Becoming a CNA Through Online Programs: An Overview
The road to becoming a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) will vary from state to state, but we can generally break it down into these five steps:
- Step 1: Explore traditional and online CNA certification options
- Step 2: Satisfy all program prerequisites
- Step 3: Complete a CNA training and certification program
- Step 4: Pass required exams
- Step 5: Work while keeping your CNA certification active
While the specifics of each state's certification requirements may differ, they usually include classroom training, hands-on clinical experience, and a passing score on an exam. Many community colleges and technical schools offer CNA training programs that are designed to comply with state regulations; some schools even allow you to take the exam on campus. Some training programs also give graduates an opportunity to apply their studies towards an associate's degree in nursing.
Can I Take CNA Classes Online?
Yes, but most CNA programs include a clinical portion that must be experienced in person. The clinical portion allows students to learn and practice certain nurse assisting skills in a realistic setting; it's good preparation for the certification exam and for a career as a CNA. Because of this important component, you may find very few options for fully online CNA programs. However, many schools will allow you to complete some of your CNA classes online. You might see this described as a hybrid format; this means that your program will contain a blend of online and traditional classroom learning. For example, you might complete your theory courses online while meeting on campus once or twice a week for a lab.
Becoming a CNA in Five Steps
Step 1: Explore Traditional and Online CNA Certification Options
Online learning can make it easier to balance your studies with work and family commitments. However, it comes with its own caveats; you'll be fully responsible for completing your work on your own time, and you must have access to the Internet, computer equipment and any software required by the course. Be sure to consider these aspects carefully when choosing a CNA training program. You may decide that the traditional route works best for you, after all!
If you've decided that you want to take some of your CNA courses online, research colleges and schools in your area that offer hybrid CNA training programs. Though you may do a significant portion of your coursework online, you'll probably have to complete lab and clinical coursework on campus or at a local hospital, assisted living center, or other healthcare facility. Therefore, it might be best to begin your search by checking out CNA schools and colleges near you.
You may also want to ensure that the program complies with CNA training requirements for your state and that it offers adequate preparation for certification testing.
Step 2. Satisfy All Program Prerequisites
While most CNA programs are entry level--meaning you do not need prior nursing experience to take them--you may still need to comply with many other nursing prerequisites before being admitted into the program, such as:
- Age minimum (e.g., you must be 18 or older)
- High school diploma or equivalent (like a GED)
- Updated immunization record
- Cleared drug screen/TB skin test
- Cleared criminal background/abuse history check
- Completion of a reading course or competency exam
- Attendance of a pre-registration orientation
- Purchase of a uniform/scrubs
- Proof of good physical health
Note that many CNA programs have physical mobility and lifting requirements, though schools can make some accommodations for students with disabilities. If this applies to you, be sure to contact your school for more information.
Exact requirements will vary from program to program, so be sure that you understand what you need to prepare before starting your CNA course.
Step 3: Complete a CNA Training and Certification Program
Most CNA training programs will last a few weeks or about one semester. Online CNA classes typically cover the more theoretical concepts in nurse assisting, such as healthcare ethics and legal issues, medical terminology, nutrition, human development, and clinical preparation topics like infection control, hazardous materials, and cultural sensitivity. Meanwhile, other topics, such as CPR and first aid, practical patient care and assistance, and medical assisting skills, are covered during in-person laboratory and clinical sections.
Step 4: Pass Required Exams
Your CNA training program should allocate some class time towards preparing students for the state CNA certification exam. You may need to successfully complete the course before being eligible to sit for the exam, which can include a written component and a clinical competency component, in which you'll demonstrate key nursing skills.
Once you have passed the exam and have satisfied all other professional requirements in your state, your name will be added to the state registry, allowing you to gain lawful employment as a CNA.
Step 5: Work While Keeping Your CNA Certification Active
To maintain your active status as a certified CNA, federal regulations state that you must be employed as a CNA (or similar occupation) on an ongoing basis; if you have a break in your employment for 24 months or more, your license will expire, and you will have to retrain.
Your state may also have additional evaluation and continuing education requirements to keep your certification active; to avoid having to go back to class, be sure that you are well aware of what you need to do to keep your CNA credentials.
If you do lose your certification, many schools offer CNA refresher courses that are designed to help you get back on track quickly. There are also Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) bridge programs that can help you apply your CNA skills towards education that can advance your career.