Choosing a CNA Program
Whether being a CNA is your ultimate goal or your first step onto a healthcare career path, pursuing a CNA diploma is an exciting choice that puts many opportunities before you.
The first step toward beginning a career in nursing as a certified nursing assistant is to begin sorting through potential CNA programs and decide which one best fits your needs. There are many things to consider when choosing a program. This brief guide will help you explore some of the more important factors to keep in mind.
One of the biggest considerations is the overall cost of a program. Many things go into determining how much a CNA program costs, including location, program length, textbooks, lab fees, and more. For example, attending a semester-long course at a community college is likely to cost significantly more than enrolling in an intensive four-week program. Choosing a program that results in a long commute or requires you to move also racks up the cost.
On average, the cost of CNA training ranges anywhere from $700–$2,000+. Your budget, lifestyle, and expected earning potential will play a role in what you are comfortable spending. Keep in mind that there are ways to offset the cost of your education. You can apply for government assistance, scholarships, and employer tuition reimbursement.
There are also free CNA training programs. Employers looking to hire CNAs fund these programs in exchange for graduates agreeing to work for them for a certain period of time. Thus, you can graduate debt free and have a guarantee of employment after graduation.
The importance of program location will vary from person to person. You may have financial or family obligations that make it difficult for you to move. Or, you may have the freedom at this point in your life to be able to explore new places and opportunities.
When thinking about location, you need to consider the job market and potential for employment after graduation. Completing training and clinical hours in your current location, where you have a personal and professional network or have been employed in another capacity, can make it more likely that you will find a job when you graduate. On the other hand, moving to an area with a large number of healthcare resources means more clinical opportunities and jobs are available to you. Locations with nearby teaching hospitals or facilities with clinical ladder programs and tuition reimbursement are great to consider, especially if you have aspirations of furthering your education.
Also think about earning potential and cost of living. If CNA jobs in a particular location don’t pay well, or the cost of living is high, you might want to consider starting your career in a different location. You can find out average salaries for CNAs in different locations at the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Length and Flexibility of the Program
Another factor to consider when choosing a CNA program is the length and flexibility of the program. If you are eager to get started in your career and have the time to commit to an intensive program, you could be graduating and entering the workforce in a matter of weeks. There are programs as short as four weeks, which consist of full days of classes and weekly clinical experience. While a quick and efficient way to get a nursing education, there is little room for flexibility, other obligations, or absences.
For some—especially those who are currently working at another job, raising children, or have other life commitments—a program with a slower pace of 10–16 weeks may be more practical. Longer programs are often more flexible, with the option of taking evening or weekend classes. They also leave time to make up absences or reschedule a class or clinical if an unavoidable conflict occurs.
Program Pass Rate
Perhaps one of the most important factors to consider is the quality of the education you will be getting. No matter how inexpensive or fast a program is, if it doesn’t adequately prepare you for a career as a CNA, those benefits will hardly pay off in the long run.
One way to determine the quality of a program is through pass rate. After graduation, prospective CNAs must pass a national exam demonstrating a minimum knowledge base to become certified. Most, if not all, schools monitor and report the percentage of their students who pass this exam on the first attempt. This “pass rate” can give you an idea of how well prepared you will be at the end of the program. As a general rule, a pass rate of 95% or higher demonstrates a quality school that adequately prepares its students for testing.
It’s important to ask about pass rate when you talk with admissions staff. Your interest will also show that you are invested in getting the most out of your education.
Reputation of the Program and Its Graduates
Pass rate isn’t the only way to determine the quality of a school. The reputation of the school’s graduates will give you a good idea of how well a program will prepare you for the actual workforce. Network with current CNAs, nursing staff, or even administrators at various facilities near the school you are looking into. Ask these people their opinions on the preparedness of graduates from the school, the quality of care they provide, and whether any particular school stands out as having graduates who are especially competent. Talking to professionals is also a great way to network.
Of equal importance is the reputation graduates have with patients and community members. Ask friends or family who have received healthcare services at various facilities what their experience was interacting with CNAs from different programs.
Finally, remember that the name of your chosen school will become attached to your identity as a professional, so you will want to make sure the school embodies integrity and high-quality care. Choosing a school with a good reputation will not only impact your job prospects right out of school but will also affect the perception peers and superiors have of you.