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
Mesa Community College Mesa AZ 22821
Mesalands Community College Tucumcari NM 465
Miami Lakes Educational Center Miami Lakes FL 1098
Mid - State Technical College Wisconsin Rapids WI 2584
Middle Georgia Technical College Warner Robins GA 2124
Midlands Technical College West Columbia SC 9702
Milwaukee Area Technical College Milwaukee WI 14296
Minnesota State College - Southeast Technical - Red Wi Red Wing MN 1242
Mission College Santa Clara CA 9821
Monongalia County Technical Education Center Morgantown WV 108
Moraine Park Technical College Fond Du Lac WI 6921
Morgan Community College Fort Morgan CO 1757
Mott Community College Flint MI 8659
Moultrie Technical College Moultrie GA 1376
Mt Diablo Adult Education Concord CA 637
Mt San Jacinto College San Jacinto CA 9045
National School of Technology Inc Hialeah FL 502
National School of Technology Inc Miami FL 393
New Hampshire Community Technical College - Nashua/claremont Nashua NH 2176
New Mexico State University - Dona Ana Las Cruces NM 4640
New Mexico State University - Grants Grants NM 575
New Mexico University - Roswell Roswell NM 4184
Nicolet Area Technical College Rhinelander WI 1415
North Central Kansas Technical College Beloit KS 411
North Iowa Area Community College Mason City IA 2803
Northcentral Technical College Wausau WI 3821
Northeast Wisconsin Technical College Green Bay WI 7500
Northland Pioneer College Holbrook AZ 5096
Northwest Mississippi Community College Senatobia MS 4776
Northwest Technical College Bemidji MN 4638
Northwest Technology Center Alva OK 53
Northwest Technology Center - Fairview Fairview OK 21
Nursing Assistant Training Institute Shoreline WA No Data
O C Collins Career Center Chesapeake OH 502
Oakton Community College Des Plaines IL 11551
Ogeechee Technical College Statesboro GA 1764
Okefenokee Technical College Waycross GA 1263
Olympia Career Training Institute - Grand Rapids Grand Rapids MI 279
Olympia Career Training Institute - Kalamazoo Kalamazoo MI 132
Opportunities Industrialization Center - North Central West Virginia Fairmont WV 36
Otero Junior College La Junta CO 1361
Owensboro Technical College Owensboro KY 802
Ozarka College Melbourne AR 737
Pacific College Costa Mesa CA 180
Palo Verde College Blythe CA 3312
Phillips Community College of the University of Arkansas Helena AR 2364
Phoenix College Phoenix AZ 12386
Piedmont Community College Roxboro NC 1930
Pike County Joint Vocational School District Piketon OH 148
Pima Community College Tucson AZ 28078
Pima Medical Institute Tucson AZ 364
Pima Medical Institute Albuquerque NM 385
Pima Medical Institute Denver CO 288
Pima Medical Institute - Mesa Mesa AZ 71
Pinellas Technical Education Center Saint Petersburg FL 1232
Pinellas Technical Education Center - Clearwater Clearwater FL 1417
Pomona Unified School District Adult and Career Education Pomona CA 971
Prairie State College Chicago Heights IL 4795
Pratt Community College Pratt KS 1331
Putnam - Westchester Boces Practical Nursing Program Yorktown Heights NY 165
Radford M Locklin Technical Center Milton FL 322
Reid State Technical College Evergreen AL 706
Renton Technical College Renton WA 5065
Richmond Community College Hamlet NC 1335
Robert Morgan Educational Center Miami FL 1075
Robeson Community College Lumberton NC 1843
Rochester Educ Opportunity Center Suny Brockport Rochester NY No Data
Rock Valley College Rockford IL 7699
Salt Lake Community College - Skills Center Salt Lake City UT 611
San Joaquin Delta College Stockton CA 16973
Sandersville Technical College Sandersville GA 601
Sarasota County Technical Institute Sarasota FL 963
Sauk Valley Community College Dixon IL 2386
Savannah River College Augusta GA 212
Savannah Technical College Savannah GA 2048
Savant Training and Technology San Antonio TX 71
Schuylkill Technology Centers Frackville PA 123
Scioto County Joint Vocational School District Lucasville OH 724
Scottsdale Community College Scottsdale AZ 10391
Simi Valley Adult School and Career Institute Simi Valley CA 5902
Somerset County Technology Institute Bridgewater NJ 532
South Arkansas Community College El Dorado AR 905
South Piedmont Community College Polkton NC 323
South Texas College Mcallen TX 11319
South Texas Vocational Technical Institute - Brownsville Brownsville TX 279
South Texas Vocational Technical Institute - Mcallen Mcallen TX 713
South Texas Vocational Technical Institute - Weslaco Weslaco TX 335
Southeast Arkansas College Pine Bluff AR 1955
Southeastern Community College Whiteville NC 1883
Southeastern Illinois College Harrisburg IL 2508
Southeastern Technical College Vidalia GA 1139
Southern Arkansas University Tech Camden AR 790
Southern Hills Joint Vocational School District Georgetown OH 402
Southern West Virginia Community and Techn College Mt Gay WV 2574
Southwest Georgia Technical College Thomasville GA 1465
Southwest Kansas Technical School Liberal KS 183
Southwest Wisconsin Technical College Fennimore WI 1264
Southwestern College Chula Vista CA 17994
Southwestern Illinois College Belleville IL 13351
Southwestern Michigan College Dowagiac MI 3047
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