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How To Become A CNA And Get A CNA License

How To Become A CNA and get a CNA License Explained

Now you have decided you want to become a certified nursing assistant you have various options for training to achieve your CNA license. There are lots of training providers from high schools to colleges and the Red Cross also runs CNA training courses as well. When the course ends you have a period of time wherein you need to take and pass the licensing exam to gain your certification.

Some nursing homes will fund the cost of your training in return for you working for them for the duration of the course. There may or may not be an offer of employment when you successfully complete the course and pass the exam. If you choose to go down this route talk with the home about job prospects at the end of the course, normally you will be offered a permanent role but it is good to be sure beforehand. CNA Stethoscope

The first thing you should do is contact schools and colleges in your area that offer a CNA training course.

If you want to work at the same time as training then contact nursing homes in your area and see if they are currently offering a paid for training scheme.

Once you have narrowed your selection down you should go and speak to the school, college or nursing home to gather more information. Ask if they hold information days that you can go to, many do and are in fact mandatory.

Make sure any course you take is approved in your state!

Contact your local or state health agency to confirm licensing requirements before you begin your search.

How to become a CNA – Simple Breakdown

  1. Research and sign up for a CNA program direct at a school or via a nursing home
  2. Complete the program
  3. Take the exam
  4. Pass the exam!
  5. Receive your state CNA license
  6. Start applying for jobs!

What will the training course teach me?

The fundamental aim of any certified nursing assistant program is to prepare you to pass the state exam.

The course will be a mixture of theory work and hands-on practical work. It is important that you get the chance to get some real life experience in a healthcare setting to give you a chance to put your theoretical knowledge into practice. This is the best way to improve and master your new found skills and you should check with your preferred course provider to see how much time is devoted to this aspect of the course.

You will learn practical skills such as CPR and how to take and read vital signs such as blood pressure, pulse and temperature. You will be taught in all aspects of first aid and how to deal with emergency situations. You will learn how to operate some medical equipment.

You will learn the fundamentals of patient care – how to deal with hygiene matters, bathing and other personal matters such as catheter care, feeding, helping them to get around and how to move them safely (ambulating). You will learn the proper way to make a bed and to make sure that the patient is comfortable and safe in every way.

There will be role-playing in which you get to experience the job as a nursing assistant both as the CNA and as the patient. Learning how to communicate and deal with people that are ill and fragile will be an essential skill to have. As part of this you will be taught how to manage stressful situations including death and dying.

You will learn about legal and ethical issues as well as patient’s rights to confidentiality and privacy.

You will learn medical terminology, plus the fundamentals of anatomy, physiology as well as nutrition and how to apply this knowledge in a practical setting.


What are the education requirements for starting a CNA course?

The requirements for enrolling on a CNA course vary from state to state and from provider to provider. If you do not already possess a high school diploma or GED then you will most likely have to undertake a short exam to show your proficiency level in writing and reading English and basic Maths. Some providers require a TABE test which is a reading comprehension test and some run mandatory information sessions that you must attend.

Some providers will require you to undergo background checks as discussed in the next section.


What are the age requirements for training and also to take the CNA exam?

This varies slightly from state to state but the rough guideline is that you cannot take the CNA exam until you are 16 or over. Some nursing homes and healthcare facilities require you to be 18. At the other end of the scale there are no upper age limit and many people train as a CNA later in life.


Will I have to undergo any background checks?

It is not compulsory for a training provider to complete background checks but it IS compulsory for anyone wishing to take the CNA license exam to undergo level 2 background checks – state wide and nationwide. This involves submitting fingerprints and checking your history for any misdemeanors and / or felonies.

Most schools will do a background check before accepting you on to their program to save any problems occurring at a later date. Note that even if you pass the school’s background checks you will still need to undergo background checks before taking the exam.

If the background checks raise any issues then you will normally be given a chance to provide supporting information as to why you should be allowed to take the exam. There is a review process that goes to the Board of Nursing and if you are still denied at this stage there is a right of appeal.


How much does it cost to train as a CNA?

Costs can vary a lot from state to state….check out the guides listed by state in the sidebar for more information.


Do I HAVE to complete a CNA course or can I “challenge” the exam?

Challenging the CNA exam means applying for and taking the exam without completing a recognised training program. Some states do not require completion of a training program – unless you fail the exam a number of times. Before choosing this route check with your state and remember that you need to do whatever you can to make yourself stand out against other job candidates. Taking an approved program is the best way to do this, to show how committed you really are and that you have had some practical experience.


Are there free CNA classes available?

Some states provide free training courses throughout the year to enable you to train as a certified nursing assistant.

You can contact your local department of health to see if they run any free courses for CNAs. List departments of health by state…

Contact local nursing homes and hospitals and other healthcare facilities to see if they are offering a program whereby they pay your tuition fees in return for unpaid employment.

You could be eligible for free or subsidised training if you are the spouse of an active serving military member. Look at for further information.


How about reduced cost / low cost CNA training?

Some training providers offer grants to low income students. The best thing to do is ask them directly as they change their requirements from time to time.


How about training to become a CNA online – is that a good option?

The short answer is no.

Any supposed online course for the CNA certification should be treated with extreme caution. Even if the links take you to a working website (and many do not!), all they are likely to do is part you with your money (which you are much better off putting towards an approved course) and just possibly help you to challenge the CNA exam.  Online courses are very unlikely to be state approved programs.

Some states won’t even let you take the exam if you have done online training. Take this quote from the state of Michigan:

“The State of Michigan does not recognize online programs.”

Consider that you would not be getting any hands on practical work or experience in a real healthcare environment – this is one of the most important aspects of CNA training. If you do come across an online course that seems legitimate to you, splease contact your department of health first and check with them, or speak to local nursing homes or other healthcare facilities and ask for their opinion.

If you are serious about a career as a CNA then you are much better off finding an approved course in your area, either directly through a school or college, and seeing if you are eligible for a grant, or as part of a scholarship scheme via a nursing home or hospital.


What does the CNA exam involve?

The exam is part up of two parts – there is a multiple choice written part and a practical part where you will be asked to perform a number of skills such as patient dressing, recognizing certain symptoms in a patient, use of medical equipment, taking and recording vital signs such as blood pressure, as demonstrated in this training video:

Training video courtesy of

Another video showing the skill of ambulating using a transfer belt

What do I need to show a prospective employer?

The most important thing a prospective employer will want to see is your current state license. When going for an interview make sure you take copies of any important documentation such as your SS card and ID card. If you have any other certifications to show that you have completed other relevant courses, such as first aid then take copies of these as well. Have them all packed neatly into a small case or folder – remember that one of the requirements of being a Certified Nursing Assistant is to be well organised.

If you want to show how motivated you are you should learn about the facility that you have applied to work in. You could also prepare some questions beforehand to ask the employer. This will show you have done your preparation and are truly interested in the position.