How Can I Become a Certified Nursing Assistant?

Research what it takes to become a certified nursing assistant. Learn about job duties, education requirements, certification and salary to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Nursing degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is A Certified Nursing Assistant?

Certified nursing assistants (CNA) work in nursing care facilities, hospitals and assisted living facilities. They provide personal care for those who are ill, injured, disabled or elderly. Some of the tasks they perform include bathing patients, helping them use the bathroom, rotating them, changing their sheets, helping the dress, assisting patients who need to exercise and giving a patient medication. They may need to take a patient's vital signs and update their chart. CNAs are medical professionals who work under the supervision of nurses and doctors to ensure that patient care plans are followed.

Training/Degree Required HS diploma/GED & on-the-job training; certificate programs also available
Education Field of Study Nursing assistant
Key Skills Help patients with activities of daily living; clean and dress wounds; dispense medications
Certification Required Certification requirements vary by state
Job Growth (2014-2024) 18% (for all nursing assistants)*
Average Salary (2015) $26,820*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What Would I Do as a Certified Nursing Assistant?

As a nursing assistant or nursing aide, you would work under the supervision of an RN to provide care for many types of patients. You may help patients with meals, clothing, grooming and bathing. You may also help clean wounds and change bedsheets. Because nursing assistants often spend more time with patients than other healthcare workers do, a compassionate manner is important for this job. Assistants also help patients to stand and walk, so you'll need to be physically fit as well.

What Education Do I Need?

Many nursing assistants begin work with a high school diploma or equivalent and learn their trade on the job. In high school, you should enroll in biology and health classes, as well as computer courses. If you wish to attend a formal training program, vocational schools and community colleges usually offer nurse assistant certificate programs. Most of these programs only take a few months to complete and prepare you for state certification.

Some employers may provide you with training classes when you begin your job. Though requirements vary from state to state, you may need a certain number of training hours to work in psychiatric departments or in state-run facilities, so check with your state's board of nursing for specific rules.

How Do I Become Certified?

Certification requirements for nursing assistants vary by state, so you'll need to check with your state's board of nursing. You can usually earn the Certified Nursing Assistant credential by completing a state-administered exam. In some cases, you may need to complete a certain number of training hours before taking the certification exam. Typically, the CNA exam consists of a multiple-choice section that tests your knowledge of nursing assistant duties, procedures and ethics, and a clinical section that tests your skills in handwashing, indirect care, changing bed linens and more. When you have successfully completed the exam, you can use the CNA designation and seek jobs in facilities that require state-certified nursing assistants.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

The work that medical assistants, home health aides and registered nurses do is similar to the work performed by a certified nursing assistant. Medical assistants may take a patient's vitals, update their chart, and work with a doctor to perform an examination of the patient. Home health aides may need to take a patient's vitals signs, give them medication and assist their patients with bathing, dressing and other daily tasks. Nurses help develop patient care plans and must ensure that they are followed. They may also assist patients with exercise, help rotate patients, bathe patients, give them medication and help feed patients. Registered nurses need a bachelor's degree. A postsecondary program must be completed by medical assistants, and home health aides do not necessarily need any postsecondary training to enter their field.

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