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One of the many things the pandemic taught us is how important health care workers are to public welfare. This includes Certified Nursing Assistants or CNAs who help nurses provide patient care in hospitals, clinics, rehabilitation centers, retirement communities, and other nursing facilities. 

Being a CNA is rewarding, and it is a good stepping stone to higher-paying positions. If you want to become a nursing assistant, we have outlined the path you need to take. We will also discuss what awaits you in terms of workload and compensation. 

How to Become a CNA

Unlike in nursing, you do not need a degree to become a CNA. However, you must have a high school diploma or a GED. In addition, you should get a state-approved license or certification by completing a training program and passing a competency exam. 

The modules or courses vary from one state to another, so it is best to check the local authorities in your area. Generally, it is administered by the department of health or the state’s board of nursing. The exams, on the other hand, are conducted by third-party providers. 

Once you pass the state exam, your name will be added to the state’s registry of healthcare professionals and you will officially earn the title of CNA. Front here, you need to take steps to maintain your certification, and this could range from completing certain education requirements to accumulating a required number of clinical hours. These conditions also vary from state to state. 

Online CNA Classes

If you have plans of becoming a CNA, one of the first decisions you have to make is whether to take online CNA classes or on-campus courses. 

With the pandemic, it might be better to complete the program remotely. Digital platforms also offer flexible schedules, allowing students to learn at their own pace. It is the ideal setup if you currently have work or family commitments that limit the time you can invest in the training.   

In terms of hands-on clinical experience, most online training providers have partner facilities where you will be exposed to real-world situations. It is a blended learning approach that prepares you for the certification exams and the actual CNA work once you transition to the hospital or facility. 

In-Person CNA Training

Some people prefer learning with other students and interacting with teachers in person. If you are one of them, a classroom CNA program is a better fit for you. This is especially true if your schedule is wide open and there is a school near you offering the course. 

In-person classes can also provide more structure than online CNA training. The instructor sets the pace for the whole class. The coursework also offers more opportunities for students to gain hands-on experience.   

One of the many skills that you need to develop to be a successful CNA is communication, and an in-person setting is the best place for you to do this. Being face-to-face with classmates and the teacher allows you to be aware of other people’s reactions, listen actively, or even socialize. 

CNA Licensing & Certification

Whether you take online classes or attend an in-person course, once you are done, you will have to earn a certificate by passing a CNA certification exam. You would not be able to practice otherwise since all nursing homes and healthcare facilities hire only CNAs who are included in state registries. 

In many states, the exams are given out in accredited third-party test centers. However, there are states that use the CNA exam developed by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing or NCSBN

Either way, you can expect multiple-choice questions related to various topics on patient care. On top of this, you need to go through a skills test where you must demonstrate five core skills you need to be a successful CNA. 

A score of 70% to 75% in the first part of the exam and 100% in the second part earn you a license or certificate, except in some states that have additional requirements. Once you are certified, you can start applying for a job

You have the option to acquire additional skills and earn a specialty certification by getting more training. A good example is a BLS or CPR certification which is more useful in acute care settings than in long-term care. Doing so will help you stand out and increase your chances of getting hired over a field of other applicants.     

How Long Does it Take to Become a Certified Nursing Assistant?

Depending on the program you choose, the training could take four to 12 weeks. This includes both the hours of classroom lectures and the time needed for clinical training. 

Overall, it is one of the shortest routes anyone can take towards being a part of the health care labor force. That is why many people are drawn to the profession. It also offers a good glimpse of the industry, giving you the chance to decide if you want to make a bigger commitment and pursue being an RN or LPN (licensed practical nurse) by getting the BSN degree and passing the NCLEX exam. 

Is it Hard to Become a CNA?

The CNA competency evaluation program consists of two parts: a written component and a skills test. The exact number of questions varies by state but is generally not too far from this. 

As long as you pay attention during training and do your best preparing for the exam, you should not have any problems getting a passing mark. All the topics are covered by the classroom sessions so you will have the information needed for this section. 

The hands-on clinical portion is a bit more challenging, though. There are skill areas for CNAs, and the five skills that you need to demonstrate will be selected at random. It means that you need to master all the skills. Also, there is very little room for error since you need to get all five skills right. 

What is the Fastest Way to Become a CNA?

If you want to become a CNA as soon as possible, you must give it your full attention. Doing it part-time will make the process longer. 

First, check out all the CNA training programs available to you and see which ones will allow you to complete faster. 

There are online courses that you can finish at your own pace and some community colleges and vocational schools have shorter curriculums than others. Even the American Red Cross offers nursing assistant training classes. 

If you can find a program that will only take you four weeks to finish, then you should go with it. 

In some cases, you can become a CNA without taking a course. Search HealthJob's CNA job board to find positions with on-the-job training.

Do CNAs Get Paid Well?

CNAs generally make less money than RNs, LPNs, or even medical assistants. Here’s a quick comparison of the average salaries of these professions. 

CNA Median Salary: $30,850 per year

Medical Assistant Median Salary: $35,850 per year

LPN Median Salary: $48,820 per year

RN Median Salary: $75,330 per year

Of course, the exact CNA salary would depend on the location, employer, specialization, years of experience, and the demand for nurse assistants in a given area.CNAs can also earn more with overtime. In any case, considering that you won’t have to invest as much time, energy and money becoming a CNA, it is a viable career path option as it is a growing profession—the BLS estimates that there will be an eight percent increase in nursing assistant jobs between 2020 and 2030. 

Is Being a CNA Harder Than Being a Registered Nurse?

Working conditions vary from one skilled nursing facility to another, so the answer to this question is not as simple as it seems. Having said that, nurses usually have more decisions to make, which means that it can feel like it is a bigger responsibility. In some ways, this also puts more of the patient’s welfare on the shoulders of a nurse. 

On the other hand, CNAs take vital signs, help in bathing or dressing, and work more closely with patients under the supervision of a registered nurse, which means that their jobs are more physical. There is also the question of lower compensation. 

Ultimately, whether being a CNA is harder than being a nurse depends on personal perspective.  

What’s the Difference Between a Nurse Aide, LNA and a CNA?

A certified nurse aide, licensed nursing assistant (LNA)  and a CNA are basically the same. The difference in terminologies stems from the state or geographical location. There are places where people refer to the occupation as a nursing aide while there are those that call it nursing assistant.

Emily Lee contributed to the reporting of this guide.

Start Your Career as a CNA