Certified nursing assistants (CNAs) work alongside licensed practicing nurses (LPNs) and registered nurses (RNs) to care for patients in a variety of healthcare settings. CNAs work closely with patients, but they perform different tasks than RNs or LPNs, usually helping with things like bathing and dressing patients. LPNs and RNs require higher education, while CNAs can become certified through relatively short training courses at vocational centers, community colleges, and online schools.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Long are CNA Programs Online?
Students can earn their certificates from online CNA programs in about three months. Instruction includes both online coursework and supervised clinical experience at a local medical facility. Timelines vary depending on whether students enroll full- or part-time. Accelerated programs may take as little as four weeks to complete.
How Much Does a CNA Training Program Cost?
Online CNA programs cost between $1,500 and $5,000. Whether studying on campus or online, learners can qualify for financial aid or scholarships. Depending on the program, tuition rates may be assessed on a per credit or flat fee basis. Community and technical college students might also pay a technology fee for online programs but avoid paying on-campus and parking fees.
Where Can I Work Once I've Gotten My CNA Certification Online?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 37% of CNAs work in nursing care facilities, while 27% work at hospitals. The remainder find employment at retirement communities and assisted living facilities (11%), home healthcare services (5%), and the government (4%). As the nation's population ages, projections from the BLS indicate an 8% job growth rate for CNAs to provide patient care.
What's the difference between a CNA and a medical assistant?
CNAs help patients with daily living tasks, such as bathing, dressing, and eating. Medical assistants work at physicians' offices and outpatient care centers handling administrative and clinical tasks like helping with exams, scheduling appointments, and maintaining medical records. Common duties of both jobs include measuring vital signs and recording patient information.
What are the Requirements for Becoming a CNA?
CNA positions require a high school diploma or GED certificate, but not a bachelor's degree. While taking CNA classes online, students gain skills in first aid, CPR, infection control, patient caregiving, and general safety.
CNA programs prepare learners to work directly with patients and most include practical training. Even students completing CNA programs online usually must complete in-person requirements, especially in preparation for the CNA certification exam.
The CNA exam includes a written and skills portion. The written portion comprises the bulk of the exam, while the skills portion requires candidates to perform specific tasks in front of a proctor -- usually an RN or LPN.
What to Expect From an Online CNA Program
A variety of organizations offer online CNA classes, including community and technical colleges, high schools, hospitals, care facilities, and nonprofits like the Red Cross. Online programs typically take 4-12 weeks to complete and teach patient care skills.
Course delivery may follow a synchronous format, in which students log into virtual classrooms at set times, or might be conducted asynchronously, allowing students to access pre-recorded lectures anytime. Online CNA programs often feature discussion boards for students to interact with their instructors and other students.
Distance learners can arrange their clinical experiences at a healthcare facility near them. Not only does in-person clinical instruction provide hand-on training, it also introduces students to potential work environments where they may later seek employment at hospitals, elder care centers, or rehabilitation clinics, for example.
Typical Curriculum For an Online CNA Program
Certified nursing assistants work closely with patients and their families, and the curricula for CNA training programs emphasize patient care skills. Aspiring CNAs take courses in physiology, infection control, the human body, and medical terminology. Curricula may also cover subjects pertaining to patient personal care, such as how to properly dress and undress a wound; shaving, bathing, nail, and hair care; and oral hygiene.
CNA programs also cover how to check, document, and monitor patient vital signs and perform administrative tasks, including admitting and discharging patients from hospitals and care facilities. Practicum components often include practicing CPR skills, dressing wounds, checking vital signs, and identifying body parts and systems. These skills prepare students to pass the CNA certification exam, which includes an oral component.
Certification and Licensure
All CNAs, regardless of the state of residence, must be licensed in order to work. To become certified, applicants must first complete a state-approved education program where they learn the basic principles of nursing and participate in supervised clinical work.
Graduates take a written and skills competency evaluation. Passing the exam puts professionals on a state registry and makes them an official CNA. There is usually an application fee for licensing.
CNA certification must be renewed every two years, which includes paying a fee. Since licensure varies by state, learners should contact local state licensing boards for more information. States usually make it easy to transfer CNA licensure from one state to another.
After obtaining CNA certification, some students earn additional credentials for specialized work. For example, they might earn the geriatric nursing assistant (GNA) certification, which requires passing the geriatric nursing exam. Similarly, to become a certified medicine aide (CMA), a student must complete a 60-hour medicine aide course taught through a community college. There is no fee for GNA or CMA certification.
What Can I Do with a CNA Certification?
Graduates of online CNA programs qualify for careers as nursing assistants, nursing aides, and home health and personal care aides. Distance learners experience the same employment opportunities as on-campus students.
Nursing assistants administer basic patient care and assist with daily personal care tasks. They work at hospitals and long-term care and rehabilitation facilities. Nursing aides perform transport and cleaning duties, such as helping patients in wheelchairs and changing linens. These professionals find employment primarily in hospitals, but also with ambulatory health services.
Home health and personal care aides provide nursing assistant services to people with chronic illness, cognitive impairment, and physical disabilities. These aides often work at a patient's home and in group care communities. They also help people with disabilities get to work and interact with others.
Career Advancement Options for CNAs
For CNAs, more education means more job options and higher salaries. With continuing education, they can become LPNs, licensed vocational nurses (LVNs), or RNs. Both LPNs and LVNs must complete state-approved education programs -- often available online -- and pass the national council licensure examination (NCLEX-PN) in order to get a license.
From there, nurses can complete an LPN-to-RN program. They have three options for this: earning a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN), earning an associate degree in nursing (ADN), or earning a diploma from an approved nursing program.
The duties of LPNs and LVNs vary by state; however, they are usually responsible for administering basic patient care and keeping records. RNs not only serve in supervisory roles, but also coordinate patient care, administer medicines and treatments, and help perform diagnostic tests.
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