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Certified Nursing Assistant Training: How to Become a CNA

Nalea Ko, MFA
Updated October 12, 2023
Reviewed by
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    CNA training programs appeal to individuals because of the minimal educational requirements and short time commitment, allowing a quick start in healthcare.

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    Nursing Assistant holding clipboard

    average program length

    average credits required

    average earning potential

    average earning potential$22,000-$41,000SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

    Opportunities With CNA Certification

    partial online offering
    clinical hours required
    Job security
    CNAs have strong employment and are projected to increase through 2029.
    Path to Advancement
    Many CNAs continue their education to become licensed practical nurses (LPN), licensed vocational nurses (LVN) and RNs.
    Get Experience
    CNAs work directly with patients in a variety of settings, and have many networking opportunities with doctors and nurses.
    Skills Learned
    CNA students can expect to gain hands-on practice in patient care.
    Smiling young female nursing Assistant is holding a clipboard while facing the camera

    Image: sturti / E+ / Getty Images

    Decide Type of CNA Program

    Figure out if you want to take classes online or in person.

    Find a CNA Program

    Programs operate at community colleges, health organizations like the American Red Cross, and hospitals. CNAs need a high school or GRE diploma.

    Attend CNA Training Program

    In some states, you can become a CNA with on-the-job training, and in others there will be a formal training program that you need to complete.

    Get Licensure

    Although it varies by state, generally requirements may include 75 hours of classroom and practical experience and passing a competency test.
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    Types of CNA Training

    Candidates with a high school diploma or GED may begin CNA training online. High school students can visit this page to learn how they can prepare for a CNA career.

    Learners gain clinical experience and build foundational nursing skills under the guidance of working nurses. Programs operate at community colleges, health organizations like the American Red Cross, and hospitals. Most students complete their training in about 4-12 weeks.

    CNA students learn in realistic environments equipped with hospital beds, gaining hands-on practice in dressing, bathing, and checking patients’ vital signs. Training in a CNA program also includes CPR, First Aid, and AED use.

    State-approved programs prepare students to sit for the CNA exam, which includes oral and written components. Specific CNA exam guidelines vary by state.

    To prepare for the workforce, many programs offer resume workshops and job fairs.

    Completing CNA Training Online

    Online CNA programs offer flexible and quick training pathways to address national nursing shortages. Seasoned healthcare practitioners like RNs teach CNA classes online. Curricula typically include video instruction, lectures, e-books, and in-person clinical experiences.

    Programs often incorporate online synchronous and asynchronous classwork and in-person clinical training and labs. This blended format provides valuable hands-on experience in various work settings. Every state maintains certain requirements for CNA certification.

    Future CNAs can graduate within six months. How long it takes to finish an online CNA program depends on the school.

    Length of CNA Training

    Most CNA classes online use a hybrid format. Distance learners complete about 125-130 classroom and 15-40 clinical hours, although state laws dictate the exact training requirements. Classroom work comprises the bulk of the training.

    During clinicals, candidates work directly with patients in hospitals, clinics, and assisted living homes. CNA training takes between 4-12 weeks, depending on the program.

    Coursework to Become a CNA

    Online CNA courses provide the skills candidates need to work in nursing homes, hospitals, and hospices. Program graduates gain a two-year certification in CPR, first aid, and automated external defibrillator use.

    Students in a CNA program learn to administer basic nursing care. They practice taking vital signs, moving patients, doing motion exercises, and inserting catheters. Coursework also prepares students for employment, with classes in workplace safety and communication.

    The number of lessons students need to qualify for the state exam depends on the individual program and the state in which a CNA wants to work. These classes include lessons in anatomy, physiology, and fundamentals in patient care and clinical rotations clinical rotations.

    Requirements for Your CNA License

    Each state oversees CNA training and licensure. Specific requirements depend on where a CNA wants to work and the type of nursing career chosen after graduating from a program.

    Typically, prospective CNAs must pass a background check and health clearance before enrolling in a program. Students may take the state certificate exam after about 4-12 weeks of beginning a state-approved CNA training program.

    CNAs must renew their certification every two years. Some states require CNAs to complete continuing education to maintain certification.

    CNA Salary and Job Outlook

    Graduates of CNA programs qualify for entry-level jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that nursing assistants earned an annual median salary of $29,660 in 2019. The top 10% of CNAs earned $40,620 a year.

    Different industries offer better salaries than others, with government agencies offering the highest wages. From 2019-2029, government-employed CNAs enjoyed a median annual wage of $35,500. Other top paying settings include hospitals, nursing care facilities, home healthcare services, and continuing care retirement communities.

    Jobs for CNAs should increase by 8% from 2019-2029, with employers adding 116,900 nursing assistants positions in that time.

    The baby boomer generation’s increasing healthcare needs have led to higher demand for nurses. Learn more about CNA careers and salaries by visiting this page.

    States with High Demand for CNAs

    Employment and salaries for CNAs differ by state. California employs the most CNAs, with about 100,190 employees. Florida, New York, Texas, and Pennsylvania also rank among the states with the most CNAs. Compare that to metropolitan areas such as New York, Newark, Jersey City, Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Anaheim, which employ the most CNAs.

    Cities and states with the highest concentration of CNAs do not always offer the best salaries. CNAs make the most money in Alaska, New York, Hawaii, California, and District of Columbia.

    In Alaska, CNAs earn a mean wage of $40,320 a year. California cities also rank as the top-paying metropolitan areas for CNAs. Visit this page to learn about CNA training in San Diego.

    Career Advancement Options for CNAs

    Becoming a CNA opens the door to more lucrative nursing careers. Many CNAs become licensed practical nurses (LPN), licensed vocational nurses (LVN) and registered nurses (RNs).

    LPNs and LVNs earn either a certificate or diploma through a community college. Programs for LPNs and LVNs take about one year to complete and prepare graduates to earn licensure, a requirement to work, after passing the NCLEX-PN. Many go into specialized areas after gaining certification in fields like gerontology, midwifery, or orthopedics.

    Working under the guidance of RNs, LPNs and LVNs perform daily nursing duties such as checking vital signs and helping patients maintain their hygiene.

    Becoming an RN requires completing an associate or bachelor’s in nursing degree. Nursing programs for RNs take 2-4 years to complete. Prospective RNs must pass the NCLEX-RN before gaining a license.

    Time to Complete :Four years11 to 18 months
    Admission Requirements :Varies based on schoolCompleted bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field
    Number of Accredited Programs :Approximately 996Approximately 282
    Time Off :Summer and winter semester breaksYear-round

    RNs work alongside other healthcare providers and CNAs in hospitals and nursing care facilities. They often specialize in a specific type of nursing such as addiction, cardiovascular functions, and critical care.

    Learn more about how LPNs different from CNAs in this guide.

    Reviewed by:

    Portrait of Theresa Granger, Ph.D., MN, NP-C

    Theresa Granger, Ph.D., MN, NP-C

    With over two decades of teaching and clinical practice as a family nurse practitioner, Dr. Granger is an expert in nursing education and clinical practice at all levels of education (associate, baccalaureate, and graduate). She has published and lectured extensively on nursing education and clinical practice-related content. Her expertise ranges from student advising and mentoring to curricular and content design (both on ground and online) to teaching and formal course delivery. Dr. Granger is one of the founding faculty members of the University of Southern California’s first ever fully online graduate family nurse practitioner program.

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