How to Get Your CNA License

Learn the steps to obtain a CNA license, including training programs, exams, and application processes. Start your healthcare career today!
How to Get a CNA License

Once you have confirmed that you meet the requirements for getting a CNA license, you are ready to begin the process. Here are the steps on how to get your CNA license.

Complete an Approved CNA Program

Your first step will be to complete an approved CNA program. These programs are offered in a variety of settings, including high schools, community colleges, vocational schools, and the Red Cross. You will want to find the program closest to you, confirm that it is a program recognized by your state's nursing board, and complete it.

Depending on your state, you may need to apply for your CNA license within a specific timeframe (upon enrolment in your program or after completing it and passing the license exam). Keep these things in mind when you are going to enroll in your CNA program.

Pass Certification Exam

The certification exam is broken into two parts: written and clinical. The written part of the exam (sometimes referred to as the theoretical) consists of multiple-choice questions with one correct answer. You will generally have 90 minutes to answer 60 questions, although specific number of questions and time allotted may vary by state.

The clinical part of the exam consists of performing an assigned set of specific skills. Generally, this will be five skills plus handwashing and indirect care. The time you have to perform these skills vary based on the activities you are assigned to perform, but usually the total time for this portion of the exam will be 30-40 minutes.

While you do not have to do them perfectly to pass this portion of the exam, you do have to prove your competency based on a specific checklist that the nurse aide evaluator will be using to score your performance. The five skills will be chosen from a total of 22-23 tasks.

Examples include:

  • Ambulating the patient using a transfer/gait belt.
  • Assisting the patient to use a bedpan.
  • Changing bed linens while the patient is still in bed.
  • Changing the patient's position to side-lying.
  • Dressing a patient with a weak arm.
  • Emptying the contents of a patient's urinary drainage bag, and measuring and recording the output.
  • Feeding a patient sitting in a chair.
  • Measuring a patient's radial pulse.

Check out the full list of tasks, along with specific checkpoints for each.

You will have a total of three opportunities to pass each portion of the CNA exam. If you are unable to pass both portions of the exam within two years of completing your CNA program, you will need to take the CNA program again and re-start the application process once it is completed.

Submit Your Application

Next, depending on your state, you will need to submit your license application. The application is generally one to two pages, and will ask you for your name, address, phone number, social security number, driver's license or state ID number, height, weight, hair color, eye color, criminal background, and whether you have had any adverse action taken against you by a health-related licensing, certification, or disciplinary authority.

The application will also ask you about your CNA program - where you took it, when you completed it, and the program ID number (if applicable). You will need to submit a document showing completion of your CNA program or have it sent directly by your school to your state's nursing board or licensing authority.

Submit Your Fingerprint

Along with your application (or in some states, prior to submitting your application), you will need to submit your fingerprint for a thorough background check. The fingerprint check will reveal any criminal convictions on your record, no matter how old or what their status is (expunged, sealed, dismissed, dropped, or closed).

This is why it is important to be honest when submitting your application about your criminal record. If you answer no to having any criminal convictions, and your fingerprint check reveals otherwise, your application will be considered fraudulent and will be denied.

Certain convictions may not prevent you from getting your license, such as traffic violations and minor citations or those that happened over seven to ten years ago. Felonies such as murder, manslaughter, assault with intent to kill, sexual assault, and domestic violence, on the hand, will prevent you from getting your license. Your state's nursing board will review other felonies to determine whether you are eligible to get your license.

Pay Processing Fees

Along with your application, you will need to pay the appropriate fees. These fees include an application fee, fingerprint check fee, and examination fee. If you are already working as an aide or in another area of healthcare, you may be able to get your employer to cover your fees for certification. In some states, your employer must pay some or all of your fees.

Alternative CNA Licensing Paths

For those who have other experience or training, you may be able to get your CNA license without the same requirements of a new nurses aide applicant. For example, graduate nurses do not need to take the CNA training program but will need to take the CNA licensing exam. RNs and LPNs do not need to take the CNA training program or CNA licensing exam. Contact your state's nursing board or CNA licensing authority if you have education, training, or other certifications that may make it unnecessary for you to go through the standard CNA license application process.

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