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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 CNA?

A Certified Nursing Assistant (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.

Being a CNA can involve routine and sometimes unpleasant work such as changing bedpans and soiled linens. A CNA also needs patience in bathing, eating, 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.

Career Requirements

To become a CNA you must have a high school diploma and have completed a postsecondary or high school CNA educational program. You'll generally need 0-1 year of experience. Licensure and certification varies by employer and may include state CNA certification or licensure in good standing, a valid driver's license, CPR certification and automobile insurance.

Key skills one should have include:

  • A caring and compassionate manner
  • Patience
  • Communications skills
  • Word processing and spreadsheet software
  • Medical software
  • Database experience
  • Accounting software

And experience with:

  • Wheelchairs and shower chairs
  • Automated External Defibrillators (AED)
  • Therapeutic compresses
  • Electronic thermometers

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2015 the average annual salary for all nursing assistants was $26,820. Now that we know what CNAs do and what the requirements are, let's look at the steps needed to become one.

Training Programs

Step 1: Explore 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.

Here's a success tip: 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 2: 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.

Examinations and Licenses

Step 3: 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 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 4: 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.

Here's a success tip: 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 5: 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.

A Certified Nursing Assistant is a healthcare professional who works under registered nurses and licensed practical nurses to help patients and clients with basic healthcare needs like feeding, bathing and dressing.

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