Prior to 1987, few nursing assistants were required to obtain education or to take tests for employment. But, horror stories about nursing standards, especially in nursing homes, led to government regulations through the Omnibus Budget and Reform Act (OBRA), which requires the implementation of standards for nursing homes that receive federal funds such as Medicare or Medicaid. CNAs are known by many names such as nursing assistants, nurse’s aides, orderlies, patient care technicians, home health aides and more, depending upon location and work environments.

Prerequisites for Becoming a CNA

CNAs who hope for employment usually need a high school diploma or GED and must pass a state-approved training program that consists of up to 150 hours of training. While a CNA can be hired without certification, that CNA must acquire a passing grade on the CNA exam within four months of the hire date. The CNA also must submit to a criminal background check and a drug test.

How to become a CNA

The first step in becoming a CNA is to contact a local community or state health agency to obtain CNA certification requirements. If you have a certain health care facility in mind for future employment, you also can contact that organization to discover what requirements need to be met to work for them. Some facilities may guide you through training and certification requirements at a local community college or medical facility. Classroom instruction usually includes basic nursing courses such as anatomy and physiology, nutrition and infection control. Students also gain hands-on-experience during clinical activities, much like the student who studies for the LPN/LVN.

Many states and local agencies require a written exam consisting of multiple-choice questions as part of the certification process for CNAs. The clerical portion of the test requires the taker to perform three to five jobs skills, including the knowledge of residents’ rights and the ability to show personal care and basic nursing skills.

Careers Available After Becoming a CNA

A nursing assistant’s job is not easy, but it can be rewarding. The nurse assistant usually follows directives provided by other, more qualified nurses or by physicians. This includes patient personal care such as bathing, feeding and even keeping company with patients who need attention. CNAs work in nursing homes, hospitals, mental health facilities, assisted living facilities, and private homes.

CNAs are in demand as the population ages and more people require the help of nursing home assistants or in-home skilled assistants. CNAs held about 1.2 million jobs in 2004, and that number is expected to increase by twenty-five percent by 2014. Nursing assistants earn between $23,000 and $30,000 per year, with the key factors of experience and environment affecting that income. In addition to income, the CNA can expect paid holidays, hospital and medical benefits, overtime pay and pension or other retirement plans as incentives. Many see the CNA position as the first step to studying for an RN (registered nurse) position.

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Top 10 Online Nursing Schools

University of Phoenix
University of Phoenix — BSN, MSN, and Certificate. The University of Phoenix is the nation's largest online university and currently offers several nursing programs at three different degree levels, based on previous nursing education and experience.

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Kaplan University
Kaplan University — Bachelor's, and Master's Nursing Degrees. Kaplan's School of Nursing offers specializations for nurse administrators and nurse educators.

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Grand Canyon University
Grand Canyon University — BS in Nursing (BSN) and MBA/MS in Nursing. Grand Canyon University offers a unique MBA/MS in nursing degree program that teaches students about the business aspect of healthcare, specifically nursing healthcare. Current nurses who want more business experience will find this may be an ideal fit.

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Liberty University
Liberty University — RN to BSN Degree and MSN Degree. The Department of Nursing at Liberty prepares students for baccalaureate level nursing, putting strong emphasis on Christian ethical standards and viewing nursing as a ministry of caring.

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Walden University
Walden University — M.S. in Nursing (RN Track), M.S in Nursing (BSN Track). Walden offers a wide variety of nursing degrees and certificates that are all accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

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