CNAs (Certified Nursing Assistants/Aides) perform vital support functions in hospitals and other health care settings by acting in a front line patient care role. CNAs work under the supervision of registered nurses and physicians, and work intimately with patients to ensure their quality of life and health are maintained to the best possible standard. Daily duties of a CNA include basic and emergency care, keeping the registered nurses informed of a patient’s status, ensuring the ward is kept clean and tidy, and relaying patient wishes to registered nurses and physicians. As a CNA, not only can you work in a hospital setting, but also in community care, group homes, assisted living facilities, and many more environments. Indeed, because of the many places CNAs can work, they are in high demand, and demand is expected to grow.
Joining this growth industry is much easier than becoming a registered nurse. To become a CNA you generally just need to have a high school diploma or GDE (although some states may have additional requirements), and do a course that runs between 6 to 12 weeks. You don’t need a college degree, which is great because it allows you to get into the workforce earlier and avoid a hefty student loan debt. To enter a CNA course you will have to undergo a criminal record check, and in some states a drug check.
CNA courses are usually held either in a health care facility or at community college, and are typically taught by a registered nurse. Topics that will be covered include basic anatomy and physiology, to the more practical aspects of the daily role of a CNA, including building patient rapport, maintaining hygeine standards, and safe manual handling practices.
Courses usually involve between 200 and 230 hours of coursework. To put that in context, that’s about 5-6 weeks of a regular full-time job. In addition to this, you’ll need to do another 75 hours of internship (2 weeks full time). Many graduates say that the internship is the most important part of the training, as it allows them to get a feel for the job while having close oversight to ensure they get things right. Courses are often flexible, and even may be online, but internships are less flexible because of the requirement to attend shifts at a health care facility.
At the end of the course, you will need to undertake a written exam and a practical assessment. The specifics of these assessments will vary depending on what state you’re in.
If you don’t mind having to stay with your employer for a period after training (you may even consider the stability a boon), your best option may be completing your training with a health care facility. These facilities will often either train you as a CNA themselves, or will pay for your training with a third party. Of course, the expectation is that you will stay on as an employee for a contractually agreed period of time after your training. If you leave your job prior to that date you may be liable to pay back the cost of your training, so always read the fine print about how long you may be required to stay with an employer who trains you.
If you’d prefer not to be restricted to one employer once you’ve graduated, CNA courses at community college can cost up to $1,300 including examination fees (although some cost much less). The American Red Cross also runs a highly regarded CNA course. Some universities offer CNA courses, but these can cost up to twice as much. However, you can be guaranteed that you are getting first-rate training for your money. If money is an issue, keep in mind that there may be grants available to help low income earners access training.
In any case, to make sure your course is recognized check out the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission.