Although the need for certified nursing assistants, or CNAs, continues to be in high demand at hospitals, nursing homes and medical centers, the challenges of new healthcare reform and an aging population have created even greater options for employment of the CNA in 2015. The healthcare industry continues to provide a stable income, opportunities for career growth and the rewards of self-satisfaction. In addition, your certification can be a stepping stone for a future career in nursing. If you have considered entering the CNA field to care for your community, find out how to get CNA certification and what you may learn in an accredited program.
What to Learn in a CNA Training Program
As outlined in the Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 1987, CNA programs in all 50 states and the District of Columbia must include at least 75 hours of classroom education and manual skills training. However, states have the discretion to add training hours and make CNA programs longer in length. As a student, you may expect classroom education in the first portion of the curriculum in subjects such as:
- Patient Rights
- Basic nutrition
- Anatomy and physiology
- Medical terminology
- Interpreting normal values for vital signs
The second component of CNA training includes manual skills training that provides you with the competency to pass the performance part of your certification exam. In a laboratory designed as a hospital room, you may learn how to take blood pressure readings, use a stethoscope and count the heart rate of your fellow students. With hospital beds and wheelchair equipment, you may practice basic nursing skills such as:
- Making an occupied bed
- Performing a transfer of a patient
- Assisting with ambulation and mobility
- Using proper body mechanics to protect your back
- Resuscitation of an unresponsive patient (CPR)
The final portion of your program consists of performing a clinical experience that allows you to use your new knowledge with actual patients in a medical setting. The hours required for your practicum vary by state and provide real practice as you become a Certified Nursing Assistant.
Requirements for Admission CNA Programs
Your CNA course must be to ensure your certification eligibility. Programs are offered in vocational/technical schools, colleges and universities. Although some classes require prerequisites of a high school diploma or GED, many provide an English exam that tests your ability to process the classroom training you need to become a CNA. Documents you may need in addition for admission may be such as:
- Birth Certificate (Some states require you are 18 years of age)
- History of vaccines or childhood diseases
- Medical examination by your physician
- Transcripts of high school education
- Tuition for the program
What are the State Certification Authorities for CNAs
In most states, the Board of Nursing is the regulatory authority that awards you with a certification after you have completed the criteria. However, your state may entrust other agencies such as:
- State Department of Health Services
- Department of Health and Consumer Affairs
- Division of Health Service Regulation
Depending on your location, numerous computer testing sites may be available in your area for taking the written portion of the certification exam. Often, the manual skills evaluation is completed during your program or at your clinical practicum. Once you have successfully passed your certification exam, your name and CNA license number is placed on the registry database and can be searched by your employer online to confirm your status.
How to Get CNA Certification by Examination
CNAs have the opportunity to enter the nursing field relatively quickly and earn a respected certification in a valuable career. Although programs vary in length by state and part or full time schedule, most courses require two to eight weeks of classroom, manual skills and clinical practicum training. At the completion of your program, you are prepared to take the two-part licensure exam that assesses areas such as:
- The theoretical Exam tests you on the classroom training section
- The clinical exam tests your manual skills training
As your instructor notifies the state regulatory agency with documentation that you are eligible to take the CNA licensure exam, you must also send your information for an extensive background check that is usually provided by the FBI. Depending on your state of residence, you may require to send documents with your application such as:
- Copy of a birth certificate
- Background check form (provided by your state agency)
- Fingerprint cards
- Passport sized photos
- Application fees as indicated
Your state agency may take two to six weeks to verify your information and provide you with a date to sit for your classroom exam and manual skills test.
How to Check Application Status or Verify Your Certification
Most state agencies that regulate CNA licenses provide an “application status inquiry” on their official website. Checking your application status is important to ensure that you have filled out your application form correctly and do not incur any delays.
After you have taken your certification exam, you may check the online licensure verification on the local state website. For example, licensure verification is typically validated by filling in your form on the site of the regulatory agency. In addition, you may have your results by mail in two weeks to thirty days after you’ve taken the certification exam and skills test.
Renewal Requirements for Your Certification
Your local state board may require that you renew your CNA license every 24 months to maintain your certification status. Some states also require continuing education classes, or CEUs, that may or may not be provided by your employer and are mandatory for renewal. Your mandatory Continuing Education Units must be from sources that are approved by your CNA state board. CEUs are learning modules that target topics required by your particular CNA state regulatory agency and may be presented as:
- Information on HIV/Aides
- Patient rights
- Current care protocols for patients with dementia
- Providing emotional care for patients in distress
- Caring for the elderly
- Latest requirements for documentation
- Latest medical updates on resistance bacteria in your community
As a dedicated advocate and caregiver to your patients, continuing your CNA education is vital to your practice. Staying informed of the new requirements and care protocols may keep you on the cutting edge of current information and provide you with advanced knowledge of the medical field.
What to do if you Move to a Different State with Your CNA Status
If you are a CNA in a state that accepts reciprocity with your new state, you may transfer your license by requesting the regulatory agency to send your certification to your new board of nursing or your state Nursing Aide Registry. However, if your new state of residence accepts your CNA license by endorsement, the state agency may request further information before you can work as a CNA such as:
- School transcripts
- Work references
- Work experience
- An application for certification
How to Get CNA Certification by State
New Jersey is a progressive state that encourages Certified Nursing Assistants to expand their knowledge and work in advanced areas of their field. According to the New Jersey Department of Health, CNAs are required to complete a program that consists of 90 hours in length and includes a clinical experience of 40 hours. You will be required to complete the classroom portion and manual skills laboratory. Focus of the curriculum in this state is on long-term care and working in assisted living settings. After successful completion of your program, you may expect to take a two-part certification exam that includes:
- A performance test of five manual skills
- Classroom training examination by PSI Testing Centers
Along with your application to sit for your certification examination, you must submit documents for verification such as:
- Fingerprint cards
- CNA program transcripts
- CBI background check
- Birth certificate copy
After successfully taking your certification exams, you may be notified by mail in two to six weeks of your results.
The Maryland Board of Nursing regulates nursing assistant certification and approves programs that are at least 75 hours in length. Most programs necessitate a high school diploma or GED and require that you are at least 18 years of age by your graduation date. Before admission to a CNA program, prerequisites include:
- A criminal background check for all CNA programs
- A medical history and physical from your physician
- Course fees and tuition
- A good command of the English language
Your program is divided in two-parts that include classroom training and manual skills that concentrate on performing basic nursing care. You may also be required to work in a long-term medical facility that allows you to practice as a CNA under supervision of a mentor. Once your program is completed, you can apply to the board of nursing for a testing date for the written or computerized test and the skills evaluation. The Maryland State Board of Nursing provides information on how to get CNA certification and the different areas of specialties available in this state.