How to Get a CNA License: Complete Guide

CNA license is mandatory to apply for the position of a nursing aide in any of the health care organizations such as hospitals, nursing homes, and rehabilitation centers.

The training provided towards acquiring a CNA license by state includes classroom training as well as training in clinical labs. The students are also supposed to undergo on the job training as required by a few schools and colleges. This helps you to tackle the responsibilities of a certified nursing assistant in the environment of a hospital or any other institute which are probable places for your work. To get a certification you will have to clear a clinical exam and a theoretical exam.

Here we provided the steps on how to get your CNA license, renewal, transfer and more information that will help you toward your profession.

Step 1: Complete an Approved CNA Program

Your first step should be complete an approved CNA program. Approved CNA programs are conducted by several high schools and vocational schools, community colleges, nursing homes and hospitals too. On completion of the educational requirements for the classes, students can enroll in these classes and start studying the aspects of nursing.

The level of educational qualification and skills of a certified nursing assistant is manifested by the CNA license. It is nothing but the written proof of the possession of all the skills and talent by the nursing assistants to practice the work.

As the name suggests, nursing assistants serve to assist the registered nurses (RNs) and at times, doctors in hospitals and nursing homes. They are the front liners in medical, health science and allied facilities to perform jobs like

  • Feeding patients
  • Helping them bathe
  • Giving medicines as per the prescriptions
  • Monitoring their health regularly
  • Reporting each and every significant change in patient’s health to doctors
  • Comforting the patients, re-positioning them
  • Communicating between patients and doctors

All the tasks performed by the nursing assistants are quite responsible and challenging, thus require a lot of skill and dedication. These qualities are developed during training.

CNA training prepares students to acquire the essential knowledge related to nursing as well as the skills that are required to work as professionals in nursing homes and hospitals.

Taking the CNA course gives the state certification to the students, but getting the license makes it sure that the certified nursing assistant can now work at various recognized institutions as a professional nursing assistant. That license acts as proof of the abilities of the student for the employers. If you can’t fina a suitable CNA program for you, our this post may help you to find it.

Step 2: Pass the CNA License Exam

Your next step is to pass the CNA state exam. After completing your CNA Course you have to successfully pass the state-approved exam to get the certification and the license.

Below are some facts you should know about the exam

  • The exam comprises of 2 tests – technical/theory exam and practical/clinical test
  • Both these tests are to be passed separately by the students and then only, they can get the certificate and the license
  • The theoretical test is based on the classroom training session whereas the clinical test is based on the practical training session
  • The theoretical exam as the name says will test your knowledge on the various areas related to the subject.
  • The theoretical test paper consists of a specified number of multiple-choice questions (MCQs in English only)
  • Some students find it difficult to solve the paper in English, therefore some states also provide an alternative of the oral exam in other languages for the convenience of the students
  • The practical test consists of any 5 random clinical tasks to be performed successfully by the students within the given specified time
  • The clinical exam will test what you have learned in the practical sessions and you should be confident in displaying every skill you learned during your training.
  • The instructor will be present during both the tests to monitor the task of the students
  • You have to pay a specific amount of fee to set at the exam

Apart from the above information, we have a detailed post on the CNA exam here.

How do I get my exam results? The results of the CNA license exam are out online only and thus, students have to check out for them online. If one passes both the tests, then it is definitely possible to get the certification and the license too.

If one passes one of the 2 tests and fails in another one, then a retest is taken for that paper only. If one fails in both the tests, then retest comes for both the papers.

Most of the states permit the students to challenge the exam 3 times within the completion of the CNA training program. Retraining becomes mandatory when a student fails to clear the exam even for 3 consecutive times. A few institutions offer free CNA classes for the repeaters from the same institution.

Step 3: Get the CNA License

If you successfully pass the exam, this is your next step.

One should follow the following steps to obtain the CNA license –

  • Fill in the application form provided by the state licensing authority
  • Send the notarized form to the state licensing office
  • Accomplish the verification form required to verify the accreditation of the school from which you have taken CNA classes
  • Submit medical card, fingerprint card and the proofs of background check to the Department of Public safety
  • On getting approval, be prepared for the fees for licensing (can vary from state to state)
  • Obtain your CNA license only after you get the notification about the same

Wondering how a CNA license looks like? That may vary from state to state, Here is an example of a CNA license in Idaho.

CNA License Example
CNA License Example

The CNA license has to be renewed after every regular time intervals, as it has an expiry date. It also has to be verified from time to time in order to check for its status, if it is active or inactive.

The license has a restricted validity period before which it is to be reactivated. In case of change of state due to any reason, the CNA license can be transferred with the help of the state licensing authority.

If you follow those steps, you would an officially certified nursing assistant and can work at various healthcare centres. There’s nothing more you should follow. But, we have some more information below that might help you in a long run.

Verify the License

Below is a different way to verify your earned CNA license.

  • Search for the address of the State’s Nurse Aide Registry and the local address of the licensing authority, and contact either by calling or by sending email
  • Check for the online process of verification or status update (some states may also inform the status of the license through the online system of verification)
  • Visit the licensing authority’s office personally, if the online verification system is not available, then carry along the certificate, number, serial number, issue date and other relevant documents that might be required for verification
  • Deposit the fees demanded by the authority for the verification purpose
  • Request the licensing authority to post a hard copy of the license to your mailing address and also ask them to send a copy via email

Steps for Renewal of CNA License

  • First, obtain the renewal form and fill the details in it
  • Obtain the second section of the form filled by the employer (current or within past 24 months)
  • After completing the filling of the form, email it to the mailing address of the respective state’s licensing board
  • Keep checking for the status of renewal online through their official website
  • The license renewal may take a maximum of 2 weeks.

Those are the basic information on license renewal, Want to know more? Read this post.

Transfer of CNA License

  • Contact the nurse aide registry of your own state (by phone or email)
  • Ask for the application form and fill in the details
  • Submit the completed application form to the nurse aide registry, along with your current contact information
  • Contact the new state’s nurse aide registry and ask them about the submission of the completed application form for the reciprocity (submission by email/post or in-person)
  • Don’t forget to inquire about the delivery of your new CNA license
  • Be in touch with the nurse aide registries of both the states regularly so as to avoid any complications

Documents for the Application of Reciprocity

  • Identity card (mostly driver’s license)
  • The approval from your state’s nursing registry
  • Proof indicating whether you are working as a certified nursing aide within the past 2 years
  • Latest payslip
  • Social security card
  • Educational and background check documents

Reasons for Losing Your CNA License

  • Failing to complete the renewal procedure before the due date of expiry
  • Failing to continue the nursing practice within a period of 24 months
  • Working as a certified nursing assistant, but failing to produce the proof when asked for
  • Losing the permit at the workplace or anywhere and failing to find it back

Advantages of the CNA License

  • It helps the students to get paid higher
  • It is considered as a proof of skills, talent, and efficiency of the students in nursing
  • It helps to acquire many opportunities to work at different health organizations

However, it is essential to obtain the hard copy of the CNA license, as it bears the original seal of the issuing authority. This hard copy can also be presented to the employers whenever required or to any independent verification agency for verification.

Why Should You Protect Your License?

Many nurses rank “nursing school” as one of their most stressful life experiences. Other nurses would say that taking the license exam was an even worse experience.

When a new nurse enters the workforce, protecting their hard-earned nursing license is a top priority. As time passes, most seasoned nurses relax somewhat. They may still worry about it, although not with the same level of obsessiveness as they did before.

There are several reasons to remain conscientious about protecting your CNA license.

  • The actions you take to protect your CNA license can increase the quality of patient care outcomes.
  • Losing your nursing license can be a traumatic life event and would surely top the stress of nursing school.
  • You would be protecting your time and monetary investment by keeping your license.
  • You would avoid the legal ramifications associated with losing your license.

How to Protect Your CNA License?

Many factors can contribute to the protection of your CNA license such as careful thorough charting and completing the necessary requirements to keep your license.

However, there are two global categories that many of these factors can be placed in:

  1. Use critical thinking and self-reflection in everything you do as a CNA.
  2. Learn to say “no” while dismissing judgmental opinions.

For example, one way is to conduct a self-evaluation, reflect on the results using critical thinking, and carry out an action plan.

For example, one self-reflection question (as you do start to self reflect you will think of more) is to ask yourself “What skills am I most competent at and in what areas are my nursing skills weak?

Now compare it to your peers and employer’s evaluations.

  • Do their evaluations match your conceived nursing skills self-image?
  • If not, why not?
  • Are you being defensive if your self-assessment does not match another person’s assessment of your skills?
  • Is your self-assessment accurate, or do others have valid points about your performance and clinical decision-making skills?

You need to have an open mind when doing this exercise and form your answers using critical thinking and not emotion.

After assessing your nursing strengths and weakness, make a plan of action to work on skills that you feel could increase your competency level. Your weak skills could be your downfall and lead to mistakes that put your license and patient at risk. Although an imbalanced sense of self could result in the failure to pay close attention to details when performing your highly self-rated skills. These skills are often performed on “autopilot” and have room for error.

The other category that contributes to the safety of your nursing license is not caring what people think about you. What does this mean?

Do you worry that if you ask for help or the advice of more experienced nurses that you will be seen as incompetent?

Many nurses simply refuse to ask for help.

However, consider the ramifications of performing skills or acting on the knowledge that you are unsure of. When a situation occurs that you need help, ask for it, because the patient’s safety and your license depends on it.

What about working that overtime shift your co-workers or manager is pressuring you to sign up for?

In your heart, you know that working another shift will leave you dead on your feet and unable to function properly. But, the unit is short-staffed and you worry about what they will think if you say no. It does not matter what they think! Protect yourself and your patients by mustering up the courage to say no.

What about the unsafe staffing ratio scenario?

Refuse to accept assignments that are unsafe. “I was worried about what others would think of me” is not a legal defense.

I would rather lose my job for the refusal to participate in unsafe care practices than my license for patient abandonment due to the high volume of patients under my care. It is that simple.

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