Nurse Assistant / Aide

While many people are familiar with the concept of a registered nurse, the work of Certified Nurse Assistants, or CNAs, is less well-known. CNAs are classified as 'unlicensed assistive personnel,' as opposed to licensed medical care professionals like RNs. Primary care technician, orderly, caregiver, nursing aide and direct care worker are all names for the CNA.

Assistive personnel have become more common within the current structure of the U.S. healthcare system. According to California's Board of Registered Nursing, managed care models of delivery emphasize the role of 'universal caregivers,' "which has unlicensed individuals performing functions which heretofore required a license…in settings such as assisted living, adult day care, and home care."

What do nurse assistants do? On a given day, CNAs will help bathe and dress patients, assist them in the bathroom, mind food and nutrition intake, monitor medicines and measure vital signs. Much of the time, this is 'the dirty work' that nurses don't have time to take care of. Nevertheless, real human beings with sensitive health conditions and dignity to maintain rely on CNAs to monitor their situation and help them get along in a way that promotes health, safety and well-being.

CNAs work in a variety of inpatient and outpatient settings, including assisted-living facilities, hospitals and clinics and, sometimes, acute care hospitals. In any setting, they need to be in good physical shape, maintain excellent communication with co-workers and superiors, and be responsive to multiple patients' needs at a time. Keep in mind that good stress management and 'people' skills will go a long way towards preventing burnout in this profession.

About Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs)


Just as a registered nurse, or RN, is "registered" with his or her official state nurse registry, certified nurse assistants are normally on their respective state registries. Every state in the US as well as the District of Columbia has a Nurse Aide Registry. To be clear, CNAs are trained, certified and registered - but not licensed. CNA programs must be accredited in the sense that they should be approved by the concerned state board.

The CNA Registry of a given state lists certified nurse assistants who meet both federal and state benchmarks through classroom training, clinical practice and due competency testing. In most states, prospective nurse assistants will have to undergo a criminal background check and garden-variety drug screening prior to practice. These tests are common and often required by law for healthcare workers.

In real clinical settings, there is often a gray area between unlicensed and licensed professionals' scopes of practice; overlap between the duties of CNAs and RNs is not unusual. Yet certain distinctions are sharply drawn. Only RNs, for instance, can perform and validate assessments, formulate nursing diagnoses, and design nursing plans of care.

If a task could potentially, if something were to go wrong, harm the patient - and that patient is medically fragile - the task is likely outside the scope of practice of a CNA. Where applicable, it is up to supervising RNs to make judgment calls concerning the scope of practice for a given task.

Educational Options for Nursing Assistants

Primary Certifications

Nurse assistants are certified by the states in which they practice. Upon the completion of a qualifying certification program, graduates may take the National Nurse Aide Assessment Program competency exam administered by the state in which they wish to practice. It is this exam that empowers nurse assistants to provide care under the CNA title.

All CNAs must earn a Certificate of Training that serves as proof of satisfactory education before the state board or registry. Community colleges, vocational schools, or even the local Red Cross are good places to start looking for quality, affordable and state-approved CNA courses. Medical facilities frequently offer quality CNA coursework to the public. It's not uncommon for nursing homes and assisted-living settings to offer free CNA training that ends with a job at their facility.

An important part of any CNA program is the clinical practicum wherein trainees learn the ropes of direct patient care from an experienced worker-mentor. Usually this will take the form of supervised training in a state-approved medical setting. Different states have different requirements for the number of classroom hours and hands-on clinical training that must be completed. All states, however, require proof of certified nursing assistant training.

CNA certificate programs typically take between 6 and 12 weeks to complete. A high school diploma is a minimum requirement for both entry and later employment. In these programs, students learn fundamental nursing skills, anatomy and physiology 101, basic nutrition and best practices for infection control.

Associate and Bachelor Degrees

Some students choose to complete a CNA-to-RN career pathway. This track would be useful, for instance, to get to know the field of nursing a little bit better before committing. Those pursuing such a path would normally go on to earn either an associate's degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor's degree in nursing (BSN).

The CNA-to-RN path is relevant only if a student eventually wants to become a nurse. There is no need to otherwise pursue a bachelor's degree to become a CNA. In most cases, it will not confer any particular advantage.

Secondary Certifications

A common specialization is the CNA-Medication Aide, or CNA-M. Nursing assistants complete coursework in this area to learn to administer certain noninjectable medications to anyone except very young children. Qualifying applicants must be in good standing with their state registries and have at least a year of full-time CNA employment. Many states require the successful completion of a standardized medication course to earn the title.

There are also secondary certifications available which are specific to special populations, such as the elderly. A Geriatric CNA certification would, for example, qualify the holder to work as an assistant in a nursing home for seniors. The coursework for geriatric aides focuses on segment-specific features such as dementia and Alzheimer's, long-term disability and self-care, and issues concerning death and dying.

We found 346 schools offering nursing assistant degree programs in the U.S.

>> See all 346 Nurse Assistant / Aide Colleges in the U.S.

Nursing Assistant Schools By Total Enrollment

College of Dupage
Glen Ellyn, IL  |  Total Enrollment: 28862

Degrees Offered: Less than one year, One but less than two years, Associate's
Pima Community College
Tucson, AZ  |  Total Enrollment: 28078

Degrees Offered: Less than one year, One but less than two years, Associate's
Tarrant County College
Fort Worth, TX  |  Total Enrollment: 26868

Degrees Offered: Less than one year, One but less than two years, Associate's
Mesa Community College
Mesa, AZ  |  Total Enrollment: 22821

Degrees Offered: Less than one year, One but less than two years, Associate's, Two but less than 4 years
De Anza College
Cupertino, CA  |  Total Enrollment: 22770

Degrees Offered: Less than one year, One but less than two years, Associate's, Two but less than 4 years
Glendale Community College
Glendale, AZ  |  Total Enrollment: 20091

Degrees Offered: Less than one year, One but less than two years, Associate's
El Paso Community College
El Paso, TX  |  Total Enrollment: 18001

Degrees Offered: Less than one year, One but less than two years, Associate's, Two but less than 4 years
Southwestern College
Chula Vista, CA  |  Total Enrollment: 17994

Degrees Offered: Less than one year, One but less than two years, Associate's
Albuquerque Technical Vocational Institute
Albuquerque, NM  |  Total Enrollment: 17265

Degrees Offered: Less than one year, One but less than two years, Associate's, Two but less than 4 years
San Joaquin Delta College
Stockton, CA  |  Total Enrollment: 16973

Degrees Offered: Less than one year, One but less than two years, Associate's, Two but less than 4 years

Browse All 346 Colleges With Nursing Assistant Programs

Title City State Enrollment
Academy for Practical Nursing & Health Occupations West Palm Beach FL 287
Adult Center for Education Zanesville OH 97
Aims Community College Greeley CO 6948
Akron Adult Vocational Services Akron OH 325
Alabama Southern Community College Monroeville AL 1261
Alamance Community College Graham NC 3414
Alaska Vocational Technical Center Seward AK 210
Albany Technical College Albany GA 2444
Albuquerque Technical Vocational Institute Albuquerque NM 17265
Alexandria Cet Alexandria VA 77
Allan Hancock College Santa Maria CA 12110
Altamaha Technical College Jesup GA 1110
Altoona Area Vocational Technical School Altoona PA 154
American Center for Technical Arts and Sciences Philadelphia PA 217
Antonelli Medical and Professional Institute Pottstown PA 110
Appalachian Technical College Jasper GA 950
Arapahoe Community College Littleton CO 7436
Arkansas Career Training Institute Hot Springs AR 139
Arkansas State University - Mountain Home Mountain Home AR 916
Ascension College Gonzales LA 158
Ashland Technical College Ashland KY 503
Athens Technical College Athens GA 2747
Atlanta Technical College Atlanta GA 2884
Atlantic Technical Center Coconut Creek FL 1570
Augusta Technical College Augusta GA 3265
Baldwin Park Adult & Community Education Baldwin Park CA 3295
Baptist Health System School of Health Professions San Antonio TX 282
Beck Area Career Center - Red Bud Red Bud IL 58
Becker College Worcester MA 1166
Bellingham Technical College Bellingham WA 3682
Berks Technical Institute Wyomissing PA 693
Big Bend Community College Moses Lake WA 1854
Bishop State Community College Mobile AL 4058
Black River Technical College Pocahontas AR 1239
Blackhawk Technical College Janesville WI 2472
Bowling Green Technical College Bowling Green KY 854
Branford Hall Career Institute - Bohemia Campus Bohemia NY 118
Bridgerland Applied Technology College Logan UT 304
Brunswick Community College Supply NC 924
Cabarrus College of Health Sciences Concord NC 259
Caliber Training Institute New York NY 833
Camden County Vocational and Technical Schools Sicklerville NJ 1120
Cameron College New Orleans LA 170
Cape Girardeau Career and Technology Center Cape Girardeau MO 169
Cattaraugus Allegany Boces - Practical Nursing Program Olean NY 43
Central Arizona College Coolidge AZ 4536
Central Georgia Technical College Macon GA 3787
Central Maine Medical Center School of Nursing Lewiston ME 92
Charlotte Technical Center Port Charlotte FL 1276
Chattahoochee Technical College Marietta GA 3287
Chippewa Valley Technical College Eau Claire WI 4503
City Colleges of Chicago - Richard J Daley College Chicago IL 9800
Cleveland Municipal School District Adult and Cont Cleveland OH 268
Cloud County Community College Concordia KS 2668
Clover Park Technical College Lakewood WA 7921
Coastal Carolina Community College Jacksonville NC 3780
Coastal Georgia Community College Brunswick GA 1912
Cochise College Douglas AZ 4966
Colby Community College Colby KS 2160
College of Dupage Glen Ellyn IL 28862
College of Lake County Grayslake IL 14441
College of the Albemarle Elizabeth City NC 2311
College of the Sequoias Visalia CA 10251
Colorado Mountain College Glenwood Springs CO 7407
Columbiana County Vocational School Lisbon OH 64
Columbus Technical College Columbus GA 1754
Community College of Allegheny County Pittsburgh PA 15556
Community College of Denver Denver CO 6635
Computer Career Center El Paso TX 204
Connelley Technical Institute and Adult Educ Ctr Pittsburgh PA 191
Coosa Valley Technical College Rome GA 2313
Coral Ridge Nurses Assistant Training School Inc Fort Lauderdale FL 40
Cossatot Community College of the University of Arkansas De Queen AR 815
Craven Community College New Bern NC 2513
Crowleys Ridge Technical Institute Forrest City AR 141
Crownpoint Institute of Technology Crownpoint NM 841
Cuesta College San Luis Obispo CA 9496
Davis Applied Technology College Kaysville UT 324
Dawn Training Centre Wilmington DE 72
De Anza College Cupertino CA 22770
Delta Career Institute Beaumont TX 72
Delta College University Center MI 9358
Delta College Inc Covington LA 181
Delta College of Arts & Technology Baton Rouge LA 249
Domestic Health Care Institute Baton Rouge LA 42
Douglas Education Center Monessen PA 100
Douglas Macarthur State Technical College Opp AL 473
East Los Angeles Occupational Center Los Angeles CA 2986
Eastern Arizona College Thatcher AZ 6223
Eastern College of Health Vocations Little Rock AR 292
Eastern School of Technology Virginia Beach VA 197
Educorp Career College Long Beach CA 487
El Paso Community College El Paso TX 18001
Elgin Community College Elgin IL 10174
Emily Griffith Opportunity School Denver CO 7377
Everest College - Merrillville Merrillville IN 85
Everett Community College Everett WA 6102
First Coast Technical Institute Saint Augustine FL 1634
Fort Scott Community College Fort Scott KS 1677
Four - D College Colton CA 179
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