how to become an assistant nurse

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how to become an assistant nurse

How to Become a CNA

How to Become a CNA

A certified nursing assistant (CNA) is a health care professional who provides basic nursing care and support to patients and residents in assisted living, independent living, nursing homes, hospitals, and other health care facilities. They perform patient care tasks such as bathing, taking vital signs, feeding, and helping with activities of daily living. CNAs are a part of a health care team that includes doctors, nurses, and physical therapists.

Becoming a CNA is a great way to get into the field of nursing without having to spend years in college earning a degree. You can start working as CNA and begin earning valuable experience in a relatively short time by earning a CNA certification. For many, this is an ideal path that can lead to other opportunities in the nursing field.

Four Steps to Become a CNA

Becoming a certified nursing assistant is fast and simple, at least when compared to the process for other medical professions. While there is certainly a fair amount of work involved, there are few careers in healthcare that offer the fast-track qualifications and credentials that this profession does. The process of becoming a CNA can take less than a year, making it one of the most attractive options for those who want to enter the medical field without a degree. Here, we will discuss the four steps to go from high school student to working as a CNA. 

  • Earn Your High School Diploma or GED
  • Complete a State-Approved CNA Training Program
  • Complete In-Person Clinical Training
  • Pass a State-Approved CNA Certification Exam

Earn Your High School Diploma or GED

In most states, the only prerequisite for entering a CNA training program is a high school diploma or GED. If you already have a high school diploma or a GED, you are eligible to enroll in CNA classes immediately. If you don’t have either of these credentials, however, this step in the process will require you to complete your high school education or pass an equivalency test to earn your GED.

Complete a State-Approved CNA Training Program

While the length of CNA training programs varies from state to state, most programs will require a minimum of 75 hours of classroom instruction, plus time spent shadowing an experienced nurse or nurse caregiver. As you progress through the course, you will be required to take numerous assessments to demonstrate your knowledge and skills.

Most instruction time will be spent in a classroom learning about topics like anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and medical terminology. Courses will include an introduction to many aspects of healthcare with an emphasis on specific aspects of nursing care, like bathing, dressing, and patient feeding. This training will prepare you, in a short amount of time, to communicate and interact with doctors and nurses, and to administer basic medical treatment as appropriate.

Complete In-Person Clinical Training

After you complete your CNA training program, you must complete an in-person clinical training session at a hospital or healthcare facility before you can take the exam and become certified. Federal regulations mandate that all CNA training programs include at least 16 hours of “hands-on” clinical experience, though most states exceed this minimum. This session will verify that you are able to handle the physical demands of the job, as well as confirm your level of knowledge and awareness of relevant nursing standards.

During this phase of your education, which is typically called, “clinical studies”, you will work under the supervision of a Certified Nursing Assistant or Registered Nurse who will mentor and instruct you. In your clinical studies, you will learn how to manage the day-to-day tasks of a CNA and will be given many opportunities to practice important skills, like taking vital signs, administering medications, and other patient care activities.

Pass a State-Approved CNA Certification Exam

Once you complete your in-person clinical training, you are eligible to take a state-approved examination. The exam is designed to verify that you have the essential knowledge and skills to administer appropriate nursing care. The National Nurse Aide Assessment Program (NNAAP) is used in 20 states to determine your eligibility for certification. The remaining states have their own exams that must be successfully completed in order to become a CNA. The exam will cover nursing-specific topics in several categories, including physical care skills, psychosocial care skills, and the role of a Nurse Aide. Questions about anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and emergency procedures are also included, to test your ability to meet the needs of clients who require the promotion, restoration, and maintenance of health.

The Benefits of Becoming a CNA

Most CNAs agree that one of the greatest benefits of the profession is the sense of fulfillment and purpose they feel while caring for others. Whether they are helping patients with a serious disability, or simply providing companionship, CNAs are able to watch the positive impact they have on others.

The job of a CNA also provides a multitude of perks and rewards that go beyond the personal satisfaction of helping others. If you are wondering about the personal and professional benefits of working in this field, here are the top five benefits of becoming a Certified Nursing Assistant:

  • Affordable Training
  • Job Stability & Growing Job Market
  • Job Flexibility
  • Variety of Work Environments
  • CNA Careers Can Be a Springboard to RN Careers

Affordable Training

Many professions within the healthcare industry require expensive and long-term training programs to obtain entry-level skills. For example, if you are interested in becoming a registered nurse, you will have to complete a multi-year degree program in nursing that can cost anywhere from $40,000 to more than $200,000 to complete. However, if you choose to become a nursing assistant, you will benefit from relatively fast and inexpensive training. CNA programs typically cost between $700 and $1,500 and can be completed in approximately four to twelve months.

Job Stability & Growing Job Market

Nurses working in the role of a CNA will experience greater job security than many other professional careers. With almost 1.4 million people employed in this profession, CNAs are a vital part of the healthcare system. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that demand for this profession will grow at a rate of 8% through 2030, which translates into significant job security.

Job Flexibility

Having the flexibility to negotiate and control the hours you work is a meaningful perk when you are looking for a job. CNAs have the ability to choose the shifts and days they will work. If you love taking the afternoon off, or prefer to work late-night hours, you will have the ability to do so. CNAs work full-time, part-time, mornings, evenings, weekends, and holidays.

Variety of Work Environments

As a certified nursing assistant, you can work in a variety of environments depending on your level of experience and preferences. In general, CNAs work in a wide range of settings including hospitals and nursing homes, senior care facilities, rehabilitation centers, universities and colleges, corporate offices, and private practice offices. Each environment has its own set of distinct advantages, which provides the CNA with the opportunity to work in a location that best suits their needs.

CNA Careers Can Be a Springboard to RN Careers

Becoming a CNA can be an excellent starting point for other careers in health care. Many CNAs choose to pursue advanced careers in nursing-related professions after gaining hands-on experience in a patient care role. Registered nursing is one profession that is very popular among CNAs, who often choose to continue their career in this field.

CNAs who apply to a nursing school can leverage their experience to stand out among other applicants. Nursing schools often value, or require, a period of clinical experience as part of the application process, and CNAs can use the experience they have obtained to meet this requirement.

What is the fastest way to become a CNA?

The fastest way to become a CNA is to enroll in a fast-track CNA training program. Fast track courses allow students to study course content online, at their own pace, while attending in-person classes to learn hands-on skills. Fast-track programs can be completed in less than four weeks.

How to become a Nursing Assistant

Unlike other professionals in the field of nursing, you are not required to have a degree to become a nursing assistant. However, you do still need formal training, which you could receive at a community college, vocational college or technical school. You could also train at certain nursing homes and hospitals. The following are steps you can take to become a nursing assistant:

  1. Earn a high school diploma or GED.
  2. Enroll in a state-approved training program.
  3. Pass the certification exam.
  4. Enroll in and pass the Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) examination.

What skills help Nursing Assistants find jobs?

  • Caregiving
  •  Catheter Care
  •  Workers’ Compensation Law
  •  Senior Care
  •  Vital Signs Experience
  •  EMR Systems
  •  Home Care
  •  Nursing Home Experience
  •  SCSS
  •  Hoyer Lift
  •  Assisted Living
  •  HTTPS

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Career progression for Nursing Assistant

Education levels for Nursing Assistants

0%0%0%1%2%96%Doctoral DegreeMiddle School EducationMaster’s DegreeBachelor’s DegreeAssociate’s DegreeHigh School Diploma or GED

Based on the requirements of Nursing Assistant job openings on Indeed in the United States within the last three years.

required level of educationpercent of job openings
High School Diploma or GED96.5%
Associate’s Degree1.8%
Bachelor’s Degree1.2%
Master’s Degree0.3%
Middle School Education0.2%
Doctoral Degree0.1%

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Expected salary by experience

0-44-88-1212-1616-2020-24Years of experience23k24k25k25k26kAnnual salary in USD

Based on resume data from Indeed users who reported working as a Nursing Assistant in the United States within the last three years.

Years of experienceAnnual salary in USD
0-4$23,200
4-8$24,500
8-12$25,400
12-16$25,500
16-20$25,800
20-24$25,800

Common qualifications for Nursing Assistants

  • CNA
  • CPR Certification
  • Geriatric Nursing Assistant
  • BLS Certification
  • LPN
  • State Tested Nursing Assistant
  • AHA Certification
  • First Aid Certification
  • Certified Home Health Aide
  • Driver’s License
  • Caregiver Certification
  • CRNA

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