For many people interested in the field of nursing, becoming a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) is the first major step in the journey. It’s one of the best ways to break into the healthcare world, and it’s a tried-and-true method for many nurses to get real-world experience in the field and start making an income in a relatively short time frame.
A career as a CNA is a rewarding and valuable path in and of itself, but it also serves as a great stepping stone if you’re interested in other areas of nursing. CNAs can go on to become licensed practical or licensed vocational nurses (LPNs or LVNs), or obtain a more advanced degree to become a registered nurse (RN). The experience you gain from working as a CNA will be invaluable in these career paths, and many advanced programs take your previous CNA work experience and training into account, sometimes even allowing you to graduate sooner than your peers.
Many aspiring nurses have one big question about becoming a CNA: How long does it take to get a CNA certification?
While the answer isn’t exactly cut and dry, most CNA certification programs take between four and 12 weeks to complete. Some might take longer, though, even up to six months or more. It all depends on the course you choose.
Let’s dive deeper into what it takes to become a CNA so that you can make the most educated decision for your nursing career path.
Do You Need a Degree to Become a CNA?
You do not need a college degree to become a CNA. That’s one thing that makes it attractive to many aspiring nurses. You will, however, need to undergo training through a state-accredited training program. As long as you have a high-school diploma or a GED, you should be able to sign up for a CNA program and get started on your journey. Bear in mind that some programs will require you to pass a background check, an entrance exam, or both.
As stated above, most CNA training programs last anywhere from four weeks to about 12 weeks, although some may last longer. On top of the classroom portion of the training, you’ll learn in a hands-on fashion by completing clinical hours in an actual healthcare facility, usually for a few weeks after your coursework has wrapped up. Your courses will cover a wide range of topics, including:
- Basic nursing care…
- Long-term nursing care…
- Taking vital signs…
- Emergency protocols…
- Infection control…
- Mental health care…
- Client rights…
- Ethics in nursing…
- And much more.
CNA training programs are offered at a variety of institutions, including community colleges, vocational schools, and hospitals and healthcare facilities themselves. It’s important to do your research to find the program that suits you best.
CNA Certification Process and Requirements
Once you have completed your classroom training and your clinical hours, you’ll need to take – and pass – a competency exam to become a certified CNA in your state. The exact CNA certification requirements vary by state, but they are generally similar and include things like a passing score on the competency exam, at least 75 hours of training in a state-accredited CNA program (that number may be higher depending on your state), and completed documentation of your personal information, including background checks and physical and mental status.
The CNA certification exam itself is usually administered by a third-party institution at a test center in your state. The test itself will look different depending on what state you’re earning your certification in, but they generally follow the same format. You’ll probably see a multiple-choice portion on the exam, and you’ll also be evaluated through a manual skills test scenario, also called a practical exam. This involves a Registered Nurse watching you perform a few skills or tasks “on the job,” demonstrating your skills on an actual patient or someone who is acting as a patient.
The written portion of the exam and the manual skills test are usually taken on the same day, one after the other. Typically, you’ll have about two hours or so to complete the multiple-choice section, and between a half-hour and an hour to demonstrate the clinical skills.
How Much Do CNA Certification Programs Cost?
Another consideration to make when it comes to CNA certification programs is the cost. As you might imagine, costs vary widely based on several factors, including the program itself, the institution providing it, your location, the depth of the curriculum, how long the program takes, and more. But here’s the good news: Generally speaking – and especially compared to other types of healthcare training – the cost of a CNA certification program is usually very reasonable.
It’s difficult to put an exact figure on these courses – CNA certification courses can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to several thousand. According to cna.plus, the average cost of a CNA program is around $1,300.00. But be aware that many programs cost much more than that.
And there could be additional costs involved that are not included in the upfront figures – textbooks and other educational materials, a uniform or scrubs, and laboratory or technology fees, for instance. Students will be required to pay for their background checks and prerequisite medical exams if they’re required for admittance into the course. And don’t forget about the certification exam: You’ll probably have to fork out between $70 and $150 or more to cover the exam costs.
Can You Get Your CNA Certification Online?
Yes, you can get your CNA certification online, although clinical experience must still be completed in-person at an assigned healthcare facility. For many nursing students, it’s a good way to fit their training into their existing schedules, balancing it around a job, other schooling, childcare, etc. Online CNA training and certification are also sometimes less expensive than schooling at a brick-and-mortar institution.
Many community colleges and vocational schools offer online CNA certification programs – make sure to do your research to ensure that the online program you choose is state-accredited. Otherwise, you may complete the online coursework only to find that you’re ineligible to take your state’s CNA certification exam.
How Long Does It Take to Get a CNA Certification?
How long it will take you to earn your CNA certification depends on how short or long your certification program lasts, and how soon you can take and pass the state board exams.
If you’ve selected a short training program and are able to take the certification exam immediately after your clinical hours wrap up, you can become a CNA is as little as a month, in some cases. And some programs offer you the ability to complete your clinical hours at the same time as your classroom training is happening, speeding the process along. Usually, however, the entire process will take a few months before your classroom training, clinical hours, and certification exam have all been completed.
Before you start a certification program, you should be able to get a good idea of how long the entire process will take by speaking with the program director, professors, or other individuals involved in the training. Or, the program’s website or informational materials may layout a rough timeframe.
How Often for CNA Recertification?
Keep in mind that your training as a CNA doesn’t necessarily end when you’ve passed the state certification exam and secured a job. CNAs are required to become recertified every few years to make sure their skills and knowledge are up to date.
Every two years, CNAs must complete a minimum of 48 hours of continuing education to become recertified. And there may be further stipulations – some states will require that you complete at least 12 hours in each year of those two years, rather than completing most or all of the 48 hours in one year.
Your state’s Board of Nursing can provide you with a list of training locations and programs through which you can earn your recertification credits. And it’s worth noting that many employers will pay for your recertification fees. Some even provide the recertification training themselves.
Tips on How to Become a CNA Faster
If you’ve decided that a career as a Certified Nursing Assistant is right for you, you’re probably looking for ways to get the process started and completed as soon as possible. That way, you can start applying to jobs soon and launch your dream career.
Here are a few tips on becoming a CNA as fast as possible:
Get started early. The sooner you get started, the better. Even if you’re still in high school, you can take as many health-related and science courses as possible. Some high schools even have first-aid classes, health aide training classes, and similar courses, so consider enrolling in these to get a jumpstart on the basics.
Choose the right program for you. If you’re truly interested in becoming a CNA as fast as possible, pick the program with the shortest duration that is still state-accredited. But it’s important not to rush things – choose the program that best suits your lifestyle, your needs, your schedule, and your career goals.
Complete your clinical hours at the same time as your coursework. If you can find a state-accredited program that allows you to start performing clinical hours before your coursework is finished, it’s a good way to make the process of becoming a CNA even faster.
Schedule your certification exam shortly after your clinical hours are finished. This is a good idea for two reasons: You’ll become a CNA faster, and all of the information you’ve learned over the past several weeks or months will be fresh in your mind. That means you’re much more likely to breeze past the certification exam and become a state-certified CNA.
Once you’ve officially passed your certification exam and get placed on your state’s registry of approved nursing assistants, you can start applying to jobs as a CNA.
It won’t be long before you find a position that you love and deserve. It’s worth noting that job growth for CNAs is predicted to soar over the next few years, as factors like an aging population and an increase in chronic illnesses require more nurses on-hand to help. So, your job prospects will probably be quite good. Considering the minimal amount of schooling you will undergo as compared to a full-fledged nursing degree, it’s a great payoff. And because a career as a CNA is a fantastic stepping stone toward various advanced fields of nursing and specialty areas, you’re setting yourself up well for the future.
Are you interested in learning more about becoming a CNA? Do you have your CNA certification and are looking for the perfect job opportunity? That’s where we come in. Contact BOS Medical today to find out how our staffing service can help.