Certified Nursing Assistant: How to Become a Nurse Assistant

Research the requirements to become a certified nursing assistant. Learn about the job description and duties, and explore the step-by-step process to start a career as a nursing assistant. View article »

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  • 0:04 Should I Become a CNA?
  • 0:59 Complete a CNA program
  • 2:07 Obtain Certification
  • 2:57 Pursue Additional Education

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Video Transcript

Should I Become a CNA?

Certified nursing assistants (CNAs) have a variety of responsibilities in the medical field, including performing administrative duties, completing basic clinical procedures, transporting patients, and providing assistance to nurses and other healthcare professionals. This occupation can be physically demanding, since CNAs often stand for many hours and occasionally lift or move patients who require assistance.

CNAs need strong verbal and written communication skills, compassion, and patience. They also should have at least intermediate-level computer skills with regards to medical and accounting software, and an understanding of patient care duties. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that nursing assistants made a mean annual wage of $26,820 as of May 2015. Let's trace the steps required to become a CNA

Step 1: Complete a Certified Nursing Assistant Program

Nursing assistants usually need a certificate earned through a postsecondary program. These programs are primarily offered through settings that include nursing homes, hospitals, community colleges, and vocational schools.

Nursing assistant programs can be completed in just a few weeks and generally include lab and clinical instruction. While enrolled in a program, students will learn basic nursing and personal skills, clients' rights, and effective communication techniques.

Because nursing assistant programs require students to have certain basic functional abilities, good courses to take in high school in preparation for this occupation include math, reading, and English. Paying close attention to these areas in high school can also help students prepare for the assessment tests required by many CNA programs.

Additionally, nursing assistants need to be able to effectively communicate patient information to nurses and other healthcare workers. Speech or writing courses in high school or other academic programs can help develop these skills.

Step 2: Obtain Certification

Once they've completed the education requirements, nursing assistants must take a state competency exam. Some states then grant individuals the title of certified nursing assistant. However, the specific title can vary by state. Also, nursing assistants who have passed the exam are placed on a state's registry. To work in a nursing home, many states require nursing assistants to be on the state registry.

Preparation courses are available for CNA exams. Prospective nursing assistants also should be familiar with specific state requirements. A state's board of nursing or health will have information on whether continuing education courses, background checks, or any other requirements are needed for full qualification as a nursing assistant.

Step 3: Pursue Additional Education

CNAs might opt to advance to higher-level nursing positions, such as licensed practical nurse (LPN) or registered nurse (RN). While experience as a CNA could prove helpful, additional education is also necessary. The LPN designation typically requires one year of coursework for a diploma, while the RN designation requires at least two years of education at the associate's or bachelor's degree level.

In summary, certified nursing assistants typically hold a certificate and have passed a state exam. Additional education could lead to advanced positions, like licensed practical nurse (LPN) or registered nurse.

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