Becoming a CNA is a great way to enter the medical field. Here, we outline sample classes and graduation requirements.

Updated May 26, 2022 • 6 Min Read

Certified nursing assistants (CNAs) help patients with eating, dressing, and bathing. Other job duties include measuring vital signs. Entering this profession involves taking CNA classes. These classes and a practicum prepare learners for their state's CNA exam. Candidates who pass the exam earn CNA certification.

Below, we cover CNA salary and job growth potential, answer frequently asked questions, and provide a sample curriculum. Other information goes over accreditation and the CNA certification process. Those interested in CNA classes should research local community college websites and contact an admissions advisor.

CNA Salary Potential

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that CNAs earn a median $30,830 annual salary. Although under the median U.S. salary, professionals can increase their earning potential by advancing their education. CNAs who become certified medical assistants perform additional roles, such as giving medication.

Another way to earn more involves relocating. CNAs living in Alaska, New York, and California earn a median $39,280-$42,500 salary.

CNA Job Growth Potential

BLS data projects the need for CNAs to increase 8% from 2020-2030. This projection suggests a stable job market with enough openings for new graduates. As of October 2021, Rhode Island, North Dakota, and Kansas offered the most open positions.

CNAs can improve job growth potential through working. CNAs need at least one year of experience to work in acute care hospitals. Other options include earning an associate or bachelor's degree.

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Frequently Asked Questions About CNA Classes

Q. How long does it take to get CNA certification?

The best CNA programs take one semester or less to complete. Requirements include coursework and a hands-on practicum lasting up to 100 hours.

Q. How do I get my CNA certification?

Earning CNA certification requires graduating from an approved program, completing a background check, and passing an exam. CNAs may need to meet additional requirements, depending on their employer.

Q. What is the fastest way to become a CNA?

Most CNA programs let students enter the field in under a year. Those wanting to start work sooner should explore consolidated nurse aid schools .

Q. Can I get a CNA license online?

Most CNA classes take place in person. However, schools may offer a hybrid option where students take classes online but still complete the hands-on practicum.

Accreditation for CNA Programs

The best CNA programs hold regional accreditation. The Department of Education uses regional accreditation agencies to evaluate postsecondary institutions. A school without regional accreditation may offer a poor educational experience. Other downsides include not qualifying for financial aid programs, admission to associate or bachelor's programs, or jobs.

Schools offering online and hybrid programs should hold national accreditation from the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC). DEAC compares a school's on-campus and online programs. DEAC-accredited schools provide the same education to all learners. These institutions also offer distance learners virtual support services, such as tutors and career planning advisors.

A school's CNA classes may advertise programmatic accreditation from a private agency. Applicants can research these agencies on the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) website. CHEA-approved programmatic accreditation agencies follow the highest standards.

Options for CNA Classes

State-approved CNA programs feature a full-time curriculum lasting one semester. Skills covered include life-saving measures, such as CPR. Students supplement their education by completing a practicum at a long-term care facility. This experience helps them apply what they learned in the classroom and train under-experienced CNAs. The practicum also lets learners network with potential employer.

The sample curriculum below highlights three potential CNA courses. Some programs require only one course and a practicum. A program with additional classes may help students learn more in-demand skills. Please consult a school's website for information.

  • Core Course

    Graduation requirements include a four-week core course emphasizing basic safety, body systems, and professional work ethics. Students learn how to provide personal care and communicate with patients. The class highlights state laws learners must know to earn CNA certification. Students apply this course's lessons during the practicum.
  • Modified Course for English-Language Learners

    ELLs working toward CNA certification learn the profession's fundamentals while improving their English skills. This six-week class covers activity and exercise, personal care, and basic needs. Students develop English skills with a specialized software suite. These exercises help graduates communicate with their peers.
  • Practicum

    Students complete a practicum to gain hands-on experience. Worksites include long-term healthcare facilities, such as nursing homes. Learners work under experienced CNAs and apply feedback. A typical practicum lasts at least 100 hours. Learners do the practicum halfway through or at the end of their program.

Graduation Requirements for CNA Programs

Like other college courses, CNA classes require assignments, quizzes, and a final exam. Professors base these tests on lectures and the textbook. Some programs use a grade cutoff. Learners who do not meet the cutoff go on academic probation. Other actions that may lead to probation include missing class or showing up late.

CNA classes' graduation requirements involve more than coursework. A typical program includes at least two lab days where students learn on campus. Labs and practicum experiences take place during the day. Learners who work must adjust their schedule in advance.

Practicum participants follow strict guidelines, including wearing scrubs and appropriate shoes and using personal protective equipment. Breaking even one of these rules may result in expulsion.

A typical CNA program does not require a final paper or a comprehensive project. Instead, graduates use what they learned to pass their state's CNA certification exam.

Requirements to Work as a CNA

Becoming a CNA requires program graduation, ability to do physically demanding tasks, and background check completion. Workers who meet these requirements must also pass the CNA exam.

Earn a High School or GED Diploma

Prospective CNAs need to hold a high school or GED diploma. People who do not meet either of these requirements should not give up. Many junior and community colleges with CNA programs also run GED-preparation courses. An affordable course prepares learners for the exam and helps them start their CNA education quickly.

Complete a State-Approved CNA Program

States certify CNA programs to ensure graduates gain necessary healthcare skills. Programs' websites advertise their approval status. Applicants with questions may need to call a school's admissions department to verify their status. Please disregard programs without state certification. Their graduates do not qualify to work as CNAs.

Pass a Background Check

CNAs and other healthcare professionals must pass a background check. The process requires filling out a form. Questions ask about previous employers, credit history, and criminal history. Many background checks include fingerprinting. Some employers consider applicants with a criminal background, depending on how long ago the crime occurred.

Pass a Medical or Physical Exam

A physical exam ensures new CNAs can handle the physical demands of helping patients. An exam also reveals any diseases. A disability or illness may disqualify someone from becoming a CNA. Employees may also take a routine tuberculosis test when they start a job.

Pass the State CNA Exam

A state CNA exam covers many topics, such as client rights, data collection, and medical terminology. The exam starts with 60 multiple-choice questions that test-takers complete in 90 minutes. The exam's second part requires demonstrating typical nursing tasks in front of an evaluator. Examinees must earn a minimum of 70% to pass.

Resources for Aspiring CNAs

From the Expert

Michael Vanblaricum

Michael Vanblaricum is the chief human resources officer of Linden Grove Communities, a nonprofit senior care organization employing approximately 1,000 people, including more than 200 CNAs, in the Milwaukee area.

Q. What qualities set CNAs apart from other applicants?

For aspiring CNAs, a robust and comprehensive understanding of the position's core competencies is vitally important. Qualities that will help set you apart from the competition include, but are not limited to:

  • Commitment to serving others
  • Customer service mentality (internal and external)
  • Empathy and compassion
  • Conflict resolution skills
  • Ability to take direction
  • Reliability

Q. What areas of CNA training do students find most challenging and why?

One of the areas that many new CNA students find challenging is helping patients with personal care around toileting and resident hygiene. A good CNA training program will fully immerse the student into understanding how vital it is to learn these skills, and provide the student with the tools and the resources needed to succeed on the job.

Q. What about advancement options for certified nursing assistants?

Advancement opportunities vary, but in general, becoming a certified nursing assistant is often the first step in a potentially long, rewarding, and very upwardly mobile career. Many employers offer various degrees of career progression, allowing the employee to increase their knowledge and skill set as they progress through career levels as a CNA (CNA I, CNA II, CNA Supervisor).

Many CNAs enter into a nursing education program while they are working as a certified nursing assistant, providing real-world insight and experience that will be useful as they prepare for their new career. Some CNAs get exposed to other careers through their employment and begin working in an area they never considered before, such as activities, social work, accounting, or operations.

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