Certification Requirements and Trends for Nursing Assistant/Nurse Aide Exam
Although there is no national organization for the certification of nursing assistants, there is a certification exam that is utilized by several states. The National Nurse Aide Assessment Program (NNAAP) is the largest nursing assistant certification examination in the United States. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) develops the examination program and administers it with a test service.
State Certification and Training
Since OBRA (Omnibus Budget and Reform Act) was passed in 1987, the federal government has been setting regulations and creating standards for the quality of nursing home care. Specific guidelines and standards were prescribed—one major change was the training and testing of nursing assistants/nurse aides. In many states, nurse aides are required to go through a minimum of 75 hours of training approved by the federal government to be certified. Most programs are between 75 and 150 hours and vary by state. Some states have created their own standards for nursing assistants. These standards include the minimum training requirements as well as a written exam of multiple- choice questions and clinical/practical evaluations. Most healthcare facilities now require nurse aides to have a high school diploma or GED and pass a state- approved program. Nurse aides completing these programs must obtain certification within four months of being hired at a healthcare facility. Once you pass the written exam, you will be placed on your state’s registry for nurse aides. Your certification is then valid for 24 months. After being certified, CNAs are usually required to earn 12 continuing- education credits annually, often through inservice training.
Eligibility for Certification
Most states have multiple eligibility options to meet the needs of nursing assistants with various backgrounds. The following list represents most types of eligibility, but you should check with your state’s nurse aide registry for its requirements.
- New Nursing Assistants are persons who have never been certified as a nursing assistant/nurse aide. These candidates must complete a stateapproved nursing assistant education program prior to taking the exam.
- Nursing Students include those who have successfully completed a nursing fundamentals course through a state-approved nursing program within one year of applying to take the examination, and those who have successfully completed the fundamentals course and are currently enrolled in a nursing program.
- Graduate Nurses are nurses who graduated from a state-approved nursing program and who are waiting to take the state nursing licensing examination.
- Foreign Graduate Nurses graduated a nursing program in a foreign country and are currently nurses in that country.
- Nursing Assistants in another state can apply for reciprocity. These are persons currently certified as a nurse aide in another state and listed in that other state’s nurse aide registry (and usually who have not had their certificate revoked in any state or been listed on any state’s nurse aide abuse registry).
- Military Nurse Aides have equivalent nurse aide training and experience in a military service.
- Lapsed or Expired Certification pertains to persons who are applying back to the state in which they were originally certified and whose certification has lapsed or expired (and usually who have not had their certificate revoked in any state or been listed on any state’s nurse aide abuse registry).
Nursing assistant training programs prepare students for employment as nursing assistants in hospitals, long-term care facilities, hospices, home health agencies, and other healthcare agencies. Programs average a total of 120 hours of combined classroom and clinical education, allowing those who complete the program to sit for the certification exam.
Content is similar from one program to the next and typically includes:
- Overview of the Healthcare System
- The Healthcare Team
- The Role of the Nursing Assistant
- Working with Coworkers and Supervisors
- Work Ethic
- Problem Solving and Conflict Management
- Client and Resident Rights
- Violations of Criminal and Civil Law
- Medical Terminology
- Effective Communications
- Human Growth and Development
- The Human Body and Common Disorders:
- The Integumentary System (Skin, Hair and Nails)
- The Respiratory System
- The Cardiovascular System
- The Digestive System
- The Endocrine System
- The Hematologic System
- The Musculoskeletal System
- The Nervous System
- The Sensory System
- The Immunologic System
- Admissions and Discharges
- Infection Control
- Client Safety and Restraint
- Workplace Safety
- Nutrition and Feeding
- Urinary and Bowel Elimination
- Basic First Aid
- Basic Emergency Care
- Death and Dying
- Specific Populations
- Older Adults
- Mothers and Newborns
- Persons with Disabilities
- Persons with Mental Illness
- Surgical Clients
- Home Health Clients
- Hospice Clients
Nursing assistant students also learn and practice jobrelated skills:
- Handwashing and Hand Hygiene
- Vital Signs: Blood Pressure, Temperature, Pulse, and Respiration
- Measuring Height and Weight
- Oral Care
- Denture Care
- Fingernail Care
- Foot Care
- Perineal Care
- Bed Baths
- Applying Knee-High Stockings
- Dressing Clients with One-Sided Weakness
- Feeding Clients
- Measuring Urinary Output
- Urinary Catheter Care
- Ostomy Care
- Administering Enemas
- Administering Hot and Cold Applications
- Assisting with Dressing Changes
- Ambulating Clients Using a Transfer Belt
- Positioning Clients
- Transferring Clients from Bed to Wheelchair (Wheelchair to Bed)
- Passive Range of Motion Exercises
- Using Personal Protective Equipment
- Postmortem Care
A major part of the job of being a CNA involves being able to manipulate patients physically in order to clean them and help them change their clothes, exercise, or use the bathroom. The clinical part of the training programs helps to determine if a student is capable of performing these tasks.
Training programs are given in a number of settings, including both public and private vocational technical schools, community colleges, public-health agencies, and for-profit and not-for-profit healthcare agencies, such as visiting nurse associations. Since hands-on clinical experience is usually required, schools that do not have their own healthcare services often affiliate with a healthcare facility. Then the course work is given in the school and the clinical work is performed in the healthcare facility or in a home setting served by a healthcare agency.
In the states that require certification, there are usually a large number of locations that offer training programs. In Illinois, for example, there are some 300 approved CNA training programs. Agencies that offer training programs often hire the people they have trained, so they are good places to sign up for a training program that may lead to a job offer when you complete the course.
Each program has its own admission requirements. But, like program content, requirements tend to be similar among programs:
- Minimum age of 16 or 18 years, depending on program
- Completion of COMPASS, ACT, or ASSET test before entering program (these test your verbal, reading and numerical skills). Minimum scores are set by the training program.
- Ability to pass a national criminal background check and a caregiver background check. (Certain convictions may limit a student’s ability to participate in clinical experiences or be employed in healthcare facilities. Examples include convictions related to drugs, theft, violence, disorderly conduct, domestic abuse, theft, and fraud.)
- Physical exam (certain vaccinations may be required)
Other possible requirements:
- High school diploma or GED
- Health insurance
- Ability to lift heavy weight and stand for long periods
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