Contrary to other jobs in healthcare, CNAs don’t need a college degree.
However, they have to take training to earn a postsecondary non-degree diploma or certificate.
The CNA program coursework usually covers such subjects as medical terminology, physiology, and anatomy, pediatrics, geriatrics, pharmacology, and essentials for nursing assistants.
If you decide to advance your career by becoming a licensed practical or licensed vocational nurse (LPN/LVN), you will have to take another program designed for LPNs/LVNs.
Alternatively, you can earn an associate or bachelor’s degree to eventually become an RN (registered nurse).
Associate’s Degree Programs:
Associate degree in nursing teachers anatomy, nutrition, chemistry, microbiology, nursing, and other subjects.
The program typically takes 2-3 years to complete.
But you can earn credits for CNA experience or training you took before.
Bachelor’s Degree Programs:
You can enroll in a CNA-to-RN bridge program, which lasts for less time than an associate degree program.
After obtaining an associate degree, you can transfer credits to an accelerated bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree program to graduate sooner.
RNs holding a BSN can advance their careers and increase their salary.
- CNA Certification
- CNA Certification Requirements
- CNA Certification Exam
- CNA Recertification
- What Will I Learn in My Courses?
- How Long Will It Take?
- CNA Certification Online
- How Much Will My Education Cost?
- Are There Prerequisites?
- What Accreditation is There for My Program?
- CNA Jobs
After you complete a CNA training program, you need to pass an exam.
Then, you become registered by the state as a certified CNA.
The CNA certification proves that you’ve gained the right level of knowledge to provide patient care.
CNAs have a lot of responsibility from taking vital signs to knowing how to act in an emergency.
Certification proves that your knowledge was tested and shows employers that you have the right skills to do your job properly.
General CNA certification is required by every state, but you can also earn an additional voluntary professional certification in a specialized area.
With these credentials, you can have more job opportunities and a higher salary.
CNA Certification Requirements
To become a CNA, you need to meet some requirements first.
Every state’s requirements differ, but they share some common requirements, such as passing an exam.
For example, the requirements of the Washington State Department of Health for CNAs to become licensed are as follows:
- Take a minimum of 85 hours of training in a state-approved CNA program.
- Pass the competency exam.
- Complete a statement with information about physical and mental status, felony convictions, and other personal information.
- Take HIV/AIDS training.
This is the list of requirements of only one state, but you can expect similar requirements in other states.
Ensure that your education program is state-approved by checking with the nursing board.
CNA Certification Endorsements
The requirements are also different for CNAs who already work but in another state.
If you move to another state, you won’t always have to take the exam again.
In some states, you can apply for certification endorsement.
You will need to meet work and training experience requirements and have a valid license issued by another state.
CNA Certification Exam
The examination is usually administered by a third party in a variety of test centers within a state.
Each examination may be slightly different, but they typically include a multiple-choice test and practical skill evaluation.
The practical part is being evaluated by a registered nurse.
This part is based on a scenario, so you would complete the skills in a logical progression, not just randomly.
Both parts are taken on the same day.
Typically, you have about two hours to complete the written part and about 25 to 45 minutes for the practical one.
CNA Certification Exam Tips:
- Stay calm if you make an error or skip a step in the practical part.
You are usually allowed to fix your error once per one skill.
- Demonstrate the critical element of skill.
- Use practice tests to prepare.
They allow you to become familiar with the types of questions and get comfortable with the time you have for the test.
You will cover a lot while in a CNA program and be tested on various aspects of the job in the exam.
Some of the topics you may see on the exam include:
- Cultural needs.
- Law and ethics.
- Infection control.
- Client rights.
- Activities of daily living.
- Data collection and reporting.
- Mental health needs.
You need to check with your state board before applying to take the exam.
They will give you comprehensive information on the application process, the administrator of the exam, and more.
CNAs have to complete at least 48 hours of continuing education for recertification every 24 months.
In many states, CNAs should complete at least 12 hours every year within these two years.
In this time, you should get training in essential and developing healthcare topics, such as:
- Medical record documentation.
- Patient rights.
- First aid.
- Domestic violence.
The nursing board of the state can provide a list of approved training options and locations where you can fulfill the hours’ requirement.
Usually, you will need to provide proof that you were paid to work as a CNA at least once during these two years.
The good news is that employers often either provide this education or pay for courses for their employees.
What Will I Learn in My Courses?
Even though a CNA program is short, it covers a relatively wide array of topics.
Besides, you gain experience in a clinical setting.
Courses usually teach how to work in various settings, such as hospitals, patients’ homes, or nursing care facilities.
The programs cover:
- Basic nursing care.
- Communication skills.
- Personal care skills.
- Taking vital signs.
- Long-term care.
- Emergency procedures.
- Controlling infections.
How Long Will It Take?
Most programs for CNAs take from four to twelve weeks.
They include both contact and clinical hours.
State-approved programs provide a minimum of 75 hours of classwork and clinical experience.
CNA Certification Online
CNA programs offered by community colleges or vocational schools can also be taken online.
If you study online, the school will most likely help you arrange clinical hours at a local hospital.
You need to check with your state board for the approved online programs.
Explore the information about the program carefully.
Some programs may be designed to train students only to a certain level.
After finding the right school, you will take theoretical classes online.
But you will still have to complete lab hours.
Clinical hours will have to be completed at the assigned place.
Online programs offer more flexibility, and you can save money.
But before enrolling in one, ensure that the curriculum meets the requirements of the state.
You won’t qualify for the CNA exam without approval.
How Much Will My Education Cost?
The cost of CNA programs can vary depending on the type of program you take (associate degree or diploma).
For example, American Career College’s medical assistant program can cost $17,000 for a nine-month program.
An accelerated program can be about $13,000.
If you want to earn a two-year associate’s degree, tuition can be twice as much as a diploma program, but you will also be eligible to work as an RN.
After you earn a diploma, you still can expect some expenses to come.
The competency exam, often held by PearsonVue computer-based or Prometric testing systems, is also an expense.
The prices can also differ by state, so check with your state nursing board to know the costs exactly.
Are There Prerequisites?
Most programs require candidates to hold a high school diploma or GED and provide high school transcript.
Some programs may also require an entrance exam and a criminal background check.
What Accreditation is There for My Program?
A CNA program should be approved by the state board of nursing.
Most states have a list of approved programs and you should check for how long the program has been approved.
Often, larger nursing programs offered by the same school can be approved by one of the major accreditation organizations.
If you decide to earn more education after you become a CNA, the accreditation will matter.
It’s a definite way to know if a program meets the national nursing education requirements.
After a rigorous application process, schools are registered by independent accrediting organizations.
Since they have to stay up-to-date on state governments and health departments, they know if a program provides the necessary training.
Accreditation can help students with financial aid eligibility.
Earning a degree at an accredited school allows students to pursue more education at other accredited schools.
Besides, if you move to a different state, with training from an accredited school, you can get a new license easier.
Accreditation isn’t lasting a lifetime.
Usually, they are given for a certain time (5 to 10 years) and vary by school.
You should check with your potential school about the time they have been accredited for.
Main Accreditation Bodies
The Accreditation Commission for Education (ACEN), formerly NLNAC:
Accreditation for all nursing programs (diploma, associate, bachelor’s, master’s).
The Commission of Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE):
Accreditation for bachelor’s and master’s nursing programs.
By 2026, the employment growth for CNAs is expected to be faster than the national average.
According to the US BLS, the employment for CNAs will increase by 11% for such reasons as more people with chronic diseases and an aging population moving to nursing homes.
The job prospects for CNAs are strong in home-health care and community-based care.
They can also work in assisted living facilities and hospitals.
Here’s what you can expect from working in various settings:
Home health care
CNAs usually care for one person.
They have a less hectic schedule, but the salary may be lower than of CNAs in other settings.
CNA positions in hospitals are in high demand since they offer good benefits, the opportunity to work with multiple medical professionals, and a higher salary.
You can also work in different departments and develop your skills.
However, you won’t be able to build long-term relations with patients since they usually stay only or a few days.
Nursing and long-term care facilities
The demand for CNAs increases with the aging baby-boomer population which requires long-term care.
One of the advantages of working in such a facility is that you get to know your patients.
For many CNAs, it’s one of the best parts of the job.
However, it can be both physically and mentally exhausting, so many CNAs obtain more education to become RNs.
If you decide to advance your career but still want a similar role, you can consider the following options:
Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)
LPNs also provide basic patient care but are the next level above CNAs.
They need more schooling but also have more responsibility and a higher salary.
Occupational Therapy Assistant
These professionals work with patients helping them regain and improve their daily life skills.
They are supervised by occupational therapists.
Personal Care Aides
Personal care aides help patients with everyday tasks in addition to providing companionship.
You may work together with other healthcare professionals in the patient’s home.
If you wish to become a CNA, you can start by finding the right school with a challenging curriculum, class schedule that meets your needs, and quality professors.