What is a CNA?
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 levels of education, while CNAs can become certified through relatively short training courses at vocational centers, community colleges, and online schools.
Certified nursing assistants (CNAs) work closely with patients, but they perform different tasks than registered nurses (RNs) or licensed practical nurses (LPNs).
Students can take CNA classes online to earn the credentials necessary to work in this field. Students generally complete these training courses within 12 weeks, and graduates pursue positions in geriatric care facilities, hospitals, and rehabilitation clinics. Online CNA classes may require some in-person components to help students develop practical skills.
What's the Difference Between a CNA and a Medical Assistant?
While certified nursing assistants and medical assistants share similar work environments and duties, there are important differences. CNAs usually work in hospitals and long-term residential care facilities, providing patients with basic care, such as bathing, dressing, meal delivery, and feeding as necessary. They work full time, often taking night, weekend, and holiday shifts. CNAs are on their feet for extended periods of time and often have to move or lift patients. Working as a CNA requires a state-approved nursing certification.
Medical assistants usually work in physician clinics where they handle administrative and clinical tasks. During a typical workday, they measure patient vital signs, help with patient exams, record patient histories, or schedule appointments. They work full time, including evening, weekend, and holiday hours. While they can train on the job -- since majority of states don't require certifications -- most medical assistants complete training programs at community colleges or vocational schools. Medical assistants typically earn higher salaries than CNAs.
What Degree Is Required to Be a CNA?
CNA positions require only a high school diploma or GED, 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.
Is an Online Certified Nursing Assistant Program Right for Me?
CNAs work directly with patients, providing immediate care. CNAs must have excellent communication skills and be willing to learn on the job. Students pursuing CNA certifications online can often set their own schedules and complete coursework asynchronously, which means organizational skills are crucial. These skills also translate into the workplace.
Getting Your Degree Online
Students earning their CNA certifications online can access lectures and materials from anywhere, at any time. Taking CNA courses online eliminates the need to commute to campus and allows learners to access courses on their own schedules.
Completing CNA classes online is ideal for students who work full time, have family obligations, or need to plan around a busy schedule. Many students take courses asynchronously, meaning they can watch lectures and participate in class discussion whenever it is convenient for them.
Distance learning means that students who live in areas without high-quality educational institutions can still enroll in certified nursing assistant programs. Online students can attend schools anywhere in the country, regardless of the geographic distance.
By taking CNA classes online, students interact with a more diverse group of peers, often from across the country and around the world. Studying alongside students from various backgrounds helps learners understand different perspectives and expand their social and academic networks.
Online learning means students must engage with new technology. Students in online CNA programs connect with peers and professors using tools like discussion boards, digital university resources, and videoconferencing.
CNA Program Admissions Requirements
Many certified nursing assistant programs have flexible admission requirements, and prospective students can apply to most CNA programs online. While many programs require a high school diploma or GED to enroll, some admit high school students, as long as they are at least 16 years old.
Many CNA programs at community colleges or technical schools only require applicants to complete the standard application, which makes the school search easier. This application requires high school transcripts and standardized test scores, such as the ACT or SAT. Students taking CNA courses online rarely need to submit letters of recommendation.
Certification and Licensure
All CNAs, regardless of state of residence, must be licensed in order to work. To become certified, students must first complete a state-approved education program, where they learn the basic principles of nursing and participate in supervised clinical work. Upon graduation, they take a written and skills competency evaluation. Passing the exam puts them 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?
Career Paths for a CNA
After earning a CNA certification online, candidates qualify for careers in several fields. CNAs may work in nursing homes or provide in-home care. The careers below are a few options available to graduates of certified nursing assistant programs.
Nursing assistants work closely with nursing staff and doctors to provide vital patient care. These assistants often have at least a CNA certification, which students can earn online in a few weeks.
Also known as orderlies or attendants, nurse aides work under the supervision of licensed and registered nurses. They work in a variety of settings, including hospitals and psychiatric care facilities, where they provide patient care and may perform housekeeping duties.
Home Health Aide
Being a home health aide requires patience and a willingness to deal with challenging situations. Home health aides work in the homes of patients, helping elderly patients and people with chronic illnesses perform daily self-care tasks.
State-Tested Nurse Aide
State-tested nurse aides perform a function similar to that of a nurse aide, but they hold a special credential that means higher earning potential and increased responsibility. Completing CNA training online provides the skills necessary for this career.
Common Employers for CNAs
Certified nursing assistants in hospital settings often work under the supervision of licensed and registered nurses. These CNAs may check and monitor patient vital signs, assist patients with self-care, and change bed linens.
Long-Term Care Clinics
CNAs in long-term care clinics work closely with patients recovering from injuries or suffering from chronic illnesses. They may also work with the elderly. These CNAs typically help patients with daily care tasks, like getting to the restroom, bathing, and eating.
Home Health Agencies
CNAs who work with home health agencies go directly into patients' homes to assist them with daily activities, like taking medication and monitoring vitals. These CNAs act as a liaison between patients and doctors, and they monitor each patient's symptoms and progress.
Salaries for CNAs
What to Expect From CNA Classes Online
About the Program
Becoming a CNA online typically takes 4-12 weeks, depending on the specific program and the student's enrollment status. Most CNA training programs online require a certain number of clock hours rather than a specific number of credits. These hours include both online coursework and in-person training, and the total number required varies by program. Students completing CNA programs online typically complete coursework in areas like CPR, patient care, and wound care.
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.
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 degree 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.
Earning Potential in the Nursing Field
|Average Annual Median Salary|
|Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA)||$28,530|
|Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)/Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN)||$46,240|
|Registered Nurse (RN)||$71,730|
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