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Qualifications for Nursing Assistants

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Certified Nursing Assistants, or CNAs, assist physicians and nurses by caring for patients' basic needs – such as feeding, dressing, bathing and exercise – in nursing homes, hospitals and health clinics. In addition to fulfilling certain educational and training requirements, CNAs must also be patient, compassionate, physically strong and adept at written and oral communication. As of 2010, CNAs earned an average annual salary of $24,010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

High School Diploma

Nursing assistants are required to have a high school diploma or GED equivalency in order to move forward into most post-secondary training programs. Recommended courses include health, biology and English. Taking a foreign language is also beneficial, since nursing assistants often care for patients of various nationalities and ethnicities.

Post-Secondary Program

Nursing assistants are required to complete a certificate course in preparation for their career. Students must complete about three months of class and laboratory work; subject matter includes physiology, anatomy, body mechanics, nutrition, clients rights, infection control, dementia, blood testing and medical terminology. Students also learn CPR, first aid and how to take vital signs. States require that CNAs intending to work in nursing homes must also complete 75 hours of supervised clinical practice, in order to gain real-life experience in patient care.

Ethical Requirements

Most state health boards and certifying bodies require that CNA applicants meet certain ethical requirements. Applicants must go through a background check and submit their fingerprints before their certification application can be processed. Some certification boards or employers may also request applicants take a drug test.

Certification Exam

Nursing assistants must pass a written and clinical certification examination to prove they have the knowledge and skills required to do the job. Written questions pertain to physical care, such as daily activities, basic nursing and restorative skills, as well as psychosocial care skills and the role of the nurse aide in patient care. During the clinical exam, candidates must correctly perform five randomly selected nurse aide skills, including but not limited to, hand washing, bedpan assistance, denture care, feeding, dressing and grooming patients, and measuring vital signs.


Oubria Tronshaw specializes in topics related to parenting and business. She received a Bachelor of Arts in creative writing from the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Chicago State University. She currently teaches English at Harper Community College in the Chicago area.

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