Of the many paths that one can follow to break into the world of nursing, starting out as a Certified Nursing Assistant, or CNA, is among the easiest and most practical. Becoming a CNA doesn't take very long; in general, the training, which most states require, takes four to 12 weeks to complete. It's not expensive either, so it's an economical way to gain the credentials that you need to break into the health care field. If you are curious about becoming a CNA, read on to gain useful insights regarding CNA license requirements, which must be met to legally work as a CNA in all 50 states.
CNA License Requirements Vary By State
The first and perhaps most crucial thing to know about CNA license requirements is that they vary from one state to the next. In most states, the board of nursing handles CNA licensing and related issues, but other agencies handle it in some places. Either way, you need to contact whatever agency handles licensing for CNAs in your state and obtain a current list of requirements. Note that while the requirements vary from state to state, they are overwhelmingly similar in many ways too.
Basic Licensing Requirements for CNAs
It is important not to get ahead of yourself when attempting to break into the CNA field. Therefore, make sure that you meet the most basic requirements for working as a CNA. Again, these vary from state to state, but generally, the requirements are as follows:
The standard minimum age for those who wish to apply for a license is 16 years old. Flexible schedules as a CNA allow students to work part time while finishing their high school education or continuing their education on to a community or four-year university.
While some states do allow licensure as early as 16 years of age, certain employers may not hire you until you are at least 18. This is important to keep in mind as your license may be suspended if you do not meet minimum employment requirements for maintaining your license in your state.
No state requires CNA applicants to have completed high school and received a diploma, or alternatively have completed their GED, as the minimum age for getting CNA licensure is 16, while the typical age of high school graduates is 17-18.
If you are 16/getting close to 16, in high school, and want to become a CNA, try to take courses that will help you when you begin your CNA program such as biology, chemistry, human anatomy and physiology, and algebra or higher-level math courses. Some high schools even have a CNA program - be sure to find out more details about yours.
In order to work in any area of nursing, you will need to have a clean record. You will be screened to ensure you are free of criminal convictions, chemical dependency and drug abuse, mental health conditions, and medical conditions that may hinder your ability to perform your job.
Criminal convictions include misdemeanors and felonies, and you may have convictions regardless of whether you have spent time in jail. Criminal convictions will show up on your fingerprint check even if it has been expunged, sealed, dismissed, dropped, or closed. This is why it's important to reveal any convictions you have when asked.
Minor violations, such as traffic tickets, citations, or juvenile offenses may not disqualify you from getting your license. Violations that happened seven to ten years prior may also be forgiven if you have had a clean record ever since.
Although you may be able to get your CNA license with some criminal convictions on your record, you may not be able to gain employment in certain medical settings because of those convictions.
Documents That You'll Need to Obtain a CNA License
Before getting too far into the process, make sure that you have all of the documents that you will need. Generally speaking, these include:
- A driver's license, state ID or birth certificate for proof of age
- A copy of your diploma or GED if applicable
- A copy of your criminal background check
- A copy of your health screening or physical, including proof of TB test
- Immunization records
- Copies of your CPR and first aid certificates
Certification in CPR
Before you can even enroll in most CNA programs, you may be required to obtain certification in CPR (Cardiopulmonary resuscitation). It can most easily be obtained through the American Red Cross. The organization offers certification classes throughout the year at sites around the country, so check there first. Make sure to get a copy of your certification so that you can prove that you have obtained it.
Completion of an Approved CNA Training Program
To obtain a CNA license in most states, you must take and complete a CNA program. This program must be officially sanctioned by whichever agency is in charge of CNA licensing in your state. The status of such training programs can change, so always confirm that the program that you are considering is approved by your state agency prior to enrollment.
The most important thing to confirm when seeking CNA training is that the program is approved by the state board of nursing or whichever agency handles licensing in your state. However, it is also wise to confirm that the institute is accredited by a reputable accreditation body like the Commission on Collegiate Nursing and Education, or CCNE, or the National League for Nursing Accreditation Commission, or NLNAC. Institutes that are accredited by reputable organizations have demonstrated that they properly prepare students not just for the licensing exam but for the rigors of working as a CNA.
To be approved by the state, your CNA program must be of the correct duration as well. Again, this varies from state to state. In 19 states, for example, you must complete a minimum of 75 hours of training to earn your CNA license. In other states, you must complete anywhere from 80 to 180 hours of training. This training includes classroom instruction, lab, and quizzes. It also must include a minimum number of on-site clinical training hours. This requirement also varies by state, but it ranges from 16 to 100 hours.
|State||Minimum Training Hours||Minimum Clinical Hours|
|District of Columbia||120||75|
Understanding of Important CNA-Related Topics
To earn a CNA license in your state, you must take and pass your state's certification exam. This exam is broken up into two sections: a written one and one where you demonstrate your clinical skills. To pass the written part, in particular, you must become knowledgeable about a broad array of topics. These topics will be covered in-depth during your CNA training, but it is up to you to learn them well enough to pass the exam.
Examples of the kinds of topics that you should be knowledgeable of as a CNA include:
- human anatomy and physiology
- infection control
- vital signs and testing
- client rights or patient rights
- medical terminology
- personal care
- body mechanics
- range of motion
For best results, take time to study and review all of the topics that you covered during training prior to sitting for the exam. Note that practice CNA licensing exams are available online, and it pays to take them to know what to expect when the time comes.
Application and Fees for CNA Licensing
To obtain a CNA license in any of the 50 states, you must submit an application to whichever agency is in charge of such matters. Typically, it is the state board of nursing. In most cases, this application is submitted after passing the training program but prior to sitting for the exam. Your exam results are automatically transmitted, and you automatically get your license if you pass. Check with your state for current information regarding CNA licensing fees, as these must typically be paid when you submit your application.
Successful Completion of CNA Licensing Exam
The last hurdle to surpass to obtain a CNA license in all states is passing the licensing examination. This exam is precisely what your training program is supposed to prepare you for, so it is crucial to do your best and to focus on your studies. The exam is made up of two sections in all states, but the number of questions in the written section may vary. All states have a clinical skills portion during which you must demonstrate competence in performing a number of nursing skills.
On exam day, confirm that you have what you need to sit for the exam. Typically, you need a valid photo ID and an authorization to test, or ATT, for the exam. You might also need to provide your social security card. Note that the written portion is usually administered by a third-party examination company. In general, it includes around 60 questions, and you generally get 90 minutes to complete it. These questions are typically multiple choice, so keep that in mind while studying.
During your exam, you must also complete a clinical skills portion. This section is usually proctored by a licensed nurse who chooses three to six skills from a list of about a dozen for you to demonstrate. You almost certainly will have to demonstrate competency with washing your hands, but you can expect to be asked to demonstrate several other skills as well. You should get about 30 minutes to complete this section, and you do not need a perfect score to pass.
Some of the skills that you may be asked to demonstrate during your CNA licensing exam include:
- hand-washing to ensure proper infection control
- catheter insertion
- positioning patients in their beds
- making a bed that is occupied
- taking and recording vital signs
- transferring patients to and from beds
During your CNA training, you will have many opportunities to practice and refine these skills. Make the most of these clinical training experiences, as they give you a clear idea about what the proctor will want to see during the exam.
There is no getting around the licensing exam when it comes to becoming licensed as a CNA. You have three opportunities to pass the exam within two years of completing your training. After that, you may have to start over to be eligible to sit for the exam again.
As you can see, CNA license requirements are fairly straightforward. The most important thing to bear in mind is that they vary by state, so be sure to consult with your state's licensing body for CNAs before proceeding.