CNA Education Requirements and Prerequisites

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a certified nurse assistant. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about training, job duties and state certification to find out if this is the career for you.

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After completing a state-approved training program, certified nurse assistants help other medical professionals with the care of patients. Certified nurse assistants make a median yearly wage of $25,710, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and should expect to see a job growth of 18% from 2014 to 2024.

Essential Information

Certified nurse assistants, or CNAs, are trained to help with patient care in hospitals, clinics and long-term care facilities, usually under the supervision of licensed or registered nurses. They must complete a state-approved CNA education program that takes a few months of study and pass a certification examination. A high school diploma or GED certificate is required for enrollment. Training programs consist of instruction in basic medical and personal care and hands-on practice. They also cover topics related to patients' rights and teach effective patient communication skills. Courses are often offered at night and on the weekends.

Education Requirements State-approved CNA course
Other Requirements Physical examination and criminal background check; state certification exam
Projected Job Outlook (2014-24)* 18%
Median Wage (May 2015)* $25,710

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Education Requirements

Federal regulations require nursing assistants to complete a state-approved training program. After finishing a minimum of 75 hours of training, students must pass their respective state's certification exam before becoming certified nurse assistants.

Most CNA education programs are offered at community colleges, vocational schools and adult education centers. Some programs are run by hospitals or nursing homes that have been certified by the state to train nursing assistants. Daytime programs usually run about eight weeks; night and weekend programs usually take 13-14 weeks to complete.

Coursework in CNA programs typically consists of patient care training, lessons in basic medical procedures and human physiology courses. Students learn to perform different types of patient care tasks, such as bathing, feeding and basic grooming. Classes in medical procedures teach students to check vital signs, monitor infections and manage bed sores. Students also might receive training in human anatomy, physical therapy and nutrition.

CNA education programs held in hospitals and nursing homes are often a combination of classroom work and on-the-job training under the supervision of medical staff members. Programs at academic institutions also might offer some form of hands-on training at local hospitals, nursing homes or extended care facilities.

Prerequisites for Training Programs

Most CNA programs require students to obtain a high school diploma or GED before being admitted. Some programs prefer students who have had previous experience in providing adult healthcare, such as working as a hospital aide, candy striper or home healthcare worker.

After being accepted into an education program, students are required to pass a physical exam and often a background check as well. The physical exam determines if a student is capable of performing heavy lifting and is free of communicable diseases; many programs also include drug testing in the preliminary physical. Criminal background checks are performed for patient safety and protection.

Although it's not a prerequisite, many programs look for candidates who have certain personality traits. CNAs need to be patient, interested in caring for people and respectful of a person's privacy and dignity. Nursing assistants often work as members of a healthcare team and need to be dependable, have good communication skills and work well with others.

Certified nurse assistants must first obtain a high school diploma or GED and then attend a certification program. They learn about general patient care and medical procedures, and they are often provided with hands-on training during their educational program. After they are certified, CNAs begin work as part of a medical team at a hospital, clinic or long-term care facility.

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