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How to Become a Certified Nursing Assistant

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Becoming a certified nursing assistant sets you up to provide daily life-saving care in a medical environment. It also prepares you for potential growth and upward mobility as a healthcare professional.

Becoming a certified nursing assistant makes the potential for what you can achieve in the field enormous. From management roles to other allied healthcare professions, where you choose to stop is ultimately up to you.

But how exactly can you begin becoming a certified nursing assistant? And what are the critical steps involved?

We take a look at all of these questions and more below.

Why Become a CNA?

Before diving into the steps involved in becoming a certified nursing assistant, it is necessary to mention some qualities that make the profession desirable. Below are just a few examples.

  • Affordable Training - One of the most appealing aspects of becoming a certified nursing assistant is that you have a direct entry into healthcare without worrying about spending a ton of money on training. Unlike other healthcare programs that cost between $40,000 - $200,000, CNA training only costs between $700 - $1500.
  • Job Stability & Flexibility - Like many other allied universal professions, certified nursing assistants enjoy excellent job security. Additionally, they can choose between a handful of work environments. They can also negotiate and control their work hours, shifts, and days of work.
  • Growth - Another important aspect of being a certified nursing assistant is that you get to understand how the healthcare industry fundamentally works in only a short amount of time. From here, you can stop or continue pursuing other advanced roles, such as becoming a registered nurse.

Steps to Becoming a Certified Nursing Assistant

There are more than a few paths to becoming a certified nursing assistant. However, the most popular and most straightforward involves the following four steps.

Step 1: The Prerequisites

To become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) in the United States, there are several prerequisites you typically need to fulfill. Remember that specific requirements vary by state, so you must check with your nursing board or regulatory agency for precise information. However, here are the general prerequisites for becoming a CNA:

  1. Age Requirement: You must be at least 18 years old in most states, though some states may allow individuals as young as 16 to become CNAs with parental consent.
  2. Education: A high school diploma or equivalent (such as a GED) is usually required to enroll in a CNA training program. However, some states may accept individuals without a high school diploma case-by-case basis.

Step 2: Enrolling in a CNA Training Program

The second step in becoming a certified nursing assistant is the most important, and this is the point where you enroll in a training program.

There are a few things to note about enrolling in a CNA training program, but the first is that any program you choose must be state-approved. Otherwise, your time there may be meaningless.

There are also a few alternatives to CNA training programs, including online and offline options. Most, however, are structured in a hybrid format, allowing most of the theoretical coursework to be completed online while the laboratory aspects are to be completed on campus.

Notable CNA Training Programs

There are many impressive CNA training programs nationwide, and regardless of where you live, you should be able to find one that is pretty close. However, one of the best and most popular training programs is the one administered by the American Red Cross.

The program is known for its exhaustive nature and focus on all aspects of nursing assistance, including the theoretical, laboratory, and clinical aspects.

Other notable programs are City College of San Francisco, Century College Minnesota, Maine Medical Center, Portland, and Pratt Community College in Kansas.

Step 3: In-Person Clinical Training

As mentioned above, any CNA training program has three crucial aspects. The first two, the theoretical and laboratory aspects, are usually a part of the program. That is, the institution provides them both.

The third, however, the in-person clinical training, may or may not be a part of the curriculum. Yet, it is just as important as the first two if you’re ever certified as a nursing assistant.

In-person clinical training aims to ensure that students are familiar with theories and lab work involving stimulation scenarios and actual real-world medical environments.

Where to Obtain In-person Clinical Training

Because it is not mere theory or stimulation, clinical training for CNAs must be obtained from actual hospitals and healthcare facilities. According to federal regulations, all CNAs must get 16 hours of clinical experience before becoming certified and practicing.

During clinical training, aspiring CNAs work under the superiority of a registered nurse who acts as a mentor. Organizations like the Red Cross, with clinical conditioning as part of their curriculum, may also provide a training instructor to act as supervisor and mentor.

Step 4: Certification Exam

To no one’s surprise, the last step to becoming a certified nursing assistant is to become certified. While the above steps prepare you to become a nursing assistant, you only get to practice if you’re approved, and you can only become certified by passing a state-approved CNA certification exam.

Of course, one of the requirements of such exams is that you must have already completed a state-approved training program. And while different states have their certification exams, the most popular by far is the NNAAP certification examination.

NNAAP Certification Examination

The NNAAP certification examination is one of the most popular options for an aspiring certified nursing assistant. It is the default certification examination in 20 states.

The exam seeks to verify that candidates have acquired the knowledge they’ll need to carry out their nursing responsibilities to a high level.

It tests candidates’ knowledge in psychosocial care, physical care, anatomy, pharmacology, emergency procedures, physiology, and other nursing roles.