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Certified Nursing Assistant

6 Ways to Become a CNA for Free

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Becoming a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) is an excellent way to start a career in healthcare. But what if you're concerned about the cost? Good news! There are several ways to become a CNA for free or at minimal cost. Let's explore your options:

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1. Check with local nursing homes and hospitals to see if they offer free training

Many healthcare facilities offer free CNA training programs. Here's what you need to know:

  • These programs often come with a work commitment (usually 6-12 months). Be sure you know what you're signing up for here - you should be asking for what pay will be, what happens if you don't pass your exam, if there are minimum hours, etc.
  • If you do not meet the work commitment, you may be required to pay back the employer the equivalent of the cost of training. This can be upwards of thousands of dollars
  • Your clinicals will take place at the facility
  • You may or may not receive a stipend during training

Benefits:

  • Immediate job placement after certification

Drawbacks:

  • Limited choice of workplace due to work commitment
  • Training schedule may be less flexible

You can find these opportunities through job boards like Indeed, the direct job postings of these facilities, or inquiring directly with the employer.

2. Apply for state government funding

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) can provide funding for CNA training. All states have American Job Centers that can give career counseling and potentially funding for your education. These centers are known under different names in many states, such as America's Job Center of California (AJCC) or CareeSource in Florida.

To get funding, you will need to:

  • Find your local American Job Center
  • Schedule an appointment with a career counselor
  • Discuss your interest in CNA training
  • Complete necessary assessments and paperwork.
  • If eligible, WIOA may cover your training costs

Additional WIOA benefits:

  • Career counseling and job search assistance
  • Potential support for other job-related expenses (e.g., uniforms, equipment)
  • Access to a network of local employers

Visit the CareerOneStop website to find your nearest American Job Center and schedule an appointment.

Benefits:

  • No work commitment required
  • You can choose between several eligible training providers near you

Drawbacks:

  • May take a long time to go through the process (several months)
  • May need to meet many requirements and chase down a lot of people to respond to you. For example, many states require you complete a several long exam before being eligible

3. Check your local community college

Community colleges may offer free CNA programs:

  • Some states provide free community college education, such as Tennessee or Massachusetts
  • Even if not free, these programs are may be less expensive than private schools

Benefits:

  • No work commitment required
  • Opportunity to earn college credits
  • Access to additional educational resources and support services

Drawbacks:

  • May be restricted in what schedule options are available. Many colleges also offer only fall and spring semesters
  • There may be a waitlist depending on your college

4. Pay out-of-pocket and get reimbursed by an employer

Nursing homes that accept Medicare or Medicaid are required to reimburse CNAs for their training costs:

  • Pay for your CNA training upfront
  • Get certified and start working at a qualifying nursing home within 12 months of completion
  • The facility must reimburse you for the cost of the training and your exam

Be sure to keep all receipts and documentation of your training costs and discuss the reimbursement process with your employer during the hiring process. Although this is required by law, some employers do not have this process set up. They may either take forever to grant it back to you or they may not be compliant at all.

Note your employer may require you work for a set amount of time before they will reimburse you. although they are not supposed to do that.

Benefits:

  • Flexibility to go to any school and work at most nursing homes

Drawbacks:

  • May need to work for at least 6-12 months before the employe reimburses you
  • May be difficult to navigate the process

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5. Check with your CNA school to see if they have any employer partnerships or grants

Many CNA schools have relationships with employers or state programs that can offset training costs. Contact local CNA schools and ask about employer partnerships or state funding programs

For example, California and Colorado have significant grant programs specifically for CNA training, outside of WIOA funding.

6. Leverage Your Current Employer's Educational Benefits

If you're already employed, your current job might be your ticket to free CNA training:

Many employers offer educational benefits as part of their compensation package These benefits might cover CNA programs, especially if it's relevant to your current role or potential future roles within the company

Tips for approaching your employer:

  • Ask HR about existing education benefits. They may offer to reimburse or pay upfront
  • Find a school, so you know the training costs, time commitment, and potential benefits to the organization
  • Be prepared to commit to staying with the company for a certain period after certification

Additional Resources and Strategies

  • Military Programs: If you're a veteran or active duty military member, explore programs which may cover CNA training.
  • Job Corps: This free education and vocational training program for young adults (16-24) offers CNA training at some of its centers.
  • Scholarships: Research CNA-specific scholarships offered by healthcare organizations, community foundations, or professional associations.
Arwena Payumo
Written by
Arwena Payumo
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