care of cognitively impaired patients
  • Resident’s rights
  • Legal and ethical concerns

Training will involve a mix of classroom-style training sessions as well as hands-on practice and demonstrations with a patient care manikin. Training materials will be provided, and regular quizzes may be administered. Any tests or quizzes will not determine whether you pass your CNA class – they are only intended to help prepare you for your upcoming CNA exam.

CNA licensing exams are administered by your state’s nursing board. Your state will use one of the three CNA exam providers.

  • Pearson Vue CNA Written Exam
  • Prometric CNA Written Exam
  • Headmaster CNA Written Exam

All tests use a multiple-choice format but the topic of the questions, the number of questions asked, and time allowed to complete the exam will vary. You will also be required to demonstrate skills learned during training such as proper mouth care, a bed to wheelchair transfers, or range of motion exercises. The skills are selected at random, so you will not know what you will be required to demonstrate leading up to the exam.

When preparing for the exam it’s a good idea to take review study material provided by your program, take CNA practice tests, and watch videos that outline required CNA skills. As always, practice makes perfect.

Finding a CNA Job

If you received training through the Red Cross or a community college, you will need to research job openings and apply for CNA jobs in your area. Even before taking the CNA exam, take the time to put together a resume draft, and start researching potential employers in your area.

It is always a good idea to ask your training organizations for recommendations on employers in the area. They will likely be well connected with people who work for nursing homes, hospitals, and other locations that frequently hire CNAs. You can also use Google to find websites with job opening pages and browse job posting websites to find openings.

Renewing Your License

Once you obtain your license you can legally work as a Certified Nursing Assistant. However, just like many medical licenses, you are required by your state’s nursing board to renew your license – typically every two years. Renewal is a fairly easy process as long as you have been actively working as a CNA for most of the past two years. If not, you may be required by your state to retake a certain number of classes or pass the written exam again.

Your state’s nursing board will often require proof of employment in order to grant CNA license renewal. Save your pay stubs or have access to your W2s to help make this process easier.

Leading up to your renewal date, you also have the option to pursue becoming an RN as it is often the next step in the career paths of many nurses. But that is a topic for another time. 

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Luke Fitzpatrick

Tech Expert

Luke Fitzpatrick has been published in Forbes, Yahoo! News and Influencive. He is also a guest lecturer at the University of Sydney, lecturing in Cross-Cultural Management and the Pre-MBA Program. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.


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