CNA Classes

Learn How to Become a Certified Nursing Assistant

A certified nursing assistant, or CNA, is a medical professional who provides hands-on care to patients and residents of long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes or rehabilitation centers. Typical tasks include feeding and dressing patients, monitoring vital signs and noting changes in a patient’s condition. The CNA reports directly to the supervising doctor or nurse. While the care a CNA provides is basic, it is in high demand; according to Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of CNAs is expected to grow 18% between 2014 and 2024. This guide focuses on what it takes to become a part of this fast-growing occupation.

Resources for Aspiring CNAs

Aspiring CNA students can learn about the plethora of online CNA programs in the following guide. What must you do to become certified? This resource explains what it takes to put the “C” in CNA. Taking the classes is one thing; paying for it is another. Find out more about how to pay for your CNA education. Some view the CNA as a stepping stone to more responsibility. Learn how to advance your career once you’ve become a CNA.

A Closer Look: CNA Salary and Job Growth

The typical wage for a CNA is very location specific, with more than $10,000 separating the average annual salary for CNAs in states such as Mississippi and New York. But regardless of where the CNA works, there is usually plenty of growth potential, especially as the years of experience piles up. Here’s what CNAs in the various states can expect to make each year.

National Median Salary (2016): $26,590
National Median Hourly (2016) $12.78

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

CNA Job Growth

The healthcare industry as a whole is expected to grow rapidly in the coming years to meet the higher demand for quality medical care. Here’s how demand for CNAs stacks up across the nation.

Estimated National Job Growth: 18 percent

Top 10 States for CNA Job Growth:

1. Kentucky46.1 percent37,180
2. Utah33.3 percent3,640
3. Maryland30.8 percent10,120
4. Colorado30.3 percent5,690
5. Texas30 percent25,150
6. Virginia26.3 percent9,640
7. North Carolina25.4 percent13,530
8. Florida23 percent20,420
9. Tennessee22.5 percent7,120
10. Nevada20.8 percent1,120

Source: Projection Central – Long Term Projections

Explore Options for CNA Classes

In order to become certified as a CNA, passing a state certification exam is usually required. Before sitting for the exam, applicants must complete a state-approved CNA program.

This chart provides an overview of what prospective CNA students can expect from a given educational institution.

Red Cross

  • Curriculum
    This program covers theory topics such as patient safety and how to be a caregiver. Practical training will cover many areas including CPR/AED, infection control, taking vital signs and patient communication.
  • Typical Duration
    Four to eight weeks
  • Class Format
    Day classes
  • Who Would Enroll?
    Individuals who want to complete a reputable CNA program as quickly as possible without enrolling in a formal school.


  • Curriculum
    A larger portion of the curriculum is hands-on, with less classroom instruction. Otherwise, curriculum is comparable to other programs.
  • Typical Duration
    Four to eight weeks
  • Class Format
    Both classroom and clinical instruction are offered in day, night and weekend classes.
  • Who Would Enroll?
    Individuals who prefer hands-on, real-world training, or those who want to earn their certification as quickly as possible.

Vocational & Technical Schools

  • Curriculum
    The curriculum will be similar to instruction offered by community colleges, although slightly abbreviated, with less emphasis on theory-based concepts.
  • Typical Duration
    Four to twelve weeks
  • Class Format
    Both classroom and clinical instruction are offered in day, night and weekend classes.
  • Who Would Enroll?
    Current high school students who would like to receive vocational training.

Community Colleges

  • Curriculum:
    The typical curriculum consists of 120 to 130 hours of instruction culminating in a certificate. Topics covered include ethics, legal, infection prevention, communication, first aid, nutrition, emergency reporting and anatomy.
  • Typical Duration:
    Five to twelve weeks
  • Class Format:
    Both classroom and clinical instruction are offered in day, night and weekend classes.
  • Who Would Enroll?
    Anyone looking to receive a formal certificate with flexible class scheduling.

CNA Classes Online

Due to the hands-on clinical components of a CNA program, earning a CNA entirely online isn’t an option. However, some programs might offer classroom-only courses that can be taken online, while the hands-on components are taught at local healthcare facilities. Keep in mind that in order for any CNA program to lead to a certification, it must be state-approved. Students can determine this by contacting the program administrators or the state nurses licensing agency.

Here are some reasons a student might opt for CNA programs with an online element:

Convenient Location

Taking classes from the comfort of your own home can make easier to fulfill the classroom requirements of the CNA program. Getting some of the instructional requirements completed on your own time is attractive to many.

Class Time Flexibility

While there will still be a timeline to complete the online coursework, there won’t be a set schedule on a given day that students must follow

Potential Lower Cost

Online students not only save a few trips to campus to attend class, but they can sometimes avoid having to buy textbooks. Instead, they get their learning materials through digital means, which can save on overall program costs.


Skills & Requirements for Certified Nursing Assistants

Certified medical assistants have frequent face-to-face interaction and contact with patients. CNAs must be comfortable working with others, especially those who are ill. CNAs require a unique blend of technical knowledge as well as interpersonal skills.

  • Interpersonal skillsPart of a CNA’s job duties includes receiving patient concerns from the patients themselves. CNAs must be able to relay that information accurately to other medical professionals, such as doctors and nurses.
  • CompassionCNAs will care for those who are sick, hurt or dying. CNAs must be able to understand the pain and discomfort their patients are going through.
  • Cultural sensitivityPatients come from a wide range of ages, races and backgrounds. What’s acceptable to one patient may not be acceptable to another. CNAs should be cognizant of cultural differences in order to make the patient as comfortable as possible.
  • Technical medical informationFrom taking vital signs to ensuring patient safety, CNAs must be competent in medical areas. Even if a CNA doesn’t actually conduct a certain medical procedure, they must be familiar with it in order to most effectively assist the patient.
  • Physical strength and enduranceThe CNA will help the patient with physical tasks, such as getting dressed, bathing and eating. In order to effectively and safely accomplish these tasks, a CNA must have physical strength, as well as the stamina to handle a long shift.

Requirements to Work as a CNA

Completion of a state-approved CNA program

Each state will have its own list of requirements in order to become a CNA, but practically all will require graduation from a state-approved CNA program in order to sit for the certification exam. Without this certification, an individual cannot become a CNA.

Pass a background check

The parameters and requirements of this background check will vary among states. If an applicant has a certain conviction, such as violent crime, they may be unable to sit for the certification exam.

Pass a medical or physical exam

CNAs work with sick people and have physically demanding job duties. Depending on the program and state, students may have to pass the physical or medical exam before enrolling in class. Students will have to show they meet certain physical requirements, have all necessary vaccinations and pass the TB test (tuberculosis).

Earn a high school diploma or GED

Program enrollment requires a GED or high school diploma. This is necessary to show that students will have the basic level of knowledge in order to complete the program and function as a CNA.

Pass the state competency exam

This exam is what makes a CNA certified. Once an individual has graduated from the CNA program and met the state-mandated certification requirements, passing the exam is the final hurdle.

CNAs are one of many fast-growing medical professions. There are several others that do not require medical school or even a four-year degree. These positions are in high demand, offer respectable salaries and room for professional growth and development.

Dental Hygienist

Dental hygienists work in dental offices to maintain the dental health of patients. Tasks include taking x-rays, removing tartar and stains from teeth, applying fluoride, flossing teeth and discussing dental hygiene with patients.

Median salary: $72,330
Estimated job growth: 19%

Licensed Practical Nurse

Licensed practical nurses, or LPNs, work under the supervision of doctors and registered nurses to provide direct patient care. Job tasks include monitoring a patient’s vital signs, assisting with basic medical tasks and conveying patient information between the patient and doctor.

Median salary: $43,170
Estimated job growth: 16%

Medical Assistant

Medical assistants provide administrative and/or clinical support in a medical office. They can help with taking patient vital signs, answering the phone, scheduling appointments and taking down patient information.

Median salary: $30,590
Estimated job growth: 23%

Medical Transcriptionist

Medical transcriptionists are office professionals who prepare medical reports and other documentation. Tasks include transcribing audio recordings of doctors for medical reports, reviewing medical documents for accuracy and entering medical data into electronic health record systems.

Median salary: $34,890
Estimated job growth: -3%

MRI Technician

An MRI technician works with magnetic resonance imaging machines, which are used by doctors to see inside a patient’s body. Specifically, an MRI technician operates the machine and obtains images that doctors can use to diagnose medical issues.

Median salary: $67,720
Estimated job growth: 10%

Pharmacy Technician

Pharmacy technicians provide assistance to pharmacists. Tasks include helping fill prescriptions, obtaining prescription information from patients and doctors and processing insurance patient payment information.

Median salary: $30,410
Estimated job growth: 9%

Surgical Technologist

Surgical technologists assist surgeons before, during and after a surgery. Tasks can include prepping an operating room for surgery, prepping patients and sterilizing medical equipment.

Median salary: $44,330
Estimated job growth: 19%

Ultrasound Technician

Ultrasound technicians use ultrasound imaging medical equipment. They provide visual images of the human body to doctors and nurses so they may more effectively treat patients.

Median salary: $68,970
Estimated job growth: 26%

From the Expert

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.

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:

  • A commitment to serving others
  • Customer service mentality (internal and external)
  • Empathy and compassion
  • Conflict resolution skills
  • Ability to take direction
  • Reliability
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 cares around toileting and resident hygiene. A good CNA training program will fully immerse the student into understanding how vital learning these skills is, and provide the student with the tools and the resources needed to be successful on the job.
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 highly upward 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 become 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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