In an increasingly automated world, machines and smart technology are replacing many jobs. But there is at least one field that is likely to prevail: nursing. Automation cannot replace the interpersonal skills and hands-on care necessary to be a certified nursing assistant (CNA).
The large, aging baby boomer population has resulted in an increased demand for healthcare providers, including CNAs. Growing faster than nearly any other job, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts an increase of 11 percent in nursing assistant employment by 2026. Obtaining your CNA certification could be a great way to increase your job opportunities and avoid economic uncertainty.
If you're considering a career in healthcare after graduating from high school or obtaining your GED, exploring how to become a certified nursing assistant can be a great place to start. The short-term commitment to a CNA training program can help you determine if a healthcare career is a good fit.
You can also draw from your own life experiences to illustrate your caregiving skills, which are a great addition to your resume and cover letter if you decide to continue with your healthcare career.
What is a CNA?
CNAs go by many names:
- Nurse aide
- Nursing assistant
- Home health aide
- Personal care aide
- Patient care assistant
Your job title may be determined by the facility where you work, your assigned duties or your state's requirements. Most CNAs work under the supervision of a nurse and alongside other healthcare professionals.
There are a variety of options for work environments, including assisted living facilities, hospitals, in-home care, or community care centers. A CNA is at the front line of providing patient care and is often the first to notice physical or mental changes, making this a vital supportive role to the healthcare team.
What does a CNA do?
A certified nursing assistant's chief task is to provide comfort and help patients achieve maximum independence. You'll help care for patients in a variety of ways:
- Taking vital signs
- Basic activities of daily living (ADLs) such as bathing, toileting, feeding, dressing and assisting with ambulation
These are tasks that young, healthy people often take for granted. When a person is unable to complete basic care, a CNA's assistance is invaluable. In addition to physical care, you'll also be responsible for documentation, caring for the patient's surrounding environment and maintaining infection control.
Personal and professional traits
So how do you know if you should pursue certified nursing assistant training? A CNA must be someone with compassion and empathy. This job involves a lot of patient interaction, so if you have the desire to help others and you enjoy providing hands-on care, being a CNA can be meaningful and rewarding.
When you're caring for someone at their most vulnerable, their behavior and needs can be unpredictable. Employers are also looking for candidates with traits such as:
- Good observation and communication skills
- Flexibility to work a varied schedule
- Adaptability in a fast-paced work environment
Requirements and credentials
If you're ready to start looking into certified nursing assistant training programs, you can check with your state board of nursing, health department, or local healthcare facilities to confirm your state's requirements. Most require the following to complete training:
- Proof of citizenship and a valid ID
- TB test and up-to-date immunizations
- Health examination: Indicates that you're physically and mentally able to work as a certified nursing assistant
- High school diploma or GED: Some states will allow admission to a program at age 16 if you're working on your diploma
- Background check: Programs want candidates without a history of abuse, misappropriation of property, felony or exploitation
- CPR and first aid training
- Basic reading and math competency
The cost of CNA training can vary, but most programs average around $1,200 and average about 3 months to complete. Exam and state registration costs may be additional. The median salary is around $28,540 but can vary based on where you live and the type of facility where you work. Don't let the cost discourage you until you check for available reimbursement or scholarships.
Employers may also reimburse the cost of the course if you commit to working for them for a predetermined length of time. Long-term care (LTC) skilled nursing facilities may be required to reimburse some or all of your CNA training costs if they receive funding from the federal government.
The CNA training experience
CNA training may vary depending on the state and organization. Here are three important factors to consider as you look for a program.
- Location. Some programs allow students to complete some of their educational content online rather than in a physical classroom setting. You can find CNA training programs in medical facilities, community colleges or independent schools.
- Time frame. Certified nursing training varies but usually takes between 4 and 12 weeks. Most have a minimum of 75 hours of classroom education and additional time for demonstration in a learning lab, as well as 16 hours of clinical time. However, some states require up to 180 hours of total training. Be sure to include all your training hours in your resume.
- State approval. It's essential to ensure the program you're considering is approved by your state. Otherwise, you may not be eligible to sit for your state certification exam.
State-approved certified nursing assistant programs are required to include specific coursework. This includes education and demonstration of skills such as basic care for ADLs. The programs also teach students about:
- Patient rights
- Infection control
- Communication techniques
You'll learn about these skills through reading and reviewing educational material and instruction, practicing demonstration in a learning lab and during clinical time with hands-on patient care. At the end of your training, you'll be prepared to take your CNA certification exam.
Preparing for CNA certification
Once you've completed training, take time to study and prepare before you schedule your CNA certification exam. The exam will consist of:
- A written portion with multiple choice questions
- A practical section in which you'll need to demonstrate specific skills
To brush up your skills, you can use videos, test preparation books and sample questions. Some CNA training programs include assistance with test preparation to help ensure you pass your exam.
Once you're a CNA, you'll need to maintain 12-24 hours per year of education to keep your skills sharp. Your employer may help you meet this requirement by offering educational opportunities, or they may cover the costs for continuing education.
Expanding your career options
Although CNAs are in demand, creating a great resume can help set you apart as a professional. Not every certified nursing assistant creates one, but a resume is a great way to organize your experience and accomplishments. You can include basic skills such as CPR and first aid training as well as the interpersonal skills that will make you a great employee and team member.
If you decide you want to continue your healthcare career, getting your CNA certification may provide you with a competitive edge for nursing school. You'll have the opportunity to explore the job market while training, especially since some programs bring in prospective employers.
The knowledge and relationships you develop with employers can enable you to learn more about the healthcare field before making a long-term commitment to your education. Or you may decide being a certified nursing assistant is your perfect long-term career.
Ask an instructor to be a reference or to provide a letter of recommendation (should one be needed for a job you want to apply for). Beginning a rewarding career in the healthcare industry starts with the first application. When you're ready to apply for a specific job, use our Cover Letter Builder to tell a compelling story that puts your top skills front and center, and let our Resume Builder help you make your CNA resume professional, engaging and compelling.