Become a CNA Online: 5 Steps to Become a CNA with Online Programs

Learn how to become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA). Research the career requirements, training information and experience required for starting a career as a CNA.

Should I Become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)?

A CNA is a healthcare professional who assists patients and clients with basic healthcare needs, such as bathing, feeding, dressing and eating. A CNA typically works under the supervision of registered nurses (RNs) or licensed practical nurses (LPNs) in hospitals or nursing homes. Assistants may work on their feet for many hours and be required to lift or move patients.

Career Requirements

Degree Level High school diploma, postsecondary or high school CNA educational program
Experience 0-1 years of experience
Licensure and Certification Varies by employer, may include state CNA certification or licensure in good standing, valid driver's license, CPR certification, automobile insurance
Key Skills Caring and compassionate manner, patience, communication skills; word processing and spreadsheet software, medical software, database experience, accounting software; experience with wheelchairs and shower chairs, Automated External Defibrillator (AED)s, therapeutic compresses, electronic thermometers
Salary $26,250 (mean annual salary for all nursing assistants as of May 2014)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*Net Online, job postings (October 2012).

Step 1: Do a Career and Self-Assessment

Being a CNA can involve routine and sometimes unpleasant work, such as changing bed pans and soiled linens. A CNA also needs patience in bathing, feeding and overall patient care. CNAs need to be physically healthy to perform physically demanding tasks such as lifting and moving patients and spending most of their work time on their feet. Patience, understanding and a strong desire to help others are recommended personal qualifications for this work.

Step 2: Explore Online CNA Training Program Options

Few schools offer Web-based options for aspiring CNAs, and those that do offer a hybrid format and require students to participate in onsite clinical experiences. The program should be accredited and approved by the state in which one wishes to seek employment. To become a CNA, the individual needs to complete both theory and hands-on clinical training. Some programs have attendance requirements.

Success Tips:

  • Look for local colleges offering online CNA training. Because of the clinical requirement, it may be beneficial to attend a school close to home while completing coursework online. This can help an individual when finding locations to complete hands-on training to prepare for certification.

Step 3: Complete a Training Program

The duration of a program is typically one semester, or 6-12 weeks, depending on a student's time commitment and schedule. Along with the completion of reading, interactive online assignments and participation in discussion with instructors and classmates, students must typically attend a hands-on skills laboratory at a clinical location about once a week and meet minimum hour requirements. Some schools offer both day and night schedule options.

Step 4: Pass Examinations

After completing the federal requirement of a minimum of 75 hours classroom and practical training, an aspiring CNA must pass a skills demonstration and written competency exam. The exam can be taken through a nursing facility or college offering a program, or an aspiring CNA could contact an approved vocational technical school or a community college. After successful demonstration of competency through the exam, the individual student is listed on the state's nurse aide registry. Each state maintains its own nurse aide registry in order to keep track of all the individuals who have met written and skills test criteria and are certified for employment.

Step 5: Keep Your License Active

To work as a CNA, one must keep an active and non-expired license. To keep an active status, federal regulation requires individuals to be employed as CNAs, or to work in a nursing-related occupation. To keep the license from expiring, one must not have more than a total of 24 months of a break in employment. A regular review must be completed every year by the employing facility, along with in-service training to ensure competency.

Success Tips:

  • Be aware of state and federal training requirements. To avoid having to retrain and register as a CNA, investigate the state's continuing education and evaluation requirements to maintain active status. After completing the rigorous education and clinical requirements, it is important to remain in good standing to avoid re-training.

Step 6: Consider Advancement

CNAs can progress to RN, LPN, or administrator roles through additional training and licensure. These careers offer better hours, increased pay, and more high-end involvement in patient care. Some schools offer bridge programs, whether CNA-to-LPN or CNA-to-RN, to help CNAs transition into these more advanced roles.

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