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An Introduction to CNA Certification

What is a CNA?
The U.S. Department of Labor – Bureau of Labor Statistics has this to say about CNAs:

“Employment of nursing assistants and orderlies is projected to grow 17 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations. Because of the growing elderly population, many nursing assistants and orderlies will be needed to assist and care for these patients.”

(Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016)

A career with such growth potential, and which can be done in a variety of settings, provides a good solution for many people in search of a career. Keep in mind that CNA Certification is a formal educational process, and not everyone is well suited to it.

For example, people who perform the work of the CNA do best when they have their training, but also when they are naturally patient, compassionate, have a good sense of humor, and genuinely enjoy helping others.

If you are someone looking for a career that is a good “fit” to your positive attitude and personality, and you want to work in the medical field, you should find out about Certified Nursing Assistant – Certification right away.

Below is a brief introduction to the training and certification processes, but you must explore your state’s specific requirements and CNA Training Programs in order to know exactly what is expected of you.

Becoming a CNA

Whether a state translates the acronym “CNA” as a certified nursing assistant, or a certified nurse aide, the job always requires the individual to obtain CNA Certification. In general, most states will follow the federal guidelines that require:

  1. The CNA candidate must meet a set of preliminary requirements before they can apply for training (often meaning that they must have a clean criminal background, submit to a health screening that includes a TB test and a drug test, be of a certain age, and have a high school diploma or GED);
  2. The candidate must use a state approved CNA Certification Training program (often this is a program that follows federal guidelines of 75 hours or more, but not all programs are this lengthy), and this may be training done in a college, high school continuing education program, technical school, or even a nursing home;
  3. Upon completion of the CNA Certification Training Program, the candidate may have to apply to take a state competency exam, or may be able to simply take the exam through their training program. Most exams are compliant with NNAAP standards (explained below);
  4. When the exam (which is usually a two part exam that tests written and practical knowledge) has been passed, the student can apply to appear on the state CNA registry; and
  5. It is then up to the new CNA to remain in good standing and to keep their registration current. This could include meeting ongoing educational requirements and more.

Not all CNA Certification Programs function precisely in the manner described above, but they do tend to follow that range of steps and requirements. Check with your state’s CNA information to find out what you will need to do in order to qualify for training and testing.

Certified Nursing Assistant – Certification

Once you understand what your state’s CNA Certification requirements are, you can begin to gather any documentation required, or get any screenings that are mandatory. The reasons for such unusual demands as TB testing or fingerprint checks are actually quite simple – they are for safety.

Just consider that CNA Certification Programs do not require only a set number of hours in the classroom. For instance, when a program has 75 hours of mandatory training, the students might have 30 hours of classroom learning and 45 hours in “practical” training. What this means is that the students will first learn, in the classroom, about the work of the CNA and then head to a clinic, nursing home, or even a hospital to apply their knowledge to actual patients.

If that CNA student is positive for TB or has a criminal history of fraud or violence, they could put the patients at risk. The screening processes used in CNA Certification Training are in place as safety measures and are not meant to make the process difficult for students.

The most common steps required for enrollment in a program, even some CNA Certification Online options, are:

  • TB testing (results must be negative);
  • Proof of immunizations (candidates who cannot prove they have current immunizations must get them again);
  • Drug screening (results must be negative)
  • Health screening (this is to determine if the CNA candidate can reasonably handle patient transfers or lifting);
  • Fingerprint checks (usually this is done at the state and federal level);
  • Criminal background check (in many states there are certain convictions that prevent a CNA candidate from enrolling in training);
  • Nursing registry data (this is done to see if a candidate has any negative reports relating to nursing or working as a CNA in any other states);
  • Proof of age and identity;
  • CPR certification (not all state require it, and many provide it during CNA Certification); and
  • Evidence of high school graduation or a GED (some states have only a minimal reading skill level – usually Grade 9 reading).

This information should be gathered and kept in a secure place in order for the enrollment process to be easier.

CNA Certification Programs

Enrolling in CNA Certification Training Programs is simple if you have the documentation listed above. Choosing your program may not be all that easy if you are in a very rural area. This is because you may find that CNA Certification Training is at a significant distance from your home. If that is the case, and if your state allows it, you can seek out Online CNA Certification programs. Remember, however, that these are usually the “classroom” portion of the work and that you will still have to travel for practical training.

Even when your state has a lot of CNA Certification Training Programs nearby, you will still have to consider if a program is convenient or not. The following types of institutions are the most common for obtaining your CNA training:

  • Community Colleges;
  • Technical Schools;
  • Specialized Schools;
  • High School Continuing or Adult Education Programs;
  • Nursing Homes;
  • Colleges and Universities;
  • Red Cross facilities;
  • Private schools; and
  • CNA Certification Online.

Any of the programs will follow the state guidelines and be split between classroom and practical hours. Who decides how the programming should function? Each state is different and you will see that some programs are part of the state’s Board of Nursing, while others follow Department of Health guidelines, Health and Human Services standards, and many more.

Some CNA candidates get all of their training for free when they work for the provider. For example, many nursing homes provide approved programs and testing in order to have more CNAs on their staff.

Prices for students who will have to pay for training range widely and currently a student may pay as little as $250 for training, but might also pay close to $2000. There is also the need for textbooks and other materials.

Once the training is done, it is time for the competency exam, and this is usually done under the NNAP guidelines, which are explained as follows:

“The National Nurse Aide Assessment Program (NNAAP®) is an examination program designed to determine minimal competency to become a certified nurse aide in your state. The NNAAP was developed by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, Inc., (NCSBN) to meet the nurse aide evaluation requirement of federal and state laws and regulations.”

(Pearson Vue, 2012)

Students may have to arrange for exams in a separate facility or may be offered testing in the same location as their training. Even when a state allows Online CNA Certification, the testing is often done in a monitored facility and according to established guidelines.

The exams come with separate fees as well, and these vary by state – some are as little as $25 for both exams and some as high as $300. When the competency exams are successfully completed, the student has Certified Nursing Assistant – Certification and they appear on their state’s registry.

The NCSBN, or National Council of State Boards of Nursing, provides a full list of all state registries and any CNA can look up their status. Some certifications last for 12 months, some 24, and all have unique “renewal dates” and policies. It is usually the responsibility of the CNA to maintain their registration in order to remain an “active” CNA.

Whether you are seeking CNA Certification Online or have questions about the examination process, the first step is to use our state CNA resources to learn what your state’s requirements are for all CNAs.

Works Cited

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2012). Nursing Aides, Orderlies, and Attendants: Occupational Outlook Handbook. Retrieved 2012, from U.S. Department of Labor:
  • Nurse Aide Registries. (2012). Nurse Aide Registries. Retrieved 2012, from NCSBN:
  • Pearson Vue. (2012). Pearson VUE: New Hampshire Nurse Aides. Retrieved 2012, from Pearson