Certified Nursing Assistant or Aide

Many patients require the specialized and expert care of highly trained medical professionals such as physicians and nurses. However, many people need basic day-to-day help but don’t require such an advanced healthcare provider. Often, these clients are cared for by certified nursing assistants or aides.  

Certified nursing assistants or aides are healthcare professionals who provide intimate, hands-on healthcare to patients in medical settings. They work under the supervision of a registered nurse and can assist patients with bathing, dressing, and any other basic activities involved in daily life. 

Becoming a certified nursing assistant or aide can be a great way to start a career in the medical field. Certified nursing assistants or aides provide important hands-on care for patients in hospitals, nursing homes, and other healthcare facilities. The job can be demanding, but it is also very rewarding. 

To become a CNA, students must complete a state-approved training program and pass a competency exam. Most training programs last four to 16 weeks and include classroom instruction and clinical experience. Once students have completed their training and passed the exam, they will be eligible to apply for positions at healthcare facilities across the country. 

This profession is growing as more and more hospitals and clinics recognize the importance of having a dedicated team of certified nursing assistants on staff. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2022), there will be a 5 percent increase in jobs for nursing assistants between 2021 and 2031. On average, nursing assistants earn $33,250 annually (BLS May 2021). Currently, 1.3 million nursing assistants are working across the country, providing compassionate and dedicated care to clients. 

Keep reading to learn how to begin working in this entry-level medical career. The guide below covers degree types, top programs, both in-person and online, typical job duties, and certification requirements. 

Nursing Assistant or Aide Specializations & Degree Types

Students must complete a state-approved program to work as certified nursing assistants or aides. These programs vary in length but can be completed in as little as six to eight weeks. Some may take a little longer, depending on the curriculum. After finishing a program, students are awarded a certificate of completion. While many programs are on campus, there are several programs available online.

Admissions Requirements for Nursing Assistant or Aide Programs

Admission requirements for certified nursing assistant or aide programs are relatively basic. Many programs only require that candidates be at least 16 years old. However, more competitive programs may require candidates to graduate from high school or have a GED. Other requirements include proof of vaccination, a background check, a clear drug screening, and a health assessment. 

Requirements vary widely by program, so applicants should contact their desired school to learn what is necessary to apply.

Nursing Assistant or Aide Program Accreditation

While ensuring an education program is accredited is an essential step for most students, this is not necessarily the case with nursing assistant or aide programs. Instead, applicants to nursing assistant or aide programs should ensure that the program they choose is approved by the state licensing board where they wish to practice. Most states require that students complete an approved program to earn a certification. 

Attending a program that has not been approved means a student will not be able to obtain the necessary certification to practice. Students must complete a program that will allow them to earn the credentials necessary to work in their state.   

To further ensure that the program a student attends is high quality, applicants should check if their school has received regional accreditation. Regional accreditation is a type of quality control that colleges and universities undergo every few years, including a review of the school’s finances, curriculum, teaching methods, services, and student outcomes. Accreditation ensures that the school provides a high-quality education that meets a high standard. Additionally, regional accreditation is important for transferring credits to other colleges. In most cases, credits from regionally accredited schools will transfer to other regionally accredited schools.

On-Campus Nursing Assistant or Aide Degree Programs

Amarillo College

The on-campus certified nurse aide program at Amarillo College can be completed in just eight weeks. This program prepares graduates for entry-level work in the field with both classroom and clinical instruction. Daytime and evening classes allow students to fit this program into their busy schedules. Many graduates of this program go on to pursue additional education to enter a more advanced career, such as an EKG tech, medical assisting, or even earning an associate’s degree in nursing. 

To be eligible for admission, students must be current on their immunizations and submit a record to the school. Applicants must also pass a background check and drug screening. 

  • Location: Amarillo, TX
  • Duration: Eight weeks
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Tuition: $305 per credit

Bakersfield College

The Nurse Assistant Training Program (NATP) at Bakersfield College is a 16-week course that teaches students how to provide care for those who need it. The program covers everything from the role of caregiver, healthcare environment/safety issues in general, and adult needs when they’re sick or injured. All students will also gain basic first-aid skills. Graduates of this program are eligible to take the Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA) competency exam, which is required for certification in California. 

Admission requirements for this program student include an American Heart Association Basic Life Support (BLS) card, current immunizations, and a covid booster. All applicants are strongly encouraged to take a medical terminology course before enrolling. 

  • Location: Bakersfield, CA
  • Duration: 16 weeks 
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC), Western Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Tuition: $271 per credit

Northampton Community College 

Northampton Community College offers a nurse aide program that prepares students to start their new careers as soon as possible. This 128-hour intensive course has been designed with both educational and practical components, preparing graduates for success on the National Assessment Project (NAP) examination. Completing the program will allow students to be placed into one of many healthcare agencies in Pennsylvania currently hiring nurse aides. 

Students must submit their applications four to six weeks before the term they wish to enroll. Admission requirements include a high school diploma or GED, current vaccinations including Covid, and being at least 18 years old. 

  • Location: Bethlehem, PA
  • Duration: 128 hours
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • Tuition: $360 per credit

Coconino Community College 

By completing the certified nursing assistant certificate program at Coconino Community College, students will be prepared to be licensed in the state of Arizona. There are only three courses in this program, and they may all be taken concurrently. One class covers medical terminology, another is the classroom side of learning to be a nursing assistant, and the last is a clinical course where students gain hands-on skills. Classes are limited to only 20 students to ensure a personalized experience with plenty of access to faculty. 

In addition to current vaccinations, applicants must have a current American Heart Association BLS Provider CPR certification card, pass an Arizona fingerprint clearance, and have current identification to be considered for admission. Students must also have completed a basic level English and math class or have a placement test score beyond that level. 

  • Location: Flagstaff, AZ 
  • Duration: One semester
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
  • Tuition: $395.50 per credit

Green River College 

The one-quarter-long nursing assistant program at Green River College prepares students to pass the national certification exam and be employment-ready. Skills students will gain include feeding, moving, and bathing patients, as well as how to provide basic support to nurses in hospitals and long-term care facilities. Applications for this program are accepted on a first-come, first-served basis, with a new program starting each quarter. To apply, students must submit a complete application, be 18 years old, and provide proof of the required vaccinations. Tuition assistance is available from traditional financial aid and workforce education programs. 

  • Location: Auburn, WA
  • Duration: One quarter
  • Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
  • Tuition: $378.42 per credit

Online or Hybrid Nursing Assistant or Aide Degree Programs

Nursing assistant or aide programs require students to gain hands-on experience, so there are no completely online programs. However, here are five programs that offer hybrid learning. 

Middlesex Community College

The certified nurse aide training program at Middlesex Community College consists of online lectures with in-person skills development and clinical hours. Students will learn how to perform nursing procedures essential for patients’ needs in a fast-paced environment. Material covered in the online classes is identical to the in-person classes. The online classes do not have set meeting times, so students can complete their coursework when it is most convenient for them. 

The Connecticut Department of Public Health has approved this course, so students can be sure it meets all requirements needed to obtain certification after completion.

  • Location: Middletown, CT
  • Duration: Eight weeks
  • Accreditation: New England Commission on Higher Education (NECHE)
  • Tuition: $1,499 for the entire program 

California Preparatory College

In partnership with Adventist Health Sonora, California Preparatory College offers a hybrid certified nurse assistant program. All lectures are offered online in real-time, and then students complete over 100 hours of clinical training at a skilled nursing facility. Classes are scheduled during the evenings and weekends to allow students to continue working while completing this program. There are full scholarships available for qualified applicants. 

Admissions requirements include a medical exam, a background check, a high school diploma or GED, and US employment eligibility. Students must have reliable internet access and a working computer. Textbooks are included in the cost of the program. 

  • Location: Colton, CA
  • Duration: Twelve weeks
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, Western Association of Schools and Colleges (ACCJC)
  • Tuition: $1,800 for the entire program 

Technical College of the Rockies

The Technical College of the Rockies offers a hybrid certified nurse aide (CNA) program to prepare students who want careers working at healthcare facilities such as long-term facilities, hospitals, and home healthcare agencies. The 139-hour curriculum meets the Colorado State Board of Nursing requirements for certification. 

Students will learn how to identify changes in a person’s condition, report them effectively, and provide assistance with daily living activities. They will also gain a deep understanding of meeting physical needs, like bathing or dressing, and emotional ones, such as empathy towards clients. All theory coursework is offered online with on-campus practical labs and clinical practicals at a long-term care facility. 

  • Location: Delta, CO
  • Duration: Ten weeks
  • Accreditation: Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH)
  • Tuition: $1,500 for the entire program

Johnson County Community College

Johnson County Community College offers one of the most flexible certified nurse aide programs available. Students can choose between a hybrid or in-person program and elect to complete their certificate in four, eight, or 16 weeks. Classes are scheduled at all times, including afters, evenings, and weekends to allow students to craft a schedule that works for them. Students at JCCC, even online, have access to academic counseling and on-campus clubs and organizations. 

If a student has already completed their program but didn’t apply for state certification in the required amount of time, there is a one-credit refresher course that will get them up to date. Students who complete this program may complete additional education to become licensed practical nurses or registered nurses. 

  • Location: Overland Park, KS
  • Duration: Four to 16 weeks
  • Accreditation: Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH)
  • Tuition: $228 per credit

Trinity School of Nursing

The certified nursing assistant program at Trinity School of Nursing is a flexible hybrid program with 60 hours of online coursework and 100 hours of clinical training. Students will learn how to help with tasks that would be difficult for their clients, such as bathing and dressing. They also learn to check vital signs such as blood pressure or temperature. There are opportunities for students to complete this program for free if they sign on with an employer before starting their studies. 

The admission requirements for this program include being at least 16 years old, a full Covid vaccination certificate, a background check, a physical exam with a tuberculosis clearance, and a negative Covid test before clinical training. 

  • Location: Ventura and Santa Barbara, CA 
  • Duration: One month
  • Accreditation: California Department of Public Health
  • Tuition: $1,799 for the entire program

How Long Does it Take to Become a Nursing Assistant or Aide?

After graduating from high school, completing a nursing assistant or aide program typically takes three months or less. The time to achieve certification varies by state requirements.   

How To Become a Nursing Assistant or Aide – Step-by-Step Guide

Step 1: Graduate from High School or Complete a GED (Four Years)

Completing high school or earning a GED is important for anyone who wants to become a nursing assistant or aide. To be successful in this field, it is essential to have strong reading, writing, math, and communication skills. A high school diploma or GED provides a foundation for acquiring these skills. In addition, many nursing assistant or aide programs require applicants to have completed high school or a GED before they can begin working.

Step 2: Complete a Nursing Assistant Training Program (Four to 12 Weeks)

Becoming a nursing assistant or aide requires completing a state-approved education program. The skills and knowledge learned in these programs are crucial in providing high-quality care to patients. 

In addition, nursing assistants and aides must be able to work well as part of a team. They must be able to communicate effectively with nurses, doctors, and other members of the healthcare team. These programs vary in length from four to twelve weeks, depending on the state and the curriculum. Most programs will include a required number of training and clinical hours to ensure graduates will be successful in this field. 

Step 3: Apply for State Certification (Timelines Vary)

All states regulate nursing assistants and aides and require them to obtain certification to practice. The requirements will vary by state. See the certification and licensure section below to learn more.

What Do Nursing Assistants or Aides Do?

Nursing assistants and aides work in various settings, including long-term care facilities, nursing homes, assisted living centers, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities. In some states, they may even work in home health care. Most nursing assistants and aides work full-time. Many work rotating shifts with weekends or overnight schedules. Job duties will vary based on place of employment but will typically include:

  • Assisting nurses in providing basic care to patients
  • Helping patients with activities of daily living
  • Bathing, dressing, and grooming patients
  • Serving meals and helping patients eat
  • Recording patients’ health concerns
  • Measuring patients’ vital signs
  • Dispensing medication as directed
  • Transferring patients between a bed and a wheelchair
  • Repositioning patients in bed
  • Communicating with the rest of the healthcare staff at the facility

Nursing Assistant or Aide Certifications & Licensure

Nursing assistants and aides must obtain a certification from their state licensing board to provide care. The requirements for certification will vary by state but will typically include:

  • Complete a state-approved nursing assistant or aide program with a required number of training hours 
  • Pass a background check
  • Sit for an examination selected by the state board

Most states also have a minimum age requirement to work as a nursing assistant or aide, varying from 16 to 18 years old. Some states also require that candidates apply for certification and sit for their exam within a given amount of time after completing their education program. Typically, this is within 24 months or less for states with this requirement. 

How Much Do Nursing Assistants or Aides Make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2021), the 1,314,830 nursing assistants in the US earn $33,250 per year on average. The percentiles for wages are:

  • 10th percentile: $23,880
  • 25th percentile: $28,900
  • 50th  percentile (median): $30,310
  • 75th percentile: $37,170
  • 90th percentile: $44,240

Nursing Assistant or Aide Career Alternatives

Here are some alternatives to a career as a nursing assistant or aide: 

Become a Phlebotomist

A phlebotomist specializes in venipunctures or drawing blood. They usually work in hospitals or clinics, and their duties include greeting patients, verifying information, and reviewing their medical history. They are responsible for cleaning and preparing the equipment and choosing the correct size needle for each patient. After the procedure, phlebotomists label the blood samples and send them to the laboratory for testing. 

  • Typical Education: Certificate 
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: American Medical Technologists (AMT), National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT), and American Society for Clinical Pathology Board of Certification (ASCP-BOC)

Become a Physical Therapist Assistant 

Physical therapist assistants (PTA) work alongside physical therapists to rehabilitate patients. Their duties may include providing therapeutic exercises, administering modalities, and assisting in patient evaluations. PTAs play an important role in rehabilitation, helping patients regain strength and mobility. PTAs work in outpatient clinics, hospitals, nursing homes, school settings, or home health agencies.

  • Typical Education: Associates
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy

Become a Medical Assistant

A medical assistant is a multi-skilled professional who supports the work of physicians and other health care providers. They perform various administrative, clinical, and diagnostic tasks in hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare settings. Their duties may include scheduling appointments, taking medical histories, preparing patients for exams, collecting lab specimens, and carrying out routine laboratory tests. Medical assistants may assist with procedures, provide patient education and instruction, and perform billing and coding duties. 

  • Typical Education: Certificate or on-the-job training
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: National Healthcareer Association, American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA), National Center for Competency Testing, and American Medical Technologists
Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson

Writer

Kimmy is a freelance writer with extensive experience writing about healthcare careers and education. She has worked in public health, at health-focused nonprofits, and as a Spanish interpreter for doctor’s offices and hospitals. She has a passion for learning and that drives her to stay up to date on the latest trends in healthcare. When not writing or researching, she can be found pursuing her passions of nutrition and an active outdoors lifestyle.

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