How to Become a Licensed Nursing Assistant: Career Roadmap

Oct 20, 2021

Research the requirements to become a licensed nursing assistant. Learn about the job description and duties, and read the step-by-step process to start a career as a nursing assistant.

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Licensed Nursing Assistant

A licensed nursing assistant, better known as a certified nursing assistant (CNA), works alongside a registered nurse to give care directly to patients. Job duties may include helping patients get dressed, assisting patients with medication, transporting patients, and using non-invasive methods to collect information necessary to aid in treatment. This job may be physically demanding, requiring CNAs to stand for long periods of time and sometimes lift or turn patients. CNAs must follow safety and sanitization protocols to avoid contracting infectious diseases or illnesses from patients.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Postsecondary certificate or diploma
Degree Field Nurse aide; certified nurse assistant
Licensure/Certification Must pass state competency exam
Experience Entry level; no experience necessary
Key Skills Communication skills, patience, compassion, physical stamina, ability to use equipment to measure vital signs and track patients' progress
Salary $28,540 per year (2018 median salary for all nursing assistants)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*NET OnLine

Career Steps

Now let's check out the career steps for licensed nursing assistants.

Step 1: Complete the Education and Training Requirements

In order to qualify for employment, CNAs typically need to earn a certificate or diploma through a state-approved, postsecondary education program. Many of these programs will require individuals to have a high school diploma prior to enrollment. Training programs are offered through a variety of organizations, including medical centers, community colleges, and groups such as the American Red Cross. Some of the topics covered in the classroom include personal care skills, basic nursing, and patient communication. Nursing assistant programs generally include clinical instruction and can be completed in a few weeks to a year.

To really stand out in your program, develop proficient communication skills. Nursing assistants need to be able to effectively address patients' concerns and communicate patient information to registered nurses and other healthcare professionals. Courses in speech or writing may help prospective nursing assistants develop or improve their communication techniques. Additionally, prepare for the state's competency exam. Graduates can find training videos and practice tests online to help prepare for the CNA exam.

Step 2: Obtain Certification

After completing a nursing assistant training program, candidates can receive the title of a Certified Nursing Assistant if they pass the state certification exam. The CNA competency exam consists of a skills test and a written test. Since additional requirements vary by state, individuals should check with their state's licensing and certification boards before applying for work.

Step 3: Meet Other Qualifications

In addition to educational requirements, a certified nursing assistant has to meet several other qualifications. One standard is a physical examination that ensures a nurse's aide can effectively and comfortably perform various work duties. Nursing assistants may also have to receive several vaccinations. Many employers also require a criminal background check for all new employees entering this occupation.

Step 4: Consider Earning Other Credentials for Career Advancement

Depending on the state, nursing assistants can earn additional certifications to demonstrate competency in performing more complex tasks. One such certification is the Certified Medication Assistant (CMA) credential. To qualify for the CMA exam, candidates typically must meet the required number of hours for classroom, skills, and clinical training. Some states may require this certification be renewed every year.

To recap, with a postsecondary training program and certification, a licensed nursing assistant can earn about $28,000 a year to work alongside a registered nurse to give care directly to patients.

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