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Certified Nursing Assistant: Nurse Assistant Career Education Overview

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a certified nursing assistant. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about training, job duties and certification to find out if this is the career for you.

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Becoming a nursing assistant might be a convenient way for you to enter the medical field. The formal training required for employment is brief, and the job outlook for nursing assistants is bright from 2014-2024.

Essential Information

Nursing assistants help registered nurses by providing basic care to patients in medical institutions, nursing facilities and in their homes. Such professionals may find employment with no more than a high school education, but completion of a formal training program in nursing assisting may be preferred by employers and allow for career advancement. In most cases, some on-the-job training is provided. Certification and licensing regulations vary by state.

Required Education Formal state-approved training program
Certification Typically required
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 18% for all nursing assistants*
Median Salary (2015) $25,710 for all nursing assistants*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Career Education Overview

Certified nursing assistants (CNAs), also known as nursing aides, are health care professionals who assist patients with daily tasks, such as eating, bathing, dressing and using the restroom. Nurse assistants might also offer exercise support or nutritional help to patients.

Formal training and experience is generally required for those interested in becoming a certified nurse assistant. Many colleges and vocational schools offer postsecondary programs in nursing assistance that can take a single semester or less to complete. Applicants usually need to provide current health records and submit to a background check, and some schools require basic CPR certification.

Registered nurses usually provide instruction during certified nursing assistant training. The curricula typically starts with classroom learning and hands-on labs before exposing students to actual work in a hospital, long-term care or other clinical facility. Completion of these programs frequently meets any state registration or certification requirements. Common training in a nursing assistant or aide program includes:

  • Anatomy
  • Infection and disease control
  • Personal care
  • Nursing support
  • Communication
  • Nutrition

Certification and Registration

State requirements for nursing assistants or aides vary; some require registration or certification of all assistants, and multiple certification levels might exist based on the type of work a nursing assistant performs. Nursing boards that regulate the profession often require nursing assistants to pass a competency test before registering or obtaining certification. According to federal law, nursing assistants who work in a nursing care facility must complete a specified number of classroom and experiential training and take an exam to earn become certified nursing assistants (CNAs). However, those who work in any health care setting can participate in the same training to receive CNA certification.

Career Advancement

Certified nursing assistants who wish to advance in the nursing field must complete additional education. Some nursing assistant training programs allow credit to transfer to an advanced CNA program or a nursing certificate or degree program that can qualify CNAs to become registered nurses (RNs) or licensed practical nurses (LPNs). Further advancement could occur by earning a bachelor's degree in nursing or a master's degree in advanced practice nursing. Those interested in nursing education or research could also pursue a doctoral degree in nursing, which often allows for multiple areas of concentrated study.

Salary Information and Career Outlook

The BLS predicts that career opportunities for all nursing assistants will increase faster than the national average, at a rate of 18%, between 2014 and 2024. The BLS reported that the median annual salary for all nursing assistants, including CNAs, was $25,710 in May 2015.

Nursing assistants complete short training programs in order to qualify for mandatory state certification or registration. In addition to pursuing entry-level work, CNAs may go on to pursue certificates in licensed practical nursing or undergraduate degrees in nursing.

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