How to start a CNA program

Athena Kan
November 23, 2022


You're here because you've decided to start a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) training program. That's great! There's a huge shortage of CNAs, and a big part of the bottleneck is the number of programs in the country.

1. Why you should start a CNA school

‍People start CNA schools for many reasons. Here are some of the most common that we hear from school leaders:
  • Invest in the community - you're raising up a new generation of CNAs, which will ease up the staffing crisis at senior living organizations and ultimately improve healthcare for vulnerable residents. You get to choose what this workforce looks like. You can instill strong values of empathy, listening to the resident, and attention to detail. And, you never know—some of your former students may care for you or your family in your old age!
  • It's fulfilling to teach others - being able to share your knowledge with others is some of the most fulfilling work you can do. You get to see your students' growth as they go from not knowing anything to being able to competently care for residents. And, when they graduate, you might see them go on to become an LVN, RN, or Administrator!
  • Be your own boss - many CNA school leaders decided to start schools because they wanted to move on from hands-on work as a nurse. They wanted to be able to set their own hours, work on what they were passionate about, and grow something from nothing to serving hundreds of students a year.

2. Why you should not start a CNA school

Starting a CNA school isn't for everyone. Here are a few things to keep in mind before deciding to start your own school.
  • It's hard work - are you keen on leading classes and helping students learn? If not, then starting a CNA program might not be right for you. There are many challenges that come with running a business—you have to get used to working without a boss or manager telling you what needs to be done.
  • It's expensive - starting any type of business takes time, especially if it's something new or different from what people have experienced before. You'll need at least one year before making back your initial investment (if ever). This doesn't include any additional costs such as marketing or supplies needed throughout the initial months when hiring teachers may not yield high profits yet either.
  • It's risky - Many business owners fail within three years due largely because they didn't take into account all possible contingencies - how much money will they make each month? What if everything goes wrong? How long would they last financially if things went bad?
  • You're not an RN with long-term care experience. You should check your state requirements but states generally require that owner of a school is an RN with long-term care experience. If not, you may be able to find a business partner who meets that criteria.

3. Questions you should answer before starting

  • How is your school going to stand out? Are you in a city where there are already a lot of CNA training programs, or are you in an underserved area where people want to become CNAs but there aren't enough options?
  • If you're in a crowded area, is there another way you can stand out? For example, is there a class schedule (eg weekend, part-time, night-time) not covered by existing classes? Or is there a way to stand out? We've seen schools stand out by being the first school in their area to offer Spanish classes or partially-online classes. Some have also used the strategy of engaging with students on social media really effectively.
  • Do you want to offer fully in-person or hybrid classes? There are pros and cons to both. Many schools leaders find that students are more engaged with fully in-person classes, but hybrid classes are more popular with students because of the flexibility.
  • How much do you want to charge students? You'll want investigate what other schools in your area or state are charging. Then, decide if you want to undercut them on price or pose yourself as the high-quality school. Also decide if you want to offer a payment plan or insist students pay in full up front.
  • What are other schools doing that other people like? You can look at Google reviews or ask around. Befriend some schools in your area and ask them what they're doing well and where they think their weak points lie (then use this info when writing your own marketing materials).

4. Here's what you need to prepare before you submit your accreditation application

You should look up your state's specific registration process before beginning the process, found on the state's website. You can also work with a consulting firm to get your school up and running. Other school leaders may be willing to walk you through this process (either for free or as a consultant).
However, states generally have the same requirements. You'll likely need to get the following things together before submitting your accreditation application:
  • An office space where classes will be held. typically this is just one large room with chairs lined up in rows but could also be multiple rooms depending upon how many people attend classes at one time. You may also need to demonstrate you have certain equipment inside of the space for labs.
  • A clinical site, typically a nursing home. You will need a written agreement with them stating that they are willing to provide training space and time for students. The state website generally has a template that you can use. Nursing homes are pretty familiar with this process as well and they love having clinicals at their facility, so you shouldn't have a problem finding one. Be sure to look up the distance to your school and the facility's Medicare star rating (4+ preferred)
  • A curriculum that meets state approval standards. Each state has different requirements for number of hours required and content covered, but most curricula include basic ADLs, safety measures, first aid practices, and more. The American Red Cross has a curriculum that you can use straight out of the box if you're curious. You can also purchase a curriculum from a number of online providers. We recommend using one of the off-the-shelf curriculums and editing it to fit your needs rather than starting from scratch.
  • A teacher. This person can either be you or you can hire someone. We recommend that you teach at least the first few classes so you can understand your customers well. You will need to be an RN with long-term care experience, and you may need to go through additional CNA instructor training administered by your state. If you hire an instructor, they can be an LVN. We recommend you eventually move to this when it's time to hire an instructor as you can pay them the LVN rate per hour, saving you costs.

5. Figuring out how you're going to do marketing and get students

You’re going to need some kind of online presence, but don’t spend too much time optimizing this—it can be as simple as getting a listing on Google with your location and phone number (see below).
Here are some other ways that people have found success in marketing their schools:
  • Friends and family - this is how you'll have to get started. We recommend making a Facebook post and otherwise letting your community know that you're open for business!
  • Local partnerships in the area - letting the local workforce organizations, non-profits, and churches know that you're accepting students. Your local workforce organization sponsors people to go through CNA training so that can be a good source of students
  • Get listed on a CNA school platform, like Dreambound
  • Flyers - we've heard of flyers at libraries, local flea markets, nursing homes, and more working really well for other schools!
  • Consider running a promotion (like 25% off, $100 off, etc) since this will be your first class and your students will be taking a chance on you.
  • Pick what tools you're going to use to run your school
Once you have your business plan in place and know what tools you're going to use to run your school, it's time to get everything set up. Dreambound has free tools for you to run your class including your website, online registration, student tracking, and compliance.

6. Here are some other options you can consider:

  • Online application - people are searching on Google for CNA classes and they make decisions fast. The easier you make it to sign up, the more student traffic you'll be getting. Some schools use a Google Form or Jotforms to manage registrations.
  • Website - don't spend a lot of time and money on design before you've started getting your first students through but you can use tools like Squarespace, Wix or Weebly to get set up with a website as soon as possible. Expect to spend about $30/mo on hosting.
  • Payments - CNA training providers typically accept cash or credit/debit card via Square (~3% of costs). Some accept Venmo, CashApp, or Zelle.

7. Run your first class!

When it comes to teaching your first class, there are a few things that you need to do right away:
  • Set up a start date and stick with it. This will help ensure that students know when they can expect the class to begin so they can plan ahead of time.
  • Make sure you build in some extra time for planning. If this is your first time teaching, there are bound to be some bumps along the way, so it's better if you have more than enough preparation time just in case anything goes wrong.
  • Aim for 5-10 students for your first class. You'll want to make sure that they have a great experience. Ask for feedback at the end of the class. If they liked the class, make sure they leave a positive review for you on Google, and word of mouth will begin to spread. If they didn't like it, ask them for honest feedback and make sure to make them feel heard. That way, you leave them with a positive taste in their mouth still.


There are a lot of considerations you need to make when starting up a CNA training program. It may seem overwhelming at first, so it helps to break down the work into smaller tasks. At the end of the day, this is meaningful work: you'll be able to make a big difference not only in your students' lives but also senior living facilities and their residents' lives!

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