Nursing Certifications Help Prepare for an Entry-Level Career
One way to kick off a nursing career is through earning certifications, which are credentials that let an employer know you have acquired the knowledge and skills necessary to perform specific tasks. This article discusses two entry-level nurse certifications: a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) and a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN).
Nursing certification as a CNA or LPN requires a high school diploma or GED and passing a basic drug screening and a background check. For someone who may be unsure if nursing is ultimately the right career fit or if attending college is not currently feasible, a certification comes with less cost and time investment. Since nurses with all levels of education and training are needed in the healthcare field, many jobs are available.
How to Become a Certified Nurse Assistant
The fastest way to get certified in a nursing discipline is through a CNA program—these range between one to three months of training. Classes may be in-person, online, or hybrid (a combination of in-person and online). Career tech centers, community colleges, and the Red Cross all provide CNA programs.
After completing a CNA program, graduates may also need to pass a state-approved certification exam. CNA certification requirements for each state are listed at registernursing.org since requirements differ from state to state.
What are certified nurse assistant duties?
A certified nurse assistant (CNA) focuses on daily patient care, which may involve bathing, feeding, checking vital signs, dressing wounds, lifting patients, and assisting with other physical needs. CNAs also perform duties that indirectly affect patients, like cleaning and disinfecting patient rooms, changing linens, restocking medical supplies, or updating patient records. While all CNAs perform similar work, state requirements determine the exact CNA job requirements; CNAs require supervision by registered nurses or licensed practical nurses.
CNAs typically work in hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living centers, adult care centers, rehabilitation centers, and in-home healthcare. While the BLS projects moderate job growth in the next decade, certain areas of the country may experience a greater need for nursing staff, especially with higher concentrations of aging populations.
How to Become a Licensed Practical Nurse
If you can spend a year in nursing education (versus a few months), a career as a licensed practical nurse (LPN) may be a good option. You can find one-year LPN programs at accredited community colleges, hospitals, and career tech centers. The program combines healthcare-related classes with hands-on clinical experiences. Graduates are also required to pass a national exam called the NCLEX-PN.
With lengthier education and national licensure, LPNs perform more complex nursing tasks than CNAs and often supervise CNAs. Under the direction of an RN or physician, LPNs administer medication, give injections, assist in the use of medical devices, perform diagnostic tests, record medical data, and provide wound care. Like CNAs, they may also help with a patient’s basic needs like bathing, dressing, and taking vital signs. LPNs may also inform patients about preventive healthcare measures or participate in a patient’s treatment plan.
Like CNAs, LPNs can find job opportunities in nursing homes, long-term care facilities, home healthcare programs, clinics, doctor’s offices, and hospitals. Job growth and higher salaries for LPNs are expected to increase in the next decade as demand for all types of nursing care increases, according to nurse.org.
Benefits of CNA and LPN Careers
CNA and LPN programs are the shortest routes to a nursing career. If you’re unsure if a nursing career is right for you but you’re interested in a healthcare career path, a CNA or LPN certification is a cost-effective investment with faster entry into real-life healthcare settings. With parts of the country experiencing nursing shortages and an aging population, CNAs and LPNs have many opportunities and job security.
Some nursing students already work as CNAs or LPNs completing a more advanced degree (usually an RN)—earning money for further education and training while gaining practical application and experience. In locations where nursing shortages exist, employers may pay for some or all parts of certification training or offer a signing bonus once certification is completed.