Working in healthcare, putting yourself last, improving the lives of others. Do these job qualities appeal to you? In 2019, over 1.5 million people in the US were employed as nursing assistants.
Opportunities for nursing assistants are growing. And this makes it a great option for anyone who wants to step into the healthcare field.
But how do you get started? This guide will give you everything you need to know about how to become a nursing assistant.
What Is a Nursing Assistant?
Is a nursing assistant the same as a practical nurse or registered nurse? Do you need an RN degree to be a nursing assistant? What’s the difference?
Certified nursing assistants (CNAs) are healthcare workers who assist with everyday patient care. This includes anything from helping bathe and dress patients to changing their bedding.
Nursing assistants also take medical histories. And they make sure each patient’s documents are up to date.
Most importantly, nursing assistants report changes in their patients’ wellbeing. This keeps their nurses up to speed.
CNAs are a crucial member of the patient care team, especially for those who need extra help. They help feed patients and take them to the bathroom. They’ll also turn or exercise patients that cannot move on their own.
Being a nursing assistant is a tough but rewarding job where you get to impact the lives of those in need every day. So how do you become a certified nursing assistant?
How to Become a Nursing Assistant
Becoming a nursing assistant is a great way to get experience in the healthcare field. If you’re not sure whether you want to continue on to earn your nursing degree, you can get started as a CNA first. Or, you can make a life-long career out of being a CNA.
To do so, there are several steps you’ll have to take. Follow these guidelines, and you’ll be on your way to earning your CNA designation.
Get Your Diploma
You can get started on the path to becoming a CNA right out of high school. This opens the doors to anyone who doesn’t want to attend college or who wants to take a few years off from school. You can get some great work experience as a CNA and save money to further your education down the line.
But you do need to have a high-school-level education to be a CNA. So the first step in this process is graduating with your diploma or earning your GED. You’ll need these basics as you move into more formal CNA training.
If you’re still in high school, consider researching CNA programs in your area ahead of time. That way, when you graduate, you’ll be ready to apply.
Make sure you take courses in the sciences. Focus particularly on biology, anatomy, physiology, and psychology. These will help give you a solid foundation to work from.
If you’ve already graduated, you can move on to step two.
Go Through Training
The next step in becoming a CNA is to go through nursing assistant training. This is usually done through a dedicated program.
You can enroll in a program at most hospitals or community colleges. You can even become a nursing assistant online!
Most nursing assistant programs cost between $1,200 and $2,000, depending on where you take them. And standard programs will take about 6-12 weeks to complete. As you study, you’ll cover subjects like:
- essential nursing skills
- how to administer a health assessment
- how to reduce chances of infection
- ethics in the medical field
- administrative skills in healthcare
- anatomy, physiology, and nutrition
The parameters for nurse assistant certification can vary from state to state. Be sure that the program you enroll in will meet your state’s requirements.
Some programs will get all the in-class learning out of the way up front. Then, you’ll move on to clinical experience. Other programs may pair your formal and clinical learning so that you complete them at the same time.
Even so, the next step in becoming a nursing assistant is getting hands-on experience.
Get Clinical Experience
You’ll have to have a set number of official clinical hours to become a CNA. Check to make sure your program offers what you’ll need to qualify for certification.
When you start your clinical training, you’ll likely attend an orientation. You’ll get acclimated to the hospital and how it runs. And you may shadow other CNAs at first.
Then you’ll get to practice the hands-on elements. You’ll assist with patient care and have opportunities to ask any questions you may have. It’s important that you use this time to learn from your mistakes and fill in any gaps in your knowledge.
Once you’ve satisfied your state’s required clinical hours, you can apply to take your exam.
Pass the Exam
The CNA licensing exam consists of multiple-choice questions followed by a practical test. Questions cover topics like ethical behavior, patient rights, teamwork, communication, and patient care.
Your practical test will include the skills you learned in your clinical training. The purpose is to prove your ability to care for different kinds of patients.
You may also consider gaining further certifications. Being certified in CPR and First Aid will be an asset in your job as a CNA.
Once you’re licensed, you’ll have to renew that license at least every two years. This sometimes includes taking another exam. Or, you may have to complete a certain number of continuing education hours.
Become a CNA
Now you know the ins and outs of how to become a nursing assistant. The job requires hard work and dedication, but the rewards are huge.
Start as a CNA and see where the path takes you. You may find a passion for patient care and go on to become a registered nurse or even a physician. For more on opportunities in healthcare, visit our Education section.