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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.
To find the best colleges for earning an CNA credential online, our researchers and higher education experts collected and analyzed data from every accredited postsecondary institution in the United States. The goal? To see which colleges offer the most notable balances of academic rigor, student support and affordability for online learning. The specific criteria and scoring metrics for the ranking are as follows:
Must be an accredited public or private not-for-profit institution
Must offer at least 1 online CNA certificate program
Annual in-state net price below $5,000
Average net price for in-state undergraduate students
Count and breadth of online programs available
Percentage of beginning, full-time undergrads receiving scholarship/grant aid from the college
Average amount of scholarship/grant aid students receive from the college
Availability of academic/career counseling services
Availability of job placement services for students and graduates
3-year loan default rate
AC Online Peer-Based Value (PBV)*
*PBV is a proprietary metric that compares the cost of a program to the cost of other programs with the same (or a similar) qualitative score. It also compares the qualitative score of the program to the score of other programs with the same (or similar) cost. In short, the PBV calculation denotes the overall value – or “bang for your buck” – of an online degree.
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.
National Median Annual Salary & Job Growth for Nursing
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.
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.
High School Diploma
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
CNA Classes: The Online Experience
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.
Local Clinical Experience
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.
Minimum Technology Requirements
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 Program Details
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.
Typical Online CNA Classes
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.
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.
Is the program state-approved?The first—and most important criteria—is state approval. Without state approval, students cannot move forward with certification or licensure.
Are credits transferable?Becoming a CNA can set the foundation for future education and career opportunities in nursing and related fields. Students should make sure their credits can transfer into associate or bachelor’s degree programs.
Do faculty have professional experience?Are faculty members working professionals? Do they have experience working as certified nursing assistants?
Does the program offer local clinical training practicums?Clinical experience is a core requirement for CNA certification. Students should review the preceptor and site placement services programs offer prior to enrolling.
What is the program’s success rate?Does the program graduate students who pass certification examinations and become licensed? What’s the graduation rate and job placement rates of the program? Each are indicators of the online CNA class quality.
CNA Program Accreditation
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.
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.
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
CNA Career Outlook and Salary Comparison
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.
State Licensing and Exams for CNAs
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:
Application form and fees
Fingerprints and criminal background check (if required)
Graduation from a state-approved training program
Successful completion of state-approved competency examinations (Knowledge and Clinical)
CNA Certification Examinations
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:
Assists patients to ambulate using transfer belt
Assist patient with use of bedpan
Count and record radial pulse
Feed patients that cannot feed themselves
Provides foot care on one foot
Related Online College Nursing Programs
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.