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
Louisiana Technical College - Gulf Area Campus Abbeville LA 241
Akron Adult Vocational Services Akron OH 325
Albany Technical College Albany GA 2444
Pima Medical Institute Albuquerque NM 385
Albuquerque Technical Vocational Institute Albuquerque NM 17265
Alexandria Cet Alexandria VA 77
Louisiana Technical College - Alexandria Campus Alexandria LA 300
Altoona Area Vocational Technical School Altoona PA 154
Northwest Technology Center Alva OK 53
Harry M Ayers State Technical College Anniston AL 1112
Fox Valley Technical College Appleton WI 6806
Ashland Technical College Ashland KY 503
Athens Technical College Athens GA 2747
Trinity Valley Community College Athens TX 4780
Atlanta Technical College Atlanta GA 2884
Savannah River College Augusta GA 212
Augusta Technical College Augusta GA 3265
Baldwin Park Adult & Community Education Baldwin Park CA 3295
Louisiana Technical College - Bastrop Campus Bastrop LA 280
Genesee Valley Boces - Practical Nursing Program Batavia NY 3292
University of Arkansas Community College - Batesville Batesville AR 1024
Delta College of Arts & Technology Baton Rouge LA 249
Domestic Health Care Institute Baton Rouge LA 42
Delta Career Institute Beaumont TX 72
Southwestern Illinois College Belleville IL 13351
Bellingham Technical College Bellingham WA 3682
North Central Kansas Technical College Beloit KS 411
Northwest Technical College Bemidji MN 4638
Lawson State Community College - Bessemer Campus Bessemer AL 1314
Palo Verde College Blythe CA 3312
Louisiana Technical College - Sullivian Campus Bogalusa LA 849
Branford Hall Career Institute - Bohemia Campus Bohemia NY 118
Bowling Green Technical College Bowling Green KY 854
Manatee Technical Institute Bradenton FL 2721
Somerset County Technology Institute Bridgewater NJ 532
South Texas Vocational Technical Institute - Brownsville Brownsville TX 279
Coastal Georgia Community College Brunswick GA 1912
Southern Arkansas University Tech Camden AR 790
Lee County High Tech Center North Cape Coral FL 120
Cape Girardeau Career and Technology Center Cape Girardeau MO 169
Trident Technical College Charleston SC 10246
O C Collins Career Center Chesapeake OH 502
City Colleges of Chicago - Richard J Daley College Chicago IL 9800
Prairie State College Chicago Heights IL 4795
Washington - Holmes Technical Center Chipley FL 712
Southwestern College Chula Vista CA 17994
Hacienda La Puente Unified School District - Adult Education City Of Industry CA 2030
Hrde - Stanley Technical Institute - Clarksburg Clarksburg WV 67
Pinellas Technical Education Center - Clearwater Clearwater FL 1417
Cleveland Municipal School District Adult and Cont Cleveland OH 268
Lakeshore Technical College Cleveland WI 2742
Atlantic Technical Center Coconut Creek FL 1570
Colby Community College Colby KS 2160
Four - D College Colton CA 179
Columbus Technical College Columbus GA 1754
Mt Diablo Adult Education Concord CA 637
Cabarrus College of Health Sciences Concord NC 259
Cloud County Community College Concordia KS 2668
Central Arizona College Coolidge AZ 4536
Southwestern Oregon Community College Coos Bay OR 3326
Pacific College Costa Mesa CA 180
Louisiana Technical College - Avoyelles Campus Cottonport LA 219
Delta College Inc Covington LA 181
Louisiana Technical College - Acadian Campus Crowley LA 254
Crownpoint Institute of Technology Crownpoint NM 841
Mchenry County College Crystal Lake IL 5086
De Anza College Cupertino CA 22770
Gaston College Dallas NC 3954
Mcfatter Technical Center Davie FL 986
Cossatot Community College of the University of Arkansas De Queen AR 815
Community College of Denver Denver CO 6635
Emily Griffith Opportunity School Denver CO 7377
Pima Medical Institute Denver CO 288
Oakton Community College Des Plaines IL 11551
Lake Region State College Devils Lake ND 1219
Sauk Valley Community College Dixon IL 2386
Cochise College Douglas AZ 4966
Southwestern Michigan College Dowagiac MI 3047
Heart of Georgia Technical College Dublin GA 1068
Goodwin College East Hartford CT 418
Illinois Central College East Peoria IL 11053
Chippewa Valley Technical College Eau Claire WI 4503
Valley Career College El Cajon CA No Data
South Arkansas Community College El Dorado AR 905
Computer Career Center El Paso TX 204
El Paso Community College El Paso TX 18001
Elgin Community College Elgin IL 10174
College of the Albemarle Elizabeth City NC 2311
Jones County Junior College Ellisville MS 4514
Lake Technical Center Eustis FL 669
Everett Community College Everett WA 6102
Reid State Technical College Evergreen AL 706
Opportunities Industrialization Center - North Central West Virginia Fairmont WV 36
Northwest Technology Center - Fairview Fairview OK 21
Louisiana Technical College - North Central Campus Farmerville LA 196
Southwest Wisconsin Technical College Fennimore WI 1264
Louisiana Technical College - Shelby Jackson Campus Ferriday LA 141
Mott Community College Flint MI 8659
Moraine Park Technical College Fond Du Lac WI 6921
Crowleys Ridge Technical Institute Forrest City AR 141
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