Nursing assistants are on the frontline of the country’s healthcare system, providing direct patient care in every setting – from hospitals to nursing homes. It is a growing profession that affords both career flexibility and advancement. The training to become a certified nursing assistant (CNA) is relatively short, offered online, and allows students an opportunity to start their careers in a matter of weeks. Learn more about online CNA classes, certification and licensure requirements, and career outlook for certified nursing assistants.
Completing an online CNA program can give students access to different career opportunities within the medical field while online learning provides them with the flexibility to maintain their professional and personal time obligations. However, it can be difficult to know which program is the best and meets each student’s individual needs. To help with this, we have found the top CNA programs based on our comprehensive methodology. See who made our list for 2017 below.
|Rank||University||Location||Score||Annual Tuition||# of Online Programs||Financial Aid %||Student-Teacher Ratio||Grad Rate||Credit for Experience||Placement Services||Counseling Services||University Information|
|1||Cochise College||Douglas, AZ||99.58||$1,800||1||22%||3:1||18%||Yes||No||Yes|
The CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) program at Cochise College offered at the Sierra Vista, Arizona Downtown Center campus is a one-semester, six-credit program, with five credits given for the nursing assistant course, and one credit for CPR/first aid certification. Prerequisites are based on appropriate placement measurement, and may include MAT scores, placement or exemption in the reading course (RDG 22) and either current CPR certification or concurrent enrollment in Cochise's CPR course (HLT 111). The program encompasses patient care for all patients, with emphasis on geriatric patients. Hands-on experience is provided in clinical rotations throughout Cochise and Santa Cruz counties. Upon completion, students will be eligible to take the Arizona State Certification exam to become certified. Students must be 16 years old by program completion to qualify for CNA certification. The program is approved by the Arizona State Board of Nursing, and the college itself is accredited through the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association.
|2||State Fair Community College||Sedalia, MO||98.75||$3,288||2||14%||3:1||21%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
State Fair Community College in Missouri has several options for those planning an entry-level career in nursing. The CNA (Certified Nursing Aide) Skills Certificate program and the Professional Certificate programs are designed to get students into the workplace as quickly as possible, with the professional certification program having a few more credits required in extra health care related courses for increased employability. SFCC nursing skills programs will prepare students for CNA certification, and students can then work as CNAs, CMTs (Certified Medication Technicians) RNAs (Restorative Nurse Assistants) and HHAs (Home Health Aides). The CNA TextLink programs are offered at SFCC's flagship campus in Sedalia and available online. Distance students can complete the clinical experience requirements in local long-term care facilities. CNA students may be eligible to receive special resources such as counseling, coaching and help overcoming specific barriers through the MoSTEMWINs program, which is a grant program that helps ensure student success.
|3||Allen County Community College||Iola, KS||98.73||$1,824||1||68%||2:1||23%||No||No||Yes|
Allen Community College (ACC) serves six counties in the Eastern Kansas area, with several career-oriented medical programs offered, including the Certified Nursing Aide (CNA) program. ACC's CNA program is a 5-credit hour program that leads to state CNA certification through the State of Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Classes can be taken online or on-campus, but hands-on clinical experience in nursing home settings is required. The curriculum is divided into two parts, with the first being basic patient care taught through a combination of classroom and lecture with lab and clinical time. The second part is considered advanced and will require a minimum of 25 hours of lecture and coursework, along with 25 hours of supervised adult patient care in a home setting. The goal is to get students well prepared to take the state certification exam, which can be administered at either the Iola or Burlingame campuses.
|4||Washburn Institute of Technology||Topeka, KS||95.11||$4,512||1||60%||4:1||83%||No||Yes||Yes|
The CNA program at Washburn Institute of Technology (also known as Washburn Tech) in Kansas is a short-term continuing education program designed for high school students and adult learners who want to begin working in the healthcare field as quickly as possible. The five-credit hour CNA program takes one semester to complete and is offered as a day or evening course. High school students must be 16 years old to begin the program, and both high schoolers and adults must take and pass the WorkKeys assessment exam prior to admission, or have taken an approved equivalent exam. During the program, students will get 45 hours of class time, 20 hours of lab work and 25 hours of clinical experience, all of which is required by the state of Kansas. Upon completion, students will be eligible to take the CNA certification exam from the Kansas Department of Aging and Disability Services. While financial aid isn't available for this program, high school students are not required to pay tuition.
|5||Hopkinsville Community College||Hopkinsville, KY||86.73||$3,528||1||10%||2:1||19%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
The Hopkinsville Community College CNA program is all about flexibility, offering both online and on-campus options for coursework. Online coursework can be self-paced, as long as it is completed within the allotted time, while students attending the on-campus program can choose between an eight or 16-week course, depending on the student's needs and desired location. The nursing clinical lab time requirement takes two and a half days and can be done at either the Hopkinsville or Louisville campus. For the required 16 hours of clinical time, students can choose from four different clinic locations. Students can self-enroll for the on-campus program but must get prior approval to enroll in the online courses. Excellent attendance is a key component of this program, along with hands-on clinical experience, which focuses on long-term care. The program prepares students to sit for the Nurse Aide State Registry Exam to earn CNA certification, which is available to take at the Hopkinsville campus.
The bureau of labor statistics provides the following data about job growth in the Nursing industry. As well as the following national median salary data for several different careers in the field of Nursing.
|Career||National Median Salary (May 2014)||National Job Growth (2014-2024)||Minimum Education|
|Certified Nursing Assistant||$25,100||18%||State-approved education program|
|LPN/LVN||$42,490||16%||Postsecondary non-degree award|
|Registered Nurse||$66,640||16%||Associate Degree|
|Nurse Practitioner||$95,350||31%||Master’s Degree|
The CNA field is allows dedicated individuals to pursue more advanced career paths after gaining experience. Below is a map that points out major accomplishments someone might achieve after taking online CNA classes.
Takes courses in the physical and life sciences
Finishes online CNA classes, passes certification examinations and earns placement on the state registry list
Spends two years working as a CNA at nursing home
Enrolls in an associate degree program and passes the NCLEX-RN exam to become a registered nurse
Explores interests in cardiac care by working as a nurse in a hospital’s cardiac intensive care unit (CICU)
Earns Cardiac-Vascular Nursing Certification (RN-BC) and moves into supervisor role in the CICU
The curriculum of CNA programs revolves around contact hours, that is hours of both classroom instruction and clinical experience. The lecture-based coursework is traditionally delivered online, while clinical practicums occur in local healthcare settings, such as hospitals or nursing homes. Below is an overview of the online learning experience for CNA students.
Using the Internet, CNA students log into an online learning management system to receive instructional materials, complete assignments, submit assessments, participate in online discussions, and communicate with their peers and instructors. Online CNA classes are traditionally offered in a self-paced format, allowing students to complete their coursework around their own schedule.
In-person clinical training sessions complement the book-based instruction students receive online. Students may either submit an application for a local preceptor, an individual that manages their clinical experience or work with a school’s approved health care agencies that provide clinical training in the student’s local area.
If a student completes an online program of study at a college in their local area, they may be required to visit campus for a learning intensive. Learning intensives provide students an opportunity to further develop and refine their clinical skills.
Students must be able to access the Internet as well as have computers and up-to-date browsers and software (e.g. Microsoft Office) to access and submit their course materials. Technology requirements vary by individual school or training provider.
CNA programs are designed to be completed in a relatively short timeframe, with some programs requiring as little as six weeks of study to complete. Traditionally offered by community colleges, students can also find online CNA classes at vocational schools, technical institutes, and some hospitals. Admission requirements vary by program, but most schools require students to hold a high school diploma or GED, have good reading skills, and pass a physical examination and background check.
In these programs, students learn the basic principles of nursing and participate in supervised clinical practicums. Through a blend of knowledge-based and experiential curriculum, students develop basic nursing skills that allow them to assist registered nurses and other medical professionals in the care of patients in different healthcare settings. In addition to gaining familiarity with the core concepts patient care, students also study the ethical and professional guidelines for the profession. Upon graduation, students are prepared to sit for state-approved CNA certifications or the National Nurse Aide Assessment Program written and skills examination.
Certified nursing assistant programs cover a breadth of topics, preparing students for entry-level employment in the field. Curriculum is divided between core courses (e.g. nursing skills, infection control) and clinical, experiential learning classes. Below is an overview of common courses students may take in an online CNA program of study.
|Introduction to Health Care||In this course, students learn about the role of the certified nursing assistant within the context of the healthcare system. Topics of study include patient rights and safety, ethics, communication, medical charting, taking vital signs, and conflict resolution.|
|Nursing Arts I||This course covers the fundamentals of anatomy and physiology and health disorders. Students study medical terminology, concepts of care in different healthcare settings, and life saving techniques.|
|Nursing Arts II||An advanced course of study, students learn about the specialized equipment and skills used to care for patients. Additionally, the class covers topics ranging from nutrition to taking blood samples, patient admission processes to transferring patients.|
|Clinical Externship||The clinical externship expands upon knowledge-based learning, providing students with an opportunity to apply their skills in real-world, patient care settings.|
Online CNA classes can help start a career in healthcare, but not all programs are created equal. Prospective students should research each program prior to applying to ensure the curriculum includes the proper blend of training and the instructional format suits the student’s learning style. Below is a list of checklist of items to consider before pursuing CNA certification.
Unlike nursing, certified nursing assistant programs are not accredited. Instead, state boards of nursing and public health departments approve professional training programs. After meeting state requirements, CNAs are placed on the state’s certified nursing aide registry, a list of individuals who have met the minimal testing and training requirements to work under the supervision of a nurse. It is important to attend a state-approved program for two important reasons: 1) to qualify for state certification examinations and 2) to qualify for state licensure.
Learn more about the nursing accreditation and overall accreditation process.
Besides the short completion timeframes, the other major benefit of online CNA classes is availability. Many CNA programs have rolling applications, meaning students can apply and start their classes at any time. Secondly, students typically only need to meet minimal requirements for admissions, which means they can get started on their training nearly immediately. Below is a general timeline to consider when applying to an online CNA program.
|Step||Time to Complete|
Step 1 –
Complete physical examination, TB skin test and any other health requirements
|1 to 2 months|
Step 2 –
Submit background information disclosure form
|1 to 2 months|
Step 3 –
Earn Basic Life Support/CPR certification
|1 to 2 months|
Step 4 –
Apply for admission to CNA program
2 weeks to 1 month
Two factors are converging to drive employment opportunities for nursing assistants: health care reform and a rapidly aging population in the United States. The career outlook, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is extremely bright. Here’s how CNAs stack up against other nursing professions in terms of job growth and salary.
Nursing practice is regulated at the state level by individual state boards of nursing and public departments of health. Each state sets its own requirements to work as a nursing assistant or aide. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing offers a national map of nurse aide registries where students can learn more information about their respective state’s requirements.
While the individual state requirements may vary, common licensing steps include the following:
After completing the required number of training hours (typically 160 to 175 hours) in their state, CNA graduates are eligible to sit for state certification examinations, as well as the National Nurse Aide Assessment Program examinations (NNAAP) sponsored by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. Currently, 23 states (including the District of Columbia) use the NNAAP to determine the qualifications of CNA candidates. All other states use individual state examinations to qualify candidates. Both the NNAAP and state-based certification examinations include a written test and manual skills demonstration.
The NNAAP written test includes 70 multiple-choice questions that measures a candidate’s knowledge across three domains: Physical Care Skills; Psychosocial Care Skills; and Role of the Nursing Aide. The manual examination reviews the candidate’s ability to carry out the necessary steps to complete critical nursing skills required by the profession. Commonly tested skills include the following:
Nursing is a dynamic and diverse profession, one that affords a spectrum of employment avenues and educational programs. Individuals interested in advancing their healthcare career beyond nursing assisting or would like to pursue a different nursing path may want to consider an online nursing degree in one of the following areas:
Online LPN programs prepare graduates to sit for the NCLEX-PN examination and become licensed practical nurses. Licensed practical nurses work under the supervision of a registered nurse, providing direct care to patients in a variety of health care settings. In these programs, students gain hands-on nursing skills and an understanding of the foundational principles of nursing practice.
With more than 2.7 million individuals employed, registered nurses comprise one of the largest professions in healthcare. However, no singular path exists to becoming a registered nurse and prospective students can select from different types of online RN programs to qualify to sit for the NCLEX-RN, the national certification examination.
Nurse practitioners are advanced nursing professionals—trained, qualified, and licensed to provide independent care to patients across healthcare settings. Online nurse practitioner programs are available at the graduate level and include master’s degrees, post-master’s certificates, and doctoral programs.