Certified Nursing Assistant


Information and Resources

Information provided by Biomedical Studies Concentrator Austin Wetmore ’12

“Nursing faculty members value the experience that nursing students acquire working in a healthcare setting. Certified nursing assistants have increased comfort when communicating with patients, families and other health care workers. Students with CNA certification have increased competence in basic skills such as vital signs, weights, feeding, bathing, showering, transferring and monitoring intake and output.” ~ Dr. Mary Beth Kuehn, Dr. Rita Glazebrook, and Dr. Diana Neal, St. Olaf College Nursing Department Faculty

Pre-medicine, pre-health and nursing St. Olaf students have a lot to consider in regards to admission to medical school, graduate school or the St. Olaf Nursing Program in the near future.  At the top of that list is most likely grade point average and MCAT score, if applying to medical school.  However, one aspect of the admissions process that is greatly overlooked is how several medical schools and graduate schools stress the importance of direct patient care experience.  As a nursing assistant, you can gain this valuable direct patient care experience in the years prior to applying to medical school or graduate school, as well as get to know the residents of the facilities personally and form new relationships and friendships.

There are several local opportunities to gain CNA certification and work as a nursing assistant.  There are two CNA training programs right here in Northfield offered through the Northfield Retirement Community and Three Links Care Center.  Both of these elderly care facilities are typically in high demand of nursing assistants, so finding employment can start locally in Northfield.  Many nursing assistants work in assisted living or nursing home facilities (geriatric care).  However, there are some opportunities for nursing assistants in hospitals.  Nursing assistants working in hospitals generally do the same sort of duties as those who work in nursing homes, except they may take vital sign readings more often.


It is most beneficial for pre-medical students to complete a CNA training program during their sophomore year if they plan to apply to medical school the end of their junior year.  This way, they will be able to work as a nursing assistant for at least a year prior to applying to medical school.  However, it is most beneficial for students considering applying to the St. Olaf Nursing program to complete a CNA training program during their first year or the beginning of their sophomore year, depending on when they are applying to the nursing program.  In fact, beginning with the class of 2016, nursing students will be required to have CNA certification as a criterion for admission to the St. Olaf Nursing program.

First Steps

  • Read the information included in this summary!  It will help you find a training program and learn more about the benefits of becoming a CNA.
  • View the St. Olaf Student Certified Nursing Assistant Database.  This will allow you to network with St. Olaf students who are certified nursing assistants.  You can view their experiences as a nursing assistant and learn from their advice, and see which training program they used.
  • Contact local organizations that offer CNA training programs to sign up for one.  Information about local training programs is listed in the next section.
  • After completing a training program, sign up for and take the Minnesota Nurse Aide NNAAP Examination which is offered through South Central Community College – Faribault relatively frequently.  You need to pass this to become certified for employment in the state of Minnesota.
  • Learn about geriatric care to see if it is of interest to you.

Local CNA Training Programs

Northfield Retirement Community – Northfield, MN

  • Cost: $650
  • Location: Just North of campus about a half mile down Greenvale Avenue, so not too far of a walk from campus
  • Class Length: 6 hrs/day, Monday-Friday for 2 weeks
  • Clinical Skills Length: 8 hrs/day, for 3 days after the class ends
  • Offered occasionally, year round
  • Contact: Emily Kerling, Director of Health Services (507) 664-7353 (ekerling@northfieldretirement.org)

Three Links Care Center – Northfield, MN

  • Cost: $800
  • Location: Right by the Malt-O-Meal factory, so it is within walking distance from campus
  • Class Length: 4 hrs/day for 6 weeks
  • Clinical Skills Length: 6 hrs/day for 4 days after the class ends
  • Offered occasionally, year round
  • In the past, Three Links has offered a spring CNA training course just for college students (St. Olaf and Carleton students)
  • Contact: Marcia Stanton (Marcia.Stanton@threelinks.org)

Twin Cities Red Cross – Minneapolis, MN

  • Cost: $1250
  • Class Length: Varies- Offer accelerated classes (10 days), weekday classes (2 weeks) and evening/weekend classes (4 weeks)
  • Clinical Skills Length: 6 hrs/day for 4 days after the class ends
  • Great training course to take in the summer
  • Contact: Nursing Assistant Training Info (natinfo@redcrosstc.org)

Learning Outcomes of CNA Training Programs

During the course of the CNA training program, you will cover a wide array of healthcare related topics and be tested on each unit of study that you cover.  However, don’t be alarmed.  The tests do not even compare to regular college course exams and are very general and basic, so you won’t need to use much more than just common sense to pass all of the tests.  Some of the general categories of topics include: basic human needs, communication, maintaining a safe and clean environment, vital signs and measurements, personal cares, activity and exercise, food and fluids, elimination, caring for residents with special needs, and orientation to the work environment.  Throughout the classroom training sessions, you will learn and practice relevant skills that a nursing assistant is required to use when working in a care facility.  Following the classroom training sessions, you will be required to participate in clinical rotations, shadowing a certified nursing assistant and implementing the skills that you learned and practiced in the classroom sessions.  These clinical rotations allow you to become more familiar with an actual day working as a nursing assistant.


Some challenges of becoming a nursing assistant include, but are not limited to:

  • Ability to lift heavy weights – it is necessary for a nursing assistant to use correct body mechanics to lift heavy weights such as assisting a resident into his or her bed in order to prevent injury to both the resident and the nursing assistant.
  • Time management – the classroom sessions range from 4-6 hours in length, so the CNA training program in addition to a regular semester of St. Olaf College courses and activities can require time management.
  • Exposure to death – if working in a nursing home or assisted living facility, death of residents is common since many are nearing the ends of their lives which can be emotional for a nursing assistant.

Links to Additional Information