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Training to become a certified nursing assistant, or CNA, is one of the fastest ways to break into the healthcare field. Whether you'd like to test the waters before committing lots of time and money to the process or want to hit the ground running on your nursing career, completing a CNA program is a terrific option to pursue.
In this ultimate guide to CNA programs, you'll learn everything you need to know about completing training to become a certified nursing assistant. This guide covers ideal skills for working as a nurse's aide, admission requirements for CNA training programs, the average length of time to complete training and what to expect from online CNA classes.
What Are CNA Programs?
A CNA training program teaches aspiring nursing assistants the knowledge and practical skills they'll need to care for patients across various healthcare settings. During CNA training, students also learn to work under registered nurses and other clinicians to provide optimal patient care.
Training programs for certified nursing assistants include classroom instruction and hands-on, in-person clinical training experiences at local healthcare facilities. Classes may be conducted in person or online, depending on the program. Community colleges, vocational schools, hospitals and organizations like the American Red Cross offer training programs for aspiring CNAs.
These programs also prepare students for their CNA licensing examinations, which they are qualified to sit for after fulfilling their training requirements. Licensing exams consist of two parts, a multiple-choice section and a portion where aspiring CNAs must demonstrate their proficiency with various clinical skills under the supervision of an RN or other qualified individual. Many training programs are designed with these distinct exam sections in mind, including extensive classroom instruction and considerable time at local facilities practicing various nursing skills.
To qualify for your state's CNA licensing exam, completing training via a state-approved program is crucial. Before signing up for a CNA training program, contact the board of nursing in the state where you want to work as a nursing assistant to confirm that it is on the list of approved programs. If you complete a program that's not accredited or approved by the state where you want to work, you may not be able to sit for the licensing exam, qualify for financial aid or transfer your credits to other programs.
Desirable Knacks for Completing CNA Training
Do you have what it takes to be a successful CNA? You'll develop and hone the necessary skills during CNA training, but the best nurse's aides naturally possess certain personality traits, including the following:
- Communication Skills - The best CNAs have top-notch verbal and written communication skills. Certified nursing assistants must communicate clearly and directly with various people, including patients and their families, RNs, doctors and other clinical staff. They must also be able to complete reports and other documents to convey crucial written information.
- Attention to Detail - As a CNA, you must be able to discern non-verbal cues from patients under your care, so it's crucial to pay close attention to how they behave. Attention to detail also comes in handy when completing and analyzing various data, including patient charts and forms.
- Flexibility - No two days are alike when working as a nurse's aide, so it's vital to be flexible, adaptable and resilient. Due to nursing shortages, you may have to work long hours across varying shifts - another reason to be able to go with the flow.
- Patience - CNAs work with people who aren't feeling well and whose behavior can be erratic and stressful. Therefore, patience is a must for this profession.
- Empathy - It helps to be able to put yourself in patients' shoes as a certified nursing assistant. Cultivating a compassionate and caring bedside manner is key to thriving in this role.
- Optimism - CNAs often work under fast-paced, stressful conditions. Having an upbeat, enthusiastic personality will make it easier to endure those inevitable challenging moments, and it will make you a valuable addition to the healthcare team.
- Physical Strength - Finally, certified nursing assistants are on their feet for hours on end. They often must assist patients in and out of bed or otherwise provide hands-on care. Therefore, it helps to have decent physical strength and stamina to put up with the demands of this job.
Common Admission Requirements for a CNA Program
Are you ready to enroll in a CNA program? Prerequisites for CNA training programs vary. However, most programs require incoming students to meet these basic requirements:
- Minimum Age - Most CNA training programs only accept students who are 18 or older. However, some programs admit students who are still in high school.
- Diploma or GED - Except for programs that accept high school students, most training programs only accept students with a high school diploma or GED.
- Test Scores - Some training programs ask aspiring students for proof of their SAT or ACT scores, so you may have to produce those to be admitted.
- General Educational Requirements - Many CNA programs ask for copies of high school transcripts to confirm that applicants meet basic GPA requirements, especially math and English. Non-native English-speaking students may have to provide results from the Test of English as a Foreign Language, or TOEFL, exam. Some programs require students who have been out of high school for a long time to complete the Test of Basic Adult Education, or TABE.
- Vaccination Records - Many training programs require incoming students to provide proof that they are current on all required vaccinations and immunizations.
- Medical Exam - You may have to undergo a physical health exam and provide proof of such to be admitted into a CNA training program.
- Criminal Background Check - Clinical training involves working directly with actual patients, so many training programs require applicants to undergo criminal background checks before admission.
How Much Do CNA Programs Cost?
Tuition costs for CNA training programs vary by program, institution, geographic location, duration and depth of curriculum. However, the typical program costs anywhere from $300 to $3,000, with an average cost of around $1,300. This training is very affordable compared with earning a two-year associate degree in nursing, or ADN, which costs an average of $3,600 per year.
You can expect to pay additional costs beyond tuition to complete your CNA training. You'll also likely have to pay for textbooks, educational materials, scrubs and lab or technology fees. You may also have to spend a bit before starting your actual training for application fees, medical exams and criminal background checks.
How Long Do CNA Programs Take?
One of the best things about CNA training programs is that you can complete them quickly, allowing you to hit the ground running with your nursing career.
By federal law, CNA training programs must provide a minimum of 75 hours of instruction and at least 16 hours of clinical training. However, many states expand upon these requirements, so it's crucial to check the minimum training requirements for the state where you want to work as a certified nursing assistant. Some states require many additional hours of training. For example, Oregon requires at least 155 hours, and Maine requires at least 180. Many states also have more extensive clinical training requirements. Missouri requires at least 100 hours instead of 16, for example.
Most CNA training programs are 4 to 12 weeks long. The typical program offers 120 hours of instruction, including classroom work and clinical training, across six weeks. You can expect to spend around four weeks in the classroom and around two weeks completing clinical requirements.
What You'll Learn in CNA Classes
During your CNA training, you'll complete classes covering everything you need to know to work effectively as a certified nursing assistant. Some of the areas of study covered by these classes include the following:
- Activities of Daily Living - You will learn the fundamentals of assisting patients with activities of daily living, or ADLs, like bathing, eating, drinking and getting around.
- Basic Certifications - During CNA training, you will obtain certifications in basic life support cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or BLS CPR, first aid and the use of automated external defibrillators, or AEDs.
- Patient Privacy - CNA training covers the basics of patient privacy laws, including maintaining compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, HIPAA.
- Vital Signs - You'll learn how to take patient vital signs for things like blood pressure, pulse, temperature, blood sugar and oxygen saturation levels. These programs also teach you about normal ranges for each, how to report findings to supervising RNs and how to communicate results to patients.
- Maintaining Safety and Hygiene - In your CNA program, you'll be taught about infection control and the proper use of personal protective equipment, or PPE, including gloves, masks and gowns.
- Working as a CNA - You will also be prepared for how to navigate your job as a CNA in the real world, including the fundamentals of workplace safety and communication.
- Legal Information - Your CNA program will also introduce you to laws and ethics regarding patient care and working in the healthcare field.
Online CNA Classes: Things to Know
Although there's no such thing as a 100% online CNA program, many programs offer a hybrid model that allows students to complete much of the coursework online. Coursework may be completed synchronously at scheduled times, or it may be completed asynchronously on your own schedule. Clinical training must always be completed in person at local healthcare facilities.
Online CNA training is an excellent solution for busy, working adults who want to become certified nursing assistants. However, if you struggle with time management or need the engagement of being in class physically, you should seek out on-campus programs instead.
FAQ About CNA Programs
Where Can I Find CNA Training Programs?
Community colleges and vocational schools offer the majority of CNA training programs across the US. However, some larger hospitals offer in-house training for aspiring CNAs, and training also may be available from a local American Red Cross branch.
What Should I Look for in a CNA Program?
Choose a CNA program approved by the state board of nursing in the state where you will be working. Contact the state directly to confirm that the program has the appropriate credentials.
Even online CNA training programs have in-person components, so make sure that the one you choose offers clinical training experiences at facilities in your area.
Find out the average pass rate for any program you consider. Avoid programs with very low pass rates.
Finally, select a program that will help you find employment upon completion.
What Kinds of Financial Aid Are Available for CNA Programs?
Financial aid may be available for CNA training programs offered by accredited community colleges and vocational schools. If you'd like to qualify for financial aid, make sure any program you consider has the right accreditations by checking the US Department of Education website.
To be eligible for financial aid for CNA training, you must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Also known as the FAFSA, this application determines eligibility for various types of financial aid. Most schools have financial aid offices or specialists who can assist you with the application.
A few scholarships are available for people training to become CNAs every year. For example, the Nurse Corps Scholarship Program provides varying amounts of funding to students who will be working in areas with nursing shortages. Another example, the Certified Nursing Assistants Scholarship, is available to students in Illinois and provides $500 in funding.
After identifying a program to enroll in, contact them to ask about scholarships to ensure that you receive as much help as possible.
How Do CNA Bridge Programs Work?
CNA bridge programs let you build upon the training you've already completed to advance more quickly to the next level in the career track. For example, CNA-to-LPN bridge programs offer accelerated training to help you earn your LPN license, opening up many new opportunities. CNA-to-RN bridge programs let you apply some of your credits toward earning an associate's degree in nursing, or ADN, or even a bachelor of science in nursing, or BSN.
What Is the Level of Difficulty of CNA Training Programs?
Most people find CNA training programs relatively easy, as long as they devote the appropriate time and effort to the process. Most programs have pass rates of 95% or higher, so most students can pass their training and proceed to sit for the licensing exam without too much trouble.
I Have Completed My CNA Training. Now What?
Once you're done with your CNA training and receive proof of successful completion, you can apply to sit for the CNA licensing exam in your state. Some programs will help you sign up for your exam before you're even done with your training. Either way, tests are conducted at test sites across the country throughout the year.
After taking and passing the licensing exam, you'll receive your official CNA license and will be able to start applying for jobs.
Additional Resources for CNAs
- U.S. Department of Education's Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs - Search for any program you're thinking about enrolling in to confirm that it is accredited. This handy database makes it easy.
- CNA Training Requirements by State - Find out the minimal training requirements for CNAs in your state in this convenient chart.
- Free Application for Federal Student Aid - Complete your FAFSA application to start the process to qualify for financial aid for your CNA training.