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How to Become a Certified Nursing Assistant

A certified nursing assistant (CNA) is a health care professional who works with and under the supervision of registered nurses (RN) to provide hands-on patient care. They assist patients with basic daily activities such as bathing, dressing, and feeding among other responsibilities.

The majority of CNAs work in nursing homes, assisted living centers, and hospitals. They also can work with patients on an individual basis in a home health care service. Throughout the US, CNA salaries vary, with the median hourly wage for a CNA being $14.26 and the median average salary being $29,660. On the higher end, CNAs can expect to make up to $40,000 annually.

CNAs are licensed or certified by a state-run program, with the highest employment levels occurring in California, Florida, New York, Texas, and Pennsylvania. The metropolitan areas with the largest amount of employment are New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, and the Washington-Arlington area.

Unlike RNs, becoming a certified nursing assistant required no formal college degree, rather just a high school diploma or GED and completion of a CNA training program. Becoming a CNA is a great first step if you’re considering a career in nursing or health care and want to see if it’s for you before you pursue additional training and education.

What Does a Certified Nursing Assistant Do?

Certified nursing assistants have a variety of patient care responsibilities. They work directly with RNs who will delegate tasks to them, though they may also take direction from physicians. Their duties and responsibilities vary depending on the facility they work for as well as the nursing care they need. A CNA’s role can include the following tasks:

  • Turning and repositioning patients who are bedridden
  • Answering patient calls
  • Taking patient’s blood pressure, temperature, heart rate, and other vitals
  • Documenting patient progress
  • Reporting patient’s progress to the RN
  • Assisting with feeding and mealtime
  • Measuring and recording their food and liquid intake
  • Restocking and getting supplies for RNs and MDs
  • Assisting with medical procedures
  • Cleaning patient’s bedpans
  • Dressing non-invasive, uncomplicated wounds
  • Bathing patients
  • Combing hair, shaving, brushing teeth, and doing other cosmetic tasks for the patient
  • Cleaning rooms and bed linens
  • Preparing rooms for new admissions
  • Providing social and emotional support

Educational Requirements of a CNA

To become a CNA, you need a minimum of high school diploma or GED and nursing assistant training from an accredited program that has been approved by your state’s nursing board and by the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC). These programs are often available locally at community colleges, trade schools, and medical facilities.  

Some states may have different requirements to obtain your CNA certification. The variety of requirements may include the number of training hours, classroom hours, and state-specific training courses. You also may need to get additional certifications depending on where you are applying to work.

CNA Training

Individual state requirements may vary, however, every prospective CNA must complete a state-approved program through an accredited institution. The standards of these programs are set by the state.

Your certified nursing assistant training consists of two portions: classroom coursework and clinical practice. The first portion of your CNA training will take place in a classroom or laboratory setting. During this component, you’ll learn human anatomy, biology, and physiology as well as basic human care principles, patient’s legal rights, and how to monitor and track a patient’s progress. 

Through this stage, you’ll learn the importance of how to take care of your patients and the responsibilities of the job. You’ll also get a basic understanding of the human body to better familiarize yourself with your patient’s condition. In addition to the knowledge you gain in the classroom, there will be supplementary textbook readings. All of this training will prepare you to apply what you’ve learned to a practical setting during the clinical portion of the training.

After completing your classroom studies, you’ll be placed into a clinical setting to practice what you’ve learned and learn how to execute your responsibilities for your patient. Typically, you’ll be placed in a hospital, nursing home, or another medical facility to finish out your training and work directly with patients. During this time, you’ll learn how to take vital signs, care for a patient’s personal hygiene, and perform the other responsibilities that are listed above. You’ll also learn how to engage with your patients and develop your bedside manner.

A CNA Certification Exam

Once you have completed your CNA training, you’ll need to take an examination in order to pass your certification. The exam is split up into two parts: a written portion and a practical portion.  As mentioned above, each state has specific requirements for its certification exams, but they all cover patient safety, anatomy, legal issues, vital signs, and testing, among other CNA responsibilities.

In the written portion, you will have 90 minutes to answer a series of multiple-choice questions based on what you learned in your training and your job expectations. This is taken in a group setting with other students.

The second portion is a practical examination of the clinical skills you developed working with patients. This exam is administered one at a time with a single test proctor. You’ll be tested on four randomly selected clinical skills to demonstrate within a half-hour period.  These clinical skills may include but are not limited to washing your hands, taking vital signs, hygiene and dental care, catheter care, and turning and moving patients.

Recertification For CNAs

By federal law, CNAs need to be recertified every two years and need to take continuing education units (CEUs) in order to stay up to date with the latest medical findings and research. You’ll learn new protocols and what techniques in your practice have been updated and changed. Some states will require specific topics for your CNA continued education and give you the option to take these classes over one to two years. Your employer may also provide CEUs within their facility or cover the cost to take them elsewhere.

Justine Nelson

Justine Nelson RN, BSN, has been a registered nurse for over 11 years with experience in home health, community health, school based nursing and healthcare based tech startups. Justine is passionate about developing new and innovative roles for nurses outside of traditional nursing roles. She currently serves as an RN content Specialist for Clipboard Health.

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