To earn your Certified Nursing Assistant, or CNA, license, you must take and pass the licensing exam administered by your state board of nursing. You can't just go sit for the exam, however. You must complete a state-approved CNA program first. Therefore, completing a CNA educational program is the first step in what is sure to be a rewarding career. With so much at stake, it pays to be as prepared as possible for your program. Learn what to expect from your program to ensure smooth sailing.
Six Important Things to Know About CNA Programs
A few basic and important facts about CNA programs include:
- Prerequisites - You must have a high school diploma or GED to enroll in the vast majority of CNA programs. If you do not have one of these for some reason, you will need to correct the issue before looking for a program. Some programs also require at least some healthcare experience. Upon being accepted, you will most likely have to pass a background check and a fitness test too.
- Where - According to a report by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), 26.3 percent of CNAs obtain their education at vocational and technical schools. 21.8 percent complete their schooling at junior colleges and community colleges. Some also receive on-the-job learning that qualifies them to sit for their state exam.
- Online versus Traditional Instruction - A significant number of aspiring CNAs have full-time jobs and other responsibilities. Fortunately, they can opt for online CNA program, which is every bit as good as traditional program. However, even if you go the online route, you will have to complete clinical practice at a local facility. Otherwise, the rest of your instruction, including lectures and the like, will be held online and can be completed at your convenience.
- Skills - You will learn a variety of skills during your CNA schooling. These include administering oxygen, testing blood glucose levels, caring for the elderly, caring for infants, removing catheters, emergency care beyond CPR, administering oral and topical medications, and more. You'll learn these skills via a combination of classroom, online, and clinical, in-person schooling.
- Classroom Instruction - Whether it's conducted in an actual classroom or over the Internet, your classroom instruction will cover a wide array of topics. These include bathing procedures, oral hygiene, shaving, making beds, nutrition, taking vital signs, and more. Most courses cover legal issues affecting CNAs, and many delve more deeply into caring for patients suffering from specific conditions including Alzheimer's, diabetes, and respiratory illnesses.
- Clinical Practice - In addition to preparing you for your CNA competency exam, your program will prepare you to take care of actual patients. This requires hands-on instruction, and it's usually given at local facilities including hospitals and nursing homes. Federal regulations require CNAs to obtain a minimum of 16 hours of clinical practice, but many state-approved programs exceed this requirement. During your clinical practice, you will work with actual patients under the direct supervision of an RN. You may also be allowed to shadow a CNA to see what their workdays are like. You're sure to find this hands-on education to be especially valuable.
All told, most CNA programs can be completed in four to 12 weeks. Take your time investigating the available options, and make absolutely sure that the program you choose is approved by your state's board of nursing.