How to Obtain CNA Certification Fast—and Free

CNA holding certification
Written by
Laila Ighani
Reviewed by
Miranda Kay, RN
June 11, 2024

You can become a CNA in as little as four weeks; you can study online from the comfort of your home—and you can do this all for free.

This article covers how and why one can obtain a CNA certification and how to certify without cost or receive a reimbursement. Read on to find out!

Reasons to Become a CNA

Are you a people person? Do you find fulfillment in helping others? Would you prefer being on your feet and carrying out hands-on tasks than sitting at a desk all day? If you answered in the affirmative, getting a CNA certificate may be an excellent career path for you.

Certified nursing assistants provide essential patient care and are vital healthcare team members. Furthermore, becoming a CNA is the fastest way to enter the nursing field. In fact, working as a CNA may be helpful in your nursing career even if it is not your end goal:

  • Suppose you are interested in nursing but are not ready to commit to a two-year nursing program to become a registered nurse (RN). You can obtain your CNA certificate first and then transition to nursing through a CNA-to-RN bridge program when ready. In fact, by accruing CNA work experience and entering a bridge program, you may be able to reduce your study time.
  • If you are ready to start nursing school or are a nursing student, training as a CNA can help you gain experience in the field and make money before graduation. Depending on your state, sometimes nursing students who meet specific requirements don't need a CNA certification to practice as nursing assistants.

What Do CNAs Do?

Stay up-to-date with the latest nursing trends by reading our blogs about the best water bottles for nurses and which scrubs are most popular for healthcare workers.

Certified nursing assistants work in diverse settings, providing basic patient and resident care. They work under the supervision of RNs or licensed practical or vocational nurses (LPNs/LVNs). Typical basic care tasks include the following:

  • Dressing, bathing, grooming, and feeding
  • Taking vital signs
  • Following infection control procedures
  • Turning/repositioning patients
  • Making beds
  • Responding to patient calls
  • Assisting with range-of-motion exercises

How to Become a CNA

To become a CNA, a candidate must typically complete a state-approved training program and pass the state certification exam, including written and hands-on competency skills sections.

Federal guidelines mandate that CNA programs include at least 75 clock hours of training and at least 16 hours of supervised practical training. Supervised practical training refers to training in a laboratory or other setting where the candidate demonstrates competency, performing tasks on an individual under the direct supervision of an RN or LPN. However, state requirements vary, and the length of programs can vary drastically from approximately four weeks to as much as a year. An aspiring CNA should check the requirements in their state. The following are typical eligibility requirements:

  • Being 18 years old
  • Having a high school diploma or equivalent
  • Undergoing a background check

In most states, a candidate who meets these requirements and passes the training course and certification exam becomes a certified nursing assistant and enters the state's nurse aide registry. A state's lookup tool can be used to verify a CNA’s certification status.

How to Obtain CNA Certification Online

There are many online training programs available for aspiring CNAs. However, federal guidelines require at least 16 hours of in-person practical training. Therefore, although many programs have online components, no CNA program can be entirely online. 

Free Online CNA Courses with Certification of Completion

There are many free CNA programs throughout the United States. Here are a few examples of free CNA programs and their characteristics.

Procareer Academy  

Aspiring CNAs in California can take advantage of Procareer Academy's free, government-funded training and job placement services for women and minorities. This CNA certification program includes online theory instruction on weekday evenings and clinical instruction at local nursing facilities on the weekends. The Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education and California's Department of Public Health approve this program.

Ballad Health

Candidates in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia can complete CNA training and sit for the certification exam for free with Ballad Health. Ballad Health offers both in-person and hybrid training options. The hybrid program includes online classes with in-person clinical practice and labs at a healthcare facility in Tennessee.

  • Tennessee program: Candidates in Tennessee must be at least 17 and at most six months away from graduating from high school. The program consists of 60 classroom hours and 40 clinical practice hours. Part-time, daytime, and evening schedules are available.
  • Virginia program: Candidates in Virginia must be at least 18. The program consists of 100 classroom hours and 40 clinical practice hours. Only daytime schedules are available.

In addition to these requirements, Ballad Health requires candidates to comply with its vaccination policy and complete a criminal/health-related board background check.

Life Care Center of Andover

Aspiring CNAs in Kansas can become certified in just four weeks for free through Life Care Center of Andover's accelerated training program, which the Kansas Department of Health and Environment approves. The program is 90 hours total, consisting of 45 classroom hours and 45 hours of instruction in a clinical setting. Candidates take the certification exam during the last two weeks of class. 

There is no charge for classroom or clinical instruction, textbooks, or the preparation for the state CNA exam. Candidates only pay the $50 state exam testing fee directly to the testing center.

Although this program is free, participants work for the Life Care Center of Andover as non-certified nursing assistants as part of the application process. After completing the program and obtaining certification, CNAs are free to apply for other jobs. 

Nursing Homes That Offer Free CNA Classes near Me

In a way, all CNA programs are free. Yes, you read correctly, and here is why: 

  • The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) stipulates that nurse aides who are employed or have received offers of employment from facilities cannot be charged when the candidates begin nurse aide training and competency evaluation programs. This prohibition of charges includes any textbook fees or other required course materials.
  • The CFR also states that the State must provide for the reimbursement of costs for individuals who are employed or receive offers of employment to work as nursing assistants within 12 months of completing a nurse aide training and competency evaluation program. The state reimburses the costs incurred in completing the program on a pro-rata basis during the period of CNA employment.

Based on these regulations, you can drop the "free" and search for "CNA classes near me." That said, you must ensure that your state's regulatory agency approves the program to avoid a potential headache down the line.

In general, it is essential to check your state's requirements for CNA certification and stay on top of any new regulations in your state. For example, suppose you have or are pursuing CNA certification in Texas. In that case, you should know that as of July 2023, nurse aides and applicants for nurse aide certification must apply through the Texas Unified License Information Portal (TULIP), a web-based licensure system designed explicitly for licensed long-term care providers and licensees.

Find Jobs with Your CNA Certification

Once you have obtained your CNA certification, you can search for jobs. You may decide to stay at a facility if they paid for your training program (sometimes, a certain amount of time is required). Once certified, nursing assistants should consider picking up PRN jobs for CNAs

PRN jobs are single-shift contracts whereby certified nursing assistants cover facilities' urgent needs and help maintain safe CNA-to-patient staffing ratios. Since PRN CNAs only commit to working one shift at a time, they retain control over their schedules and work locations. If they don't like working at a particular facility, they need not return. On the other hand, if they enjoy the environment of a facility, they may ask about permanent employment opportunities. In this way, PRN shifts allow CNAs to maintain flexibility and find their ideal work setting.  

Furthermore, PRN shifts with Nursa pay certified nursing assistants significantly higher hourly rates than the average CNA salary. To learn more about unlocking opportunities, read our article about the ban on noncompetes.

Once you have your CNA certification or other nursing license, sign up with Nursa for free to begin picking up PRN shifts.


Laila Ighani
Blog published on:
June 11, 2024

Laila is a contributing copywriter and editor at Nursa who specializes in writing compelling long-form content about nursing finances, per diem job locations, areas of specialization, guides, and resources that help nurses navigate their career paths.

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