Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) [Program Guide]

James M. Tobin
Updated June 26, 2024
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Certified nursing assistant (CNA) credentials can help you qualify for supporting roles in healthcare. CNAs work under licensed nurses and help them care for patients and manage patient documentation.

By taking CNA classes online, you can prepare for a nursing assistant career in a flexible and affordable format. Learning how online CNA programs work and what you can expect.

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What Does a CNA Do?

CNAs, also known as nurse aides, nursing assistants, and nursing aides, help patients with daily living activities, such as eating, dressing, using the bathroom, and bathing. They monitor patients’ conditions and vital signs to report changes to nursing staff.

They must be able to perform physical tasks, such as lifting, turning, or repositioning patients with limited mobility. CNAs also assist nurses and other healthcare professionals by setting up equipment and informing patients and visitors.

Most CNAs work in skilled nursing facilities, hospitals, assisted living facilities, or home healthcare. CNAs must work under someone else’s license because CNA certification does not allow them to practice independently. They usually work under the supervision of a licensed practical nurse (LPN), registered nurse (RN), or an advanced practice nurse (APRN).

How Do Online CNA Programs Work?

While you can take many CNA classes online, CNA programs also include on-campus or other fieldwork components that you must complete in person. You can take CNA classes online from various providers, including community colleges, vocational and technical schools, and even some high schools, hospitals, and nursing homes.

Online CNA Program Formatting

Most CNA classes online are asynchronous, which involves recorded lectures and online class materials you can engage with on your schedule rather than attending class every week at a certain time.

Having high-speed internet helps with asynchronous classes, but it may be required to attend synchronous courses or live lectures. The coursework usually includes lectures, assessments, and discussions.

Depending on the provider, lab courses may occur on campus or in healthcare settings. Clinical hours must also take place in hospitals and similar environments. Many programs offer evening or weekend options for in-person components.

Online CNA Program Curriculum

The curriculum for CNA classes online covers the same topics as in-person CNA programs:

  • CNA responsibilities, such as taking vital signs and helping patients with their activities of daily living
  • Infection control
  • Injury prevention
  • Nutrition and hydration for patients
  • Common diseases
  • Anatomy
  • Effective communication

You can also gain hands-on experience during in-person clinical hours at a local facility, like a hospital, long-term care facility, or nursing home. Each state sets specific CNA program standards and curriculum requirements, but they are generally similar across states.

Online CNA Program Length

As the American Red Cross notes, you can complete CNA training in weeks. Exact durations vary among training providers, but many online programs have completion timelines of 5-6 weeks.

The Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1987 (OBRA 1987) established minimum training requirements at the federal level for nursing assistance. OBRA 1987 guidelines stipulate minimums of 100 hours of supervised clinical training and 50 hours of classroom instruction.

States that offer CNA certification programs may have higher or additional requirements.

Online CNA Program Cost

Attending CNA classes online can save you the cost of transportation, childcare, and other related expenses. Tuition and fees can range from about $1,000-$3,000, assuming you qualify for in-state tuition at a community college. Also consider expenses for equipment, such as scrubs and books. You can reduce your costs by applying for financial aid from your school and for other nursing scholarships. Earning a CNA certificate is much more affordable than a nursing degree.

badge-check Importance of Choosing a State-Approved Program

Each state sets requirements for CNA programs and maintains a list of approved options. You must attend a state-approved program to apply for licensure. Check the program website or search for your state’s list of approved CNA programs for additional information.

Steps to Become a CNA

  1. Earn a high school diploma or GED certificate
  2. Complete a hybrid or in-person state-approved CNA program
  3. Apply for CNA certification in your state
  4. Pass a background check and drug screening
  5. Pass a medical/physical exam
  6. Pass your state’s CNA certification exam
  7. Find employment

Key Skills for CNAs

CNAs must have both interpersonal and medical skills. These include:

  • Empathy: As a CNA, you will interact with busy nurses and patients recovering from injuries and illnesses. Empathy will help you manage difficult and stressful professional situations.
  • Active Listening: Active listening builds rapport, trust, and confidence in your presence. It can help make your patient-facing duties easier and more pleasant.
  • Observation Skills: CNAs often help patients with daily tasks and routines. By paying close attention to details, they can detect subtle shifts indicating changes in the patient’s condition.
  • Communication Skills: CNAs interact with nurses and patients, relaying information back and forth between these professionals. Excellent communication skills are a must.
  • Sanitation and Infection Control: Hospitals and healthcare environments must always meet demanding cleanliness standards, and CNAs participate in sanitation and disinfection duties.
  • Proactively Identifying and Solving Problems: As a CNA, you will likely encounter situations requiring prompt action to confront problems, as seconds can mean the difference between life and death in crisis situations.

What Are the Benefits of Taking CNA Classes Online?

  • Asynchronous CNA programs let you schedule classes around work and family responsibilities.
  • Most online CNA programs last just a few months.
  • Tuition for online CNA programs is less expensive than nursing school.
  • You can complete online CNA classes while continuing to work your current job.
  • You don’t have to relocate or travel to a physical campus to pursue CNA education.

Did You Know…

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects more than 209,000 annual openings for nursing assistants and orderlies from 2022-2032.

Frequently Asked Questions About Online CNA Classes

It depends on the education provider and state requirements, but students can complete the minimum 50 hours of classroom-based training in as little as 5-6 weeks. You must also complete supervised clinical training, which covers a minimum of 100 additional hours.

Page last reviewed on May 23, 2024

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