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Nurse Assistant: Education for Becoming a Certified Nurse Assistant

Learn about the education and preparation required to become a nurse assistant. Get a quick view of the requirements, including degree programs, job duties and certification requirements, to see if this career is right for you.

Certified nurse assistants help patients with basic needs and assist other medical personnel with a variety of duties. CNAs must complete a training program first, pass an exam, and become certified. They can then work in hospitals, nursing homes or other healthcare facilities.

Essential Information

Educational programs for certified nursing assistants (CNAs) can be found in community colleges, hospitals, vocational training centers and even high schools. Becoming a CNA requires passing a competency exam after completing a state-approved training program.

Required Education Nurse assistant training program
Other Requirements State certification, on-the-job training
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 18%
Average Salary (2015)* $26,820

Source:*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Becoming a Certified Nursing Assistant

Certified nursing assistants, also called nursing aides, are medical workers who assist patients with routine tasks, record basic medical documentation and perform other essential duties. They are employed in hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare facilities.

Depending on the setting, CNAs may spend more time with patients than other medical personnel. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), these assistants may also work with other medical personnel by preparing equipment and reporting changes in a patient's condition.

Educational Requirements

Prospective CNAs need formal training through community college or trade school programs, many of which can be completed in under a year. While undergoing the clinical training component of the CNA program, students gain experience performing tasks and working with patients in a healthcare setting. They are supervised and receive evaluations on their performance.

In addition to clinical training, CNA programs include traditional coursework and labs. Courses may cover theoretical and practical topics, such as medical terminology, patient's rights, personal care skills and nursing assistant theory. Some programs include an exam preparation course that readies students to take the certifying exam required by their state.

There are CNA training programs offered through healthcare organizations with curricula similar to college-based programs. Some organizations hire trainees and cover the costs of the program and licensing exam.

Licensing and Certification Requirements

State regulations for CNAs vary, depending on the specialty an individual works in or the procedures their job requires them to perform. The BLS reports that CNAs who work in nursing facilities must meet federal requirements. Besides an age limit and minimum education standards, many states require background checks and a certifying exam. State-sponsored certification exams may include multiple choice questions and simulated clinical testing.

Career Outlook and Salary Information

The BLS predicted that employment opportunities for nursing assistants are expected to increase 18% between 2014 and 2024, which is faster than the national average for all occupations. This may be due, in part, to the growing number of elderly citizens that need healthcare. The BLS also reported that nursing assistants earned $26,820 as an average annual salary as of 2015.

Becoming a CNA requires less education and training than becoming a nurse, although CNAs may work alongside nurses and other medical personnel. Aspiring CNAs must complete a state-approved training program, and pass an exam before coming certified. Once working, they help to care for patients, help with basic medical duties and medical documentation, and report changes in a patient's condition to other caregivers.


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