Pursuing a career as a certified nursing assistant requires instruction and testing before you can begin caring for patients. Many CNAs work in environments such as hospitals, foster homes and nursing homes, and some also work with home health agencies to assist clients in their own homes. With the need for nursing assistants on the rise, earning a CNA license will help increase your employment opportunities, according to the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
You do not need a high school diploma or GED certificate to apply to most CNA programs, nor do you need a college degree. However, some programs may require a certain reading level before accepting you into the program.
Prior to starting the course, the program will perform a background check. Each state and program varies, but if you have a criminal history for certain misdemeanors or felonies such as abuse or theft, you may not qualify for the program or licensing. You may also need to take a tuberculosis test to ensure you do not have this condition.
Although every program will have a slight variation in the curriculum, your certified nursing assistant education begins with time spent in a classroom. Each state has specific guidelines that require a certain number of in-class instruction hours, which may range from 40 to 80 hours.
During this time, you will learn how to bathe patients and how to perform other hygiene essentials. The instructor will also explain how to take vital signs and the proper mechanics for lifting and transferring patients from a bed to a wheelchair, for example. Coursework will cover nutrition, medical terminology and human anatomy. You will also learn about taking precautionary measures to avoid spreading infections.
Once you complete your in-class hours, your education will continue with a certain number of clinical hours. Again, the required hours will depend on your state’s guidelines. In general, you can expect to spend between 40 and 80 hours in clinical training. You will work with your instructor as you put your coursework into practice. You will start lifting patients with supervision and may assist with other activities of daily living such as showering and feeding patients. Some programs pair you with a CNA or RN for portions of your clinical hours so you can assist while also gauging what a typical day feels like.
Once you complete the classroom and clinical hours, you can prepare for the certification testing. This happens in two parts. You will take a written test -- often a multiple choice exam -- that tests your overall knowledge of the topics covered in the classroom. The test may also have questions that involve what you learned during clinical training. In the next portion of the exam, you will show examiners how to transfer patients. You may need to simulate bathing a patient or other tasks. You will also need to demonstrate taking accurate blood pressure, temperature and pulse.
After satisfactorily completing the practical exam and passing the written exam, you will receive your certification as a nursing assistant.
Kate Beck started writing for online publications in 2005. She worked as a certified ophthalmic technician for 10 years before returning to school to earn a Masters of Fine Arts degree in writing. Beck is currently putting the finishing touches on a novel.