How Hard Is It to Become a CNA?
Considering entering the healthcare field but not sure where to start? Becoming a CNA, or certified nursing assistant, may allow you to begin a medical profession in just a few months. As entry-level healthcare workers, CNAs work directly with patients and nurses to provide for patients’ physical and medical needs.
As a CNA, you may be responsible for repositioning bed-bound patients, answering call buttons, changing dressings on wounds, helping patients with their daily needs, and other similar tasks. Common places of employment for CNAs include nursing homes, hospitals, long-term care facilities, and rehabilitation centers.
CNAs are in high demand, with many facilities reporting shortages. But how hard is it to become a CNA, and is it worth the training and certification process? Read on to learn about the different ways to become a CNA, how long it takes, and some job challenges.
Paths to Becoming a CNA
The age, education, and training requirements to become a CNA vary by location. In general, you’ll need to complete the following steps to become a CNA:
- Meet your state’s age and education requirement (generally, 18 years of age with a high school diploma).
- Complete an approved CNA training program.
- Take and pass the required CNA certification exam in your state.
- Pass a background check, which may include fingerprinting, as required in your state.
- Obtain and maintain a license by paying filing fees and completing continuing education classes as required.
Fortunately, you can pursue several different pathways to obtain your nursing assistant certification, depending on where you live and your current experience level:
- CNA training programs: These can range from four weeks to three months and cover everything you’ll need to learn to take the CNA exam. Some, like Premier Nursing Academy, pair you with an employer before you begin so you have a guaranteed job after completing the program.
- CNA exam prep courses: Certain states allow you to take the exam without formal CNA training. For instance, in Florida, you can take the examination without training—as long as you don’t fail it three times. After that, you’re required to complete an approved CNA training program. To prepare for your test, you can pay to take short-term exam prep classes (from two days to two weeks) that cover both theory and clinical skills.
- On-the-job training: If you want to “challenge” the exam in a state that doesn’t require formal training, you may be able to pass if you’ve had quality on-the-job training in another patient-centered healthcare role.
- Community college CNA courses: Some community colleges offer CNA training in a longer format, school-based program. If you’re not in a rush and need a part-time schedule, this can be a good option.
- High school vocational programs: High schools with career development programs may offer CNA training to enrolled students. In states that allow CNA certification at age 16, students may even begin working as CNAs before graduating from high school.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Certified Nursing Assistant?
The length of training for a CNA varies by state, school, and program. In general, you can expect to complete the course in around 10 weeks. Some programs offer accelerated training options, which allow you to complete the course in as little as four to six weeks.
Regardless of the length of the program, you will need to take a state-required certification test. The time the exam takes will also vary by state. In Florida, for example, CNAs must pass a two-part exam, including a 90-minute written test and a practical test where they have to perform five randomly selected nursing assistant tasks.
Potential Obstacles for CNAs
For many, becoming a CNA is the start of a rewarding career. However, there are some challenges to be aware of before you begin training.
The training process can be time consuming, and you might not be able to work during your CNA program if you’re attending full-time. You’ll likely have to spend between 75 and 180 hours studying to learn new skills, which can also be difficult if you have children or other personal responsibilities. In addition, some courses cost thousands of dollars, which can be hard to pay off with an entry-level CNA salary.
The good news is that most training courses take, at most, three months (and as few as one!), so the obstacles are temporary. And there are free CNA training options that teach you what you need to know to pass the exam and succeed in your career and set you up with a job as soon as the program is done.
Is the CNA Exam Hard?
The CNA exam is designed to ensure you have both the knowledge and the skills to start your new career as a certified nursing assistant. Most tests include two parts: a written test where you show your knowledge and a practical exam where you prove your ability to perform basic healthcare tasks, such as taking vital signs or completing reports.
As you study, make sure you are capable of both understanding and performing the required tasks. Practicing with classmates or friends can help build confidence and the skills you need to be successful.
Is CNA a Hard Job?
Like most jobs in the medical field, working as a CNA has its challenges. Being prepared for those challenges can instill confidence in your new career and help set expectations. In most cases, you will be required to perform many less glamorous (but very crucial) tasks as a CNA, such as helping patients with toileting and bathing, organizing and stocking patient rooms, and changing bedding.
Many CNAs also report long hours, challenging patients, and difficulty juggling work with a personal life. However, many certified nursing assistants find the career to be deeply satisfying. In addition, you might use your certification as a stepping stone to work in healthcare management or become a nurse.
Is Being a CNA Harder Than Being a Nurse?
Both CNA and nurse jobs have difficult aspects, which can vary based on your workplace. For instance, a CNA job in a long-term care facility is often a more physically demanding role than a nurse because you’re frequently lifting patients as you help them go the bathroom, get changed, or move from their bed to wheelchair and back.
However, a nurse position may be more stressful because nurses have the bulk of the responsibility and accountability of ensuring patients are getting what they need and that the CNAs who report to them are doing their jobs. Nurses must also perform more advanced medical tasks, take care of more patients, and are held responsible if something goes wrong.