Nursing assistants, also known as certified nursing assistants (CNAs), play a vital role in healthcare. As the population ages and more elderly individuals require care and assistance, there is a growing need for compassionate and skilled nursing assistants.
This high-demand career offers the chance to make a meaningful difference in patients’ lives daily. If you want a career that allows you to care for others while earning a stable income with promising job prospects, becoming a CNA may be right for you. Read on to learn more about the top nursing assistant training programs, reasons to pursue this career, average salaries to expect, and how to get certified.
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Why Become a Nursing Assistant?
There are many compelling reasons to start a career as a nursing assistant, including:
1. Make a Difference Through Patient Care
The number one reason many people pursue this career path is the chance to make a real difference in patients’ lives. As a CNA, you will work closely with patients, assisting with daily living activities like bathing, dressing, eating, and mobility. You will help ensure patients receive compassionate, dignified care. Your empathy and care can greatly impact patients’ comfort, health, and quality of life.
2. Strong Job Growth and Security
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that nursing assistant jobs will grow by 9% from 2020-2030, faster than the average across all occupations. With the elderly population rapidly expanding, CNAs will continue to be in high demand across all healthcare settings. This career growth guarantees relatively stable job security for years to come.
3. Varied Work Settings
Nursing assistants are employed across diverse healthcare environments, including hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, adult day care centers, home health agencies, and more. You can choose a work setting aligned with your interests and skills. For example, those who enjoy building close patient relationships may thrive in a smaller care facility.
4. Entry-Level Position with On-the-Job Training
Compared to nursing careers that require years of expensive schooling, nursing assistants can get certified relatively quickly. Many employer-based CNA training programs last 4-12 weeks and incorporate on-the-job learning. Some community colleges and vocational schools also offer 1-semester programs. These short timelines make this an accessible career path.
5. Opportunity for Advancement
While many CNAs remain in direct patient care roles long-term, others use the experience as a stepping stone for more advanced healthcare positions. With additional training, CNAs can become licensed practical nurses, registered nurses, medical assistants, phlebotomists, and more. Hard-working CNAs have clear paths to advance their careers.
Top Nursing Assistant Training Programs
If you’re interested in becoming a nursing assistant, the next step is finding the right training program. Here are some of the most reputable CNA programs across the country:
A. Employer-Based Programs
Many hospitals, nursing homes, and other care facilities directly offer CNA training programs. These employer-based programs allow you to learn on-site while also getting your foot in the door for future job openings. Some benefits include:
- Paid training: Employers often cover program costs or offer wages during training. This prevents you from paying high tuition fees upfront.
- Hands-on experience: You will complete clinical rotations within the actual facility to gain real-world experience.
- Hiring priority: Employers typically hire graduates from their own training programs before other applicants.
- Sample facilities: HCR ManorCare, Genesis HealthCare, Brookdale Senior Living
When researching employer-based programs, look for ones that incorporate at least 75 hours of state-approved training, including classroom instruction and clinical practice. Reputable programs should have a strong hiring rate among graduates.
B. Community Colleges
Many community and junior colleges across the country offer CNA certification programs. These programs walk students through the training, exam prep, and testing process to become licensed CNAs. Some benefits include:
- In-depth coursework: Classroom and lab instruction is the central focus, with less hands-on clinical time.
- Flexible schedules: Many programs offer full-time intensive options as well as part-time courses to accommodate work.
- Academic environment: Community colleges allow you to experience a scholastic setting and pursue further nursing degrees.
- Affordable tuition: Public community colleges offer much lower tuition rates than private institutions.
When researching community college programs, opt for ones that integrate at least 30 hours of clinical rotations at local care facilities. Also confirm the program is approved by your state.
C. Vocational Schools and Training Centers
Students looking for short, career-focused CNA training may do well at a vocational school or private training program. Offered through adult education centers, these intensive classes allow you to complete certification quickly. Benefits include:
- Condensed format: Full-time programs can be as short as 4-6 weeks with focused CNA training.
- Flexible schedules: Look for institutions with part-time, evening and weekend courses.
- Specialization options: Some programs offer specialties like geriatric or pediatric CNA training.
The downside of private vocational programs is they can be quite expensive compared to community college programs. Be sure to understand all costs and financing options when researching programs.No matter where you complete CNA training, the most critical factor is choosing a state-approved program. These programs adhere to hourly and curriculum guidelines, allowing graduates to take the CNA exam.
Nursing Assistant Job Description
Once you complete a training program and pass the certification exam, you will be qualified for employment as a nursing assistant. This vital healthcare role consists of:
Providing Basic Care
The central duty of a CNA is providing basic care to patients of all ages and medical needs. Depending on the healthcare setting, this may include:
- Helping patients move in and out of bed, walk, or shift positions
- Assisting with bathing, grooming, oral care, and toileting
- Serving meals and feeding patients unable to feed themselves
- Monitoring patients’ food/liquid intake and output
- Collecting samples for testing
- Checking vital signs like temperature, pulse, respiration rate
- Observing patients’ physical/mental status and reporting changes
Supporting Patient Comfort
Beyond physical care, CNAs play an important role in keeping patients comfortable and attending to their emotional needs through:
- Communicating any requests or concerns to nurses
- Adjusting pillows, lifts, bed height, call light access, etc. for comfort
- Answering questions, listening to patients, and offering encouragement
- Transporting patients via wheelchair or stretcher
- Sitting with patients so they are not alone
Assisting Nurses and Doctors
You will work alongside other medical staff, supporting them by:
- Cleaning examination rooms and preparing medical instruments
- Restocking supplies in patient rooms
- Documenting provided care in charts
- Reporting vital sign changes
- Assisting with medical tests and procedures
- Bathing patients pre/post surgery
The daily work is physically and emotionally demanding, requiring compassion and attention to detail. However, the ability to directly impact patients and work alongside other healthcare heroes makes the career incredibly meaningful.
Nursing Assistant Salary and Job Outlook
So what can you expect to earn as a certified nursing assistant? Here are some key stats on CNA salary potentials and job growth:
National Average Salary
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nursing assistants across the country earn an average annual salary of $30,800. Those working in hospitals, employment services, and government tend to earn higher wages closer to $35,000 annually.
Salaries fluctuate across different states based on factors like cost of living, level of certification, and healthcare employer competition. States with the highest average salaries include California ($37,080), Hawaii ($36,550) and Massachusetts ($36,140).
As mentioned earlier, the BLS projects that nursing assistant jobs will grow 9% over the next decade, adding about 106,700 new positions. This growth significantly exceeds the average for all occupations, speaking to the increasing demand for CNAs.
Your actual income depends on aspects like years of experience, facility type, union membership, city location, level of education, and certifications/specialties. Overtime is also common and results in higher pay.While nursing assistants are not among the highest paid medical careers, the average salary range allows for a comfortable living in most areas. And beyond the paychecks, CNAs reap the rewards of meaningful patient connections and high job security.
How to Become a Certified Nursing Assistant
If you want to successfully begin your nursing assistant career, follow these key steps:
1. Graduate high school or pass the GED exam as a minimum education requirement in most states. While not required, courses in biology and health will be helpful.
2. Complete a CNA training program at a community college, vocational school, or healthcare employer. Make sure your state approves the program.
3. Pass the CNA certification exam which tests your understanding of key concepts from training. Both a written exam and hands-on skills test are required.
4. Apply for CNA licensure through your state’s health department. Submit fingerprints, background checks and exam proof.
5. Renew your CNA license through timely license renewals, which may require working a set number of hours.
6. Consider advanced certifications like Certified Medication Aide or Certified Home Health Aide to increase duties and pay. The initial training program gives you the knowledge and clinical skills to pass the CNA test.
Once certified, be sure to meet licensing requirements through continuing education and other state regulations. If you have the desire to care for others in need, the resilience to handle challenging work, and the dedication to follow healthcare regulations, a nursing assistant career can be extremely rewarding. You will join the front lines of hands-on patient care while enjoying stable job growth.
Research top-rated training programs in your state and take the first step toward this meaningful career today. The patients of tomorrow are counting on compassionate, highly-skilled nursing assistants like you.