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The healthcare industry is one of the fastest growing segments in the nation; certified nurse assistants are a critical component of the country’s healthcare system. Demand is expected to increase for the foreseeable future in all medical fields, including certified nursing assistants (CNAs). These shifts in demand will lead to a variety of opportunities to work in the medical field and may lead to increased wages or benefit possibilities in the future.

A certified nursing assistant, or CNA, provides patients with a basic level of care under the direction and supervision of other nursing staff. They may help with feeding and bathing the patient, assist in the moving and transport patients, and other duties as assigned. Concerns regarding hygiene and safety are often highlighted, as many working in the field are the primary source of care for patients that lack the ability to manage these tasks themselves.


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The primary focus of a CNA is patient care, leading them to work directly with patients quite often. This requires excellent communication skills as well as a calm demeanor. Depending on the health conditions associated with the patient for which you provide care, some of the work can be considered high stress. Additionally, the work contains a significant physical component, as assisting patients with mobility issues is a common task.

Most commonly, a person interested in becoming a CNA will start by enrolling in a state-approved nursing assistant program through a local college, university or vocational school. Participating in an approved program will help ensure you have been introduced to the skills and competencies necessary to pass any required certification exams. Since laws and regulations vary by state, it is helpful to obtain training within the state in which you attend to work. This helps ensure that you have the proper training to find employment in your area. However, states will consider education and experience acquired in other states, though the precise requirements to transfer your credentials will be set by the state in which you are seeking certification.

Prior Education
Most nurse aide programs do not require prerequisites beyond obtaining your high school diploma, or its equivalent, and being at least 18 years of age. There may be additional restrictions based on any issues presented in a background check as well. Such restrictions are generally set by the state in which you intend to work. While specific educational requirements are not often listed, you can prepare yourself for success by focusing on critical areas during your high school studies. For example, classes covering biology, anatomy, and physiology will be particularly useful. A fundamental understanding of math and strong command of the English language will also make pursuing your education easier overall.

Additional Skills
Working in the medical field requires a high level of customer service skills. Working with patients who may be experiencing difficulties can make communication skills highly desirable as well. Attention to detail and a calm demeanor are also helpful. Providing patient care can have significant physical demands. You may have to lift and adjust patients to during the course of treatment, as well as handle packages containing medical supplies. Individual pieces of medical equipment can also be cumbersome to move. Positions in this field can also require a notable amount of manual dexterity. Other physical requirements can include the ability to sit or stand for extended periods of time, depending on the particular work environment.

Preparing for the Nursing Assistant Certificate Program

To begin preparations for joining a suitable program, you must first complete your high school diploma or receive its equivalent. Once that is obtained, you can begin scheduling your classes.

Class schedules will be determined by the educational institution you choose to attend. While daytime courses are typically available, some colleges may offer night and weekend options as well. This can be especially useful if you need to coordinate your education around other obligations. Some courses may also be available online, though the entire program may not be since hands-on training is often fundamental to a successful education in the field. Take the time to review all scheduling options available at different schools before the beginning of your studies so that you can be reasonably sure you will be able to attend.

Depending on the exact program selected, any state-level requirements and the speed at which you can take courses, the total time to completion may range from a few credit hours to as much as two years.If the educational institution you select has financial aid available, to complete additional forms to determine eligibility. For schools that can accept federal financial aid, you will need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Your eligibility for certain awards, such as Pell Grants or federal student loans, are based solely on the results of your FAFSA.

Colleges may also offer additional financial aid programs independent of FAFSA results. This can include the availability of payment plans as well as scholarships created by the institution. If funds received through these forms of financial aid are insufficient, you may be able to obtain private student loans to cover tuition. The availability of such loans will depend on your eligibility and creditworthiness. When financial aid is not available, you need to be ready to pay for your courses in full. Each school will have specific deadlines and standards regarding timely payment.

Attending Nursing Assistant Classes
After you have been admitted to the program, and your starting class schedule has been determined, you will be ready to start taking classes. Coursework focuses on the unique skills and abilities needed to successful work as a nursing assistant. Some general education requirements may also be included depending on the standards set by the school.

In more traditional educational programs, courses on a variety of healthcare-related subjects will be covered, including information regarding infectious disease management, anatomy and physiology, and professional ethics. Additional hands-on training will help ensure students have an opportunity to gain the skills necessary to perform the job duties successfully.

Due to the nature of the work, classes are typically held in a combination of traditional classrooms and lab environments. Traditionally, certificate programs focus only on courses that specifically apply to the career you are pursuing. For example, biology, anatomy, and physiology are standard requirements. You will also be introduced to medical terminology and will likely need to complete introductory courses related to math and English. Additional classes cover issues of communication and human relations. This is to help students gain an understanding of how to work with patient, especially during times of crisis.

Practical education involves performing specific tasks while under the supervision of a medical professional and/or instructor. This ensures students are able to apply classroom learning to provide proper patient care. The nature of the lab work will vary depending on the program, as well as the standard activities permitted by your state. To help students apply their education to real-world events, some programs require an externship be completed before completion of the program.

Certification Process
Certification exams for nursing assistance are traditionally offered at the state-level. This means that the process can vary depending on where you plan to work. Most states require a minimum amount of education prior to the exam being administered. Additionally, applicants must be at least 18 years of age prior to the exam.

Most certification exams involve a specific number of multiple choice questions issued based on the particular state’s standards. Time limits are standard. Some exams also include a practical exam which helps ensure that those working in the field have the real-world skills necessary to perform the essential job duties. Since requirements vary by state, the exact nature of what will be covered may not be consistent. However, by participating in an approved nurse aide program, you can be assured that all necessary information has been made available to you.

Maintaining Certification
Just as certification requirements vary by state, so do recertification requirements. However, some standards can be anticipated for most certification programs. Generally, continuing education credits are required to maintain a certification. This involves taking specified courses to ensure you are well informed regarding current standards of patient care as well as shifts in any applicable laws and regulations. The number of credit required is determined by the government agency that validates your credentials.

Job Outlook for CNA's

As demand for qualified healthcare workers continues to rise, the need for certified nurse aides also increases. Between 2014 and 2024, it is anticipated that demand will increase by approximately 11 percent, a pace that is faster than the average for all potential occupations. The aging baby boomer population will require a significant amount of care, making new positions available in long-term care facilities. Additionally, the number of younger people entering the workforce is not able to keep pace with the number who are currently leaving. This may make shortfalls more apparent over time.

However, many long-term care facilities rely on funding from the government, at both the state and federal level. For example, Medicare and Medicaid are both government programs designed to help older populations meet their healthcare needs. As funding is cut from those programs, some facilities find it more challenging to keep a suitable number of employees on staff.

Working as a Nurse Aide
Primary job duties for those working as nursing assistants includes a broad range of patient care. They may help with daily tasks, such as bathing and dressing, while also assisting those with mobility issues. CNAs often maintain patient records, listing and concerns or changes that may have occurred. Taking vital signs, such as temperature and blood pressure, are standard duties, as well as assisting with meal service.

Depending on the state, and level of training, some CNAs are allowed to dispense medication to patients as directed by the prescribing doctor. Other duties may be permitted, but can require the immediate supervision of a trained physician or licensed nurse. Otherwise, assisting other medical professionals may also be included. Some become the primary caregiver for patients, allowing them to develop long-term relationships with the patients with which they work. The aim is to improve the quality of life of patients with a variety of medical conditions by offering the highest quality of care.

The majority of nursing assistants work in long-term care facilities or area hospitals. However, employment can also be found in retirement communities, home health care services, and government agencies. The work can be physically demanding, which can lead to injury. Additionally, much of your time could be spent on your feet.

Dress Code
Required dress codes vary depending on the work environment. Many CNAs wear medical scrubs while performing their job duties. However, those employed in a patient’s home may be authorized more casual dress. Shoes are often chosen for function, and an employer may set expectations in this area.

Work Schedule
Nursing assistants can have a variety of schedules depending on the nature of your employment. For example, long-term care facilities and hospitals may require CNAs to be on staff at all times. This means you could end up working day, evening, or night shifts. Weekend and holiday work is also common. Those working in patient homes may also have varied schedules, depending on the exact needs of the patient. In some cases, CNAs live in the patient’s home with them, making them available for care 24/7. The majority of nurse aides work full-time, but part-time opportunities may also be available in certain situations.

Potential Salary and Benefits
As of 2015, the median annual salary for nursing assistants reached over $25,000. However, the top 10 percent were able to make over $36,000 annually. Maintaining a certification can help increase your wages in states where certification is considered optional, as it provides you with additional credentials that others working in the field may not possess. Most nurse aides working in full-time positions will receive a benefits package. This can include medical, dental, vision, and prescription insurance, as well as retirement benefits and paid time off. In some cases, educational incentives are also included. These can be used to offset continuing educational expenses or for the pursuit of more advanced training.

Career Growth
Advancement as a nursing assistant is possible as you gain experience. Additionally, you can obtain individual certification in key areas to help further your career. For example, you may choose to become certified as a phlebotomist or EKG technician to provide additional opportunities. It also provides a solid foundation for further pursuits in the medical field. CNAs may choose to obtain further education in the nursing field allowing them to become Licensed Practical Nurses or Registered Nurses. Some may opt to complete a full medical education, ultimately becoming a licensed medical doctor. If additional education and certifications are obtained, the potential for higher wages is significant. However, the exact amount that can be earned depends heavily on the final position acquired as well as the work environment chosen.