How to Become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

January 29, 2014

In today’s fast-paced and patient-centered medical field, certified nursing assistants, also known as CNAs, are in high demand. CNAs are employed in doctor’s offices, hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, private homes and in adult daycares. These patient-care liaisons are essential in ensuring that patients receive adequate care in busy medical settings by assisting nurses working on the patient’s cases. There are several steps one must successfully complete prior to being hired as a certified nursing assistant.

What is a CNA?

A certified nursing assistant is responsible for assisting with patients or clients who have healthcare needs. CNAs are supervised by registered nurses (RN) or Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN). A certified nursing assistant is also called a CNA, patient care assistant (PCA), nursing assistant (NA) or state tested nurse aid (STNA).

CNAs are responsible for fulfilling basic needs of patients that improve quality of life. These responsibilities may include information-gathering tasks, such as taking vital signs, monitoring patient temperature, ordering blood tests and relaying this information to nurses or physicians. They are also responsible for providing bedside care to patients who have been anesthetized or who have a disability that makes toileting, bathing, eating or drinking difficult.

become a CNACNAs may also be required to administer medications, perform catheterizations, administer suppositories and enemas, irrigate wounds or give patient massages. They are responsible for cleaning and sanitizing all patient-care areas, applying clean dressings or bandages to wounds and documenting patient behavior, symptoms, complaints and concerns.

Certified nursing assistants care for both males and females of all ages, including infants, children, adults and the elderly. They may work in residential nursing care facilities, outpatient clinics, hospitals, nursing homes or even in private homes. CNAs can expect to work a variety of hours, including days, nights, weekends and holidays as needed.

What Characteristics do CNAs Need?

Working as a certified nursing assistant is a demanding job that requires close attention to detail. CNAs must be excellent listeners, exhibit outstanding communication skills and be detail-oriented in order to accurately and efficiently relay patient information to the nurses. They must also be able to relay any information from nurses and physicians back to the patient in a compassionate and understanding manner. Many patients may be confused, scared or have a difficult time understanding a diagnosis or care instructions. It is important that CNAs can remain patient and have the ability to explain instructions in a variety of ways in order to ensure the patient understands what will happen.

The duties of a certified nursing assistant involve keeping a patient relaxed, calm, informed and comfortable. While some of the duties, such as helping a patient with toileting needs or cleaning wounds, may not be particularly pleasant for the CNA, successful certified nursing assistants must be able to carry out these duties without becoming nauseated or visibly uncomfortable or disturbed. CNAs must have a strong desire to help patients understand their treatment, be comfortable in distressing, frightening or painful situations. They must also be genuinely concerned about the well-being of others.

Certified nursing assistants may be required to work in very stressful situations and must be able to remain calm and patient, even in situations where patients are visibly anxious. Being empathic and compassionate can help put patients at ease. Maintaining composure in crisis situations is essential.

The hours a CNA works can be long with very few breaks. Because of this, certified nursing assistants must have the endurance to see and care for many patients in a short period of time. They must also have the ability to stay on their feet for long shifts.

Education and Training

Becoming a certified nursing assistant does not require a college degree or extensive training that would be expected of registered nurses or physicians. Because a degree is not required, being a CNA can be an excellent first job or may provide an income for one seeking to pay for a college education in order to enter a higher-paying medical career in the future. It is also a great choice for someone looking to change careers or enter the workforce after an extended absence.

It is required that a certified nursing assistant first earn a high school diploma or a GED before pursuing a career as a CNA. The next step is to enroll in a certification program. Some CNA certification programs can be taken online for individuals who may not be able to attend traditional courses due to family, school or job responsibilities. There are also traditional programs offered by colleges, universities or organizations such as the American Red Cross.

CNA certification courses are often taught by registered nurses. The first course is typically a patient care course that offers information on the duties and responsibilities of certified nursing assistants. Students learn to take vital signs, insert catheters, bathe patients and feed patients. Students also learn medical ethics and healthcare laws. This program is typically approximately 75 hours in length.

After the first course is completed, students typically will enroll in an externship that occurs in a clinical setting. In this course, students learn through hands-on experiences. Students will work in hospitals, medical clinics or nursing homes and will be given opportunities to practice the skills and knowledge learned in the first course. Students in the externship are usually supervised by a licensed nurse or physician. It is usually required that at least 16 hours of direct clinical experience is completed prior to certification. The clinical portion may also include CPR and first aid training.

In some cases, nursing homes or healthcare facilities will offer free training or will even pay the student to complete training. In exchange for training, the student will be required to not only complete the clinical supervised training in that facility but will also be required to work in that facility for a certain amount of time following certification. In exchange, the facility provides free classes and training, and in some cases facilities will even pay the costs associated with the certification examination. Another advantage is that the courses and on-the-job-training in these organizations can be completed in weeks instead of the months that would be required if classes were taken at a community college or through the American Red Cross. This means that one can be certified and earning a full salary in much less time, while also having a guaranteed employment option.

While direct training by an employer can be quick, convenient and less expensive, there are advantages to taking CNA certification courses through community colleges or the American Red Cross. These courses may take up to six months and cost between $300 and $600 to complete. However, the training may also be more comprehensive and prepare the future CNA to work in multiple types of settings, whereas the employer-based training may prepare you to work only in one specific clinical setting.

Certification Examinations

Following the completion of both the educational and the clinical components of training, students must successfully pass certification examinations before working as a certified nursing assistant. The items tested are based on information learned during both parts of training. One test is written and covers the student’s knowledge on patient care, medical ethics, healthcare laws, first aid practices and human development over the lifespan. Course instructors may be able to provide practice tests in order to help the student study for the test.

The second portion of the certification test covers knowledge and practices in a clinical setting. In this part of the test, students engage in patient caregiving and are observed by examiners. Students are tested on important aspects of patient care, including blood draw techniques, taking temperatures and blood pressure, monitoring vital signs, communicating with medical care providers, bathing the patient and transferring the patient from one area to another.

During the clinical certification test, it is important that students follow all patient safety measures as examiners will be assessing the student’s ability to keep patients safe. Some of these measures include raising bed rails, locking wheelchairs, hand washing, wearing clean gloves and making sure that patients have access to communication devices. Students are also assessed on the ability to maintain the privacy and dignity of patients by knocking on doors, closing privacy curtains and making the appropriate introductions to patients. Finally, the clinical certification test may also assess the student’s ability to maintain composure in stressful situations, be patient with difficult clients and follow appropriate procedures for contact with bodily fluids.

Once the educational, clinical and testing portions of training are complete, the student may then receive certification. This certification allows the student to work as a certified nursing assistant in any clinical setting.

Finding a Job as a Certified Nursing Assistant

Certified Nursing AssistantsToday’s healthcare industry is fast-paced and busy. Many organizations are looking for ways to operate efficiently and cost-effectively without sacrificing the quality of patient care. As a result, many of the responsibilities for basic quality-of-life care that were traditionally held by nurses are now falling on the shoulders of nursing assistants. As a result, there is a quickly-increasing demand for qualified certified nursing assistants.

In addition to the changing financial situations of many healthcare organizations, the population in the United States is quickly aging. There are also significant numbers of individuals who have survived severe injury or illness and now require long-term care. The number of individuals requiring nursing home or long-term rehabilitation care has increased at a far greater rate than the rate of individuals entering those career fields. As a result, there is a severe shortage of direct-care professionals in the healthcare industry. More nursing homes, clinics and hospitals are hiring certified nursing assistants in order to meet this quickly increasing demand, allowing those organizations to treat more patients in a shorter amount of time, and at a lower overall cost.

Because of this increased demand, many areas of the country have ample job openings for trained and qualified CNAs. Prospective employees should decide what type of healthcare environment they have the desire and experience to work in. CNAs can seek out employment opportunities with local nursing homes, hospitals, outpatient clinics, rehabilitation facilities, public health departments and physician’s offices.

For many CNAs the first place to to check for job openings is the facility which offered either the certified nursing assistant’s training or externship. These organizations may either be hiring recent trainees or may have contact information for local organizations that are seeking to hire new certified nursing assistants. The contacts made during the training and externship process can be extremely valuable in helping the new certified nursing assistant find a long-term position.

Another good place to check is the CNAs own physician’s office or local hospital. These places are likely to be ones that the certified nursing assistant has already developed a good relationship with, making it more likely that the healthcare organization will be willing to hire a newly certified CNA. In addition, certified nursing assistants can send resumes and qualification information to all local healthcare and nursing care organizations. Checking newspaper classified advertisements or online job posting boards may also help develop new leads for employment opportunities.

Becoming a certified nursing assistant is not a lengthy process as compared with the education and training procedures required for registered nurses or physicians. However, the training can be demanding and rigorous. CNAs can begin training soon after earning a high school diploma or GED, making this a wonderful first job for someone interested in entering the medical field. It may provide an excellent opportunity for training and networking for future physicians or registered nurses. It is also a wonderful job opportunity for those seeking career changes or reentry into the workforce.

While the training may be rigorous and the duties less-than-glamourous, a career as a certified nursing assistant can be very rewarding. This in-demand career fills a huge and urgent need in today’s medical field for qualified professionals who focus on the well-being and quality of life for patients facing significant medical issues or long-term care needs.