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How to Choose a CNA School

CNA reviewing patient chart with RNDeciding which Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) training to enroll in can be a confusing process.  But the reward is that you will enjoy a fulfilling career working in the healthcare industry.  The role of the CNA is becoming one of the fastest growing as well as important positions in medicine in the United States.  But before you enter the medical field as a nurse aide you must obtain the necessary and proper education.  Therefore you must perform your important due diligence process before choosing and enrolling in a school.  You should also decide on the best method to receive your education.  CNA courses can be attended in a traditional brick and mortar classroom, or more conveniently online.  Under the 1987 Nursing Home Reform Act, CNA students are required to have at least 75 hours of training, 16 of which must be clinical or “hands on training” hours.  So with an online education the clinical training must be incorporated as well.  Ensuring that your school of choice meets the minimum federal requirement for training is just the start of your vetting process.  There are a few additional considerations that will help you narrow down your education options right away.  But before we delve into those, let’s talk a little bit about what a certified nursing assistant career is all about.

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What is a CNA?

CNA with senior woman in nursing homeCertified Nursing Assistants perform a wide range of duties in the hospitals and healthcare facilities where they work.  CNA’s are not licensed, but rather they are certified.  They work under the direction and supervision of a licensed RN or LPN.  In addition to working in a hospital environment, they may also be employed in private practices or in acute care or long term care facilities, including nursing homes and assisted living centers.  As their name implies, nursing assistants’ general job mission is to provide support or to assist the licensed nurses whom they work under.  In a hospital setting, their daily job functions may include but are not limited to:

  • Obtaining patient vital signs
  • Answering call lights for assistance
  • Assisting patients with meals
  • Helping patients walk or get to the bathroom
  • Assisting nurses with treatments or dressing changes

A nursing assistant’s functions in an acute care or long term care facility may involve additional focus on helping the patient with Activities of Daily Living (ADL).  ADLs can include such things as grooming, dressing, assisting with hygiene and bathroom functions, and meal delivery.  Patients in these settings generally remain for an extended period of time, so the CNA may develop more of a relationship or bond with his or her charges.  In fact, the nurse assistant may come to know the patient better than anyone else on the medical team.  In those cases, the CNA’s expertise can be an invaluable resource when determining the proper plan of care or treatment.

CNA Classes Online

female student taking CNA classes onlineObtaining your nursing assistant training online may be the right option for you.  Although all of the instructional classes can be accessed online, remember that a minimum of 16 hours of training must be hands on in a clinical environment.  For online teaching of curriculum, a variety of methods are used including videos, live interactive discussions, slide shows and many others  Because the classes are taught entirely online, you have the advantage of being able to access them through any computer anywhere at any time.  This makes it much easier to juggle schooling with family, work and other obligations.  It may also reduce the cost of your education since online programs are often cheaper than traditional options.  And other expenses, such as those for commuting and textbooks, may be reduced or eliminated as well.  Requirements for clinical practice can be met by completing them at an area healthcare facility, hospital or on campus.  Between this clinical experience and the online courses, everything needed to achieve the necessary competency and meet the minimum educational requirements is provided.  If you are self- disciplined, motivated and willing to dedicate yourself to the coursework, then obtaining your CNA training online could be the right choice for you.

Narrowing your Choice of School Options

Now that you know what a certified nursing assistant is as well as the minimum training requirement, let’s take a look at a general check list of items you should review for each potential school you are considering to help narrow down your options.

Is the school accredited?  It is important that the school you choose is accredited.  The better CNA schools are accredited by the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC).  The NLNAC guarantees that not only are they state approved, but that they adhere to the highest standards for education.  Attending an accredited school also makes you more marketable, and makes it easier to pursue a more advanced nursing degree, such as LPN, at other accredited schools.

Does the school meet certification requirements?   You also need to make sure that the school where you enroll meets all certification requirements for your state.  The course of study should not only meet the minimum federal requirement of 75 hours with 16 hours of clinical practice, but any additional state requirements as well.  The school should be state approved since you will be taking the state designated exam in order to be certified as a CNA.

What is the State Exam Pass Rate?  Each state posts a list of CNA state schools detailing their state exam pass rates. Enrolling in a school with at least a 75% pass rate is highly preferred. Lower pass rates may indicate that a school’s program, curriculum or instructors are ineffective in teaching its students.

What is the total cost?  CNA programs can vary greatly from state to state and by type of program, depending on the amount of classroom and clinical training provided.  However, tuition is not the only cost of your education.  Remember to include the cost of books and commuting as well. Financial aid may be available to help offset some of the cost, so be sure to check with the school’s financial aid department to see what is available in your area.  Of course if you decide to attend an online school, some of these additional costs, such as commuting, can be reduced or eliminated.

Does the school accommodate your schedule?  If you require certain class hours be available for your class schedule due to work or family obligations, be sure to find out if they are offered.  Also, weekend or evening classes may not be offered for all programs.  State schools are becoming more and more flexible to accommodate students with demanding schedules, but it is best to inquire.  If you have decided to study online, you will still need to find out when clinical training hours are offered.

What are the class sizes?  Smaller classes generally provide greater access to instructors when students have questions or need extra help.  Larger classes tend to be more impersonal and limit one-on-one instruction.

Are internships and tutoring offered?  Internships are a great way to get hands on training and experience that you can’t get from a classroom or textbook.  They are also a great way to help build relationships with local healthcare facilities and look good on a resume.  It is also important to find out if tutoring is available if the need should arise.  There may be no cost alternatives available, such as a school forum or chat room for sharing information and resources among students.

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Pick the Right Nurse Assistant Training

Picking the right certified nursing assistant training program is very important, especially if you plan to pursue a more advanced nursing degree in the future.  As we have discussed, you can choose to take your classes either online in your home or by attending a traditional school in person.  However you choose to receive your education, by following the previous guidelines, you will be better able to evaluate each school.  And by choosing the right one, you can achieve your career goal to become a CNA.