A certified nursing assistant, or CNA, plays an important role in the health care system. Serving as an aide to the nursing staff, a CNA provides patient care in a variety of medical settings. A CNA is a certified health care position, and CNAs must meet specific competencies and practical training guidelines. Common duties include taking vital signs, helping patients with basic hygiene tasks, transporting patients around the facility and delivering meals. The federal minimum training standard is 75 hours of classroom and laboratory training, but some states require as much as 150 hours. The certified nursing assistant role provides a glimpse into the health care profession and provides an experience that’s helpful for other advanced positions.

Tip

If you go to school full time, you can usually earn your CNA license in six weeks.

Education Requirements for CNA Certification

You must have a high school diploma or GED to be eligible for the program. During this time, you’ll take classes like introduction to health care, nursing arts and fundamentals of a certified nursing assistant. Most programs also require an externship. This full-time program involves lecture and laboratory time. The culmination of the program is a 45 hour externship that will help you apply your skills in a practical setting. How long does it take to be a CNA? You can expect to spend an average of six weeks as a full-time student in a certified nursing assistant program. Some programs provide CNA classes online to provide scheduling flexibility. If you choose an online program, be sure that you will have the opportunity to learn and practice the necessary practical skills with a trained professional.

Certification Guidelines for CNAs

Once you have completed your course work, you’ll need to obtain a state license. Certification to become a licensed CNA varies by state, but most require a written and practical examination. For example, the state of Texas requires 75 hours of training and a competency examination. In contrast, California requires 150 hours for a CNA certification program. The certification process generally includes a written test and a practical skills test. Once certified, you will be listed on a state registry indicating that you are authorized to work in a long-term care facility.

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How Much Are CNA Classes?

You may be wondering about the typical cost of CNA classes. Generally, in-state tuition for CNA students is approximately $71.50 per credit hour. If you’re an out-of-state student, you can expect to pay more than triple this amount. Student fees, books, a criminal background check and a certification fee will add to this amount. The American Red Cross offers a program with an inclusive fee of $1,250 to $1,500.

Certified Nursing Assistant Duties

In addition to providing basic care, a CNA informs the nursing staff about changes in the condition of patients. Serving as a calming influence, a CNA communicates with patients and eases their fears about tests and procedures. Some certified nursing assistants prepare and operate medical equipment and apply bandages or splints as directed by the nursing staff. Changing bedding, assisting with bedpans and administering therapeutic baths are other common duties.

CNA Traits and Skills

There are a variety of skills that are essential for a certified nursing assistant. Strong communication skills and attention to detail are a must for this profession. As a CNA, it’s important to have patience and the ability to solve problems. An inclination to be a team player is important since you will work alongside other health care staff in challenging situations. Anticipating the needs of the nursing staff and patients will help you be successful in this job. Empathy and compassion for patients who are facing hardship is a vital trait of a CNA. Since lifting and moving patients are important duties, physical strength is a must.

Challenges Facing a CNA

In addition to long shifts, a CNA spends the majority of his time on his feet. Often, bedridden patients require assistance with using the bathroom, changing their clothes or even just rolling over in bed. You’re likely to encounter patients who are depressed or frustrated by their medical condition. The harried environment of a fast-paced medical facility is demanding and requires the ability to multitask and overcome obstacles with a positive attitude.

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Rewards

In addition to gaining valuable work experience and a paycheck, becoming a certified nursing assistant will provide intrinsic rewards. The gratitude that you receive from patients and their families will reinforce the feeling that you’re making a difference in the lives of others. You will also make meaningful connections with other medical staff that may pave the way for future job opportunities. Look for a nurse who can serve as a mentor and provide guidance as you learn more about how to be successful as a certified nursing assistant. The experience that you’ll gain will look great on your resume and will be favorable on a nursing school application.

Roles, Salary and Shifts

In addition to working as a CNA generalist, you can also choose a specialization. After you get the hang of the work of a certified nursing assistant, you may find that a particular area of medicine interests you. Most employers will provide on-the-job training for certified nursing assistants who work in pediatrics, geriatrics, psychiatry or home health care. If you’re interested in specializing in cardiology, you may have to go to a special training class.

A common question is how much a CNA makes per hour. In 2017, the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated that the average annual wage for a certified nursing assistant was $27,510, or $13.23 per hour. Insurance benefits can increase the total compensation package. Some medical organizations even provide profit sharing for certified nursing assistants. CNAs who work in government or hospital settings may earn more. The highest wages are found in California, Texas, Florida and Illinois.

As a CNA, you can choose to work nights or weekends. Some health care facilities require 12-hour shifts, and this schedule may allow you to work four days and get three days off. When you work nights or holidays, you may even be offered an increase in your hourly pay. Preferential shift choices are usually awarded to employees with the most seniority.

Industry and Job Growth Trend

Certified nursing assistants work in hospitals, medical clinics, government settings and nursing homes or assisted-living facilities. A growth of 11 percent is expected between now and 2026. You can look forward to job security as a certified nursing assistant. An increase in older adults has created a demand for more CNAs. A high turnover rate adds to an increase in jobs for this position.

Career Options for a CNA

A certified nursing assistant is an entry-level position in the health care industry. You can use your experience as a CNA to determine if health care is the right profession for you. After gaining valuable insight as a CNA, you can get additional training to become a licensed practical nurse or a registered nurse. Some students even serve as a CNA while they are studying for a higher-level position. You may even be able to apply some of your classes and experience to a different health care degree.

About the Author

Dr. Kelly Meier earned her doctorate from Minnesota State Mankato in Educational Leadership. She is the author and co-author of 12 books and serves as a consultant in K-12 and higher education. Dr. Meier is is a regular contributor for The Equity Network and has worked in education for more than 30 years.