Beginning a career as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) will allow you to gain valuable hands-on experience. Additionally allowing you the opportunity to join the ranks of the many RNs who began their careers as CNAs. If your ultimate goal is to become a Registered Nurse (RN) then deciding to become a CNA is the best way to ignite your nursing career!

How to Become a Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA) Guide
How to Become a Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA) Guide

Quick Summary

The CNA performs many duties independently. Their primary function is to work closely assisting patients with basic care and hygiene needs. Sometimes when patients have a concern or issue or even a personal problem they often reach out to the CNA for help.

Certified Nurse Assistants work directly one-on-one with patients for sometimes long extended periods this creates a bond and sense of trust between the CNA and patient. Many nursing assistants find this close bond rewarding. Many nursing students take on the position of CNA to get their feet in the door and launch a career in nursing. Is becoming a nurse assistant the right path for you? Find out now by reading more about what CNAs do and how to become one. Ready…Set…Let’s go!

Educational Degree Needed to Practice: Not required

License: None

Certification Available: Nurse Assistant Competency Examination

How much does a CNA make? The median annual salary for CNAs is $30,830*

Table of Contents

What Does a CNA Do?

Some CNAs depending on their level of experience and location may be allowed to dispense patient medications, perform lab draws, post-operative or pre-operative medical care. Frequently patients living in a nursing home for months or even years will have more contact with a CNA than any other health worker will. They additionally keep records of patients’ health by checking patients’ temperature, blood pressure, and vital signs.

Cna pushing patient in wheelchair

Nearly half of CNAs work within nursing homes. CNAs who work in a nursing home setting will help elderly patients get in and out of bed, changing patient bed sheets. Other tasks nursing assistants perform can include providing bed baths or helping patients to and from the restroom. CNAs make sure patients and nursing residents have a room that is safe and clean.

Certified Nurse Assistants (CNA) work alongside Registered Nurses (RN) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) to help transport patients that are in wheelchairs or on a stretcher that may need to have surgery or x-rays. The job duties of a CNA can often be strenuous and physically challenging as some days they may be needed to help lift and move patients. Generally, this is done with the aid and support of other medical providers.

CNA Job Description:

CNAs Daily Responsibilities Could Include:

  • Help patients get dressed
  • Take patient vital signs
  • Change and empty patient urinary catheters
  • Keep records of patient’s intake and output
  • Make sure patient’s linen are clean and replace soiled laundry
  • Help prepare patients for medical treatment
  • Ensure patient’s rooms are neat and in order
  • Report and observe patient health concerns or abnormal changes to nurse
  • Help patients walk
  • Make sure patients are comfortable
  • Perform housekeeping duties
  • Contribute to re-position patients in their beds
  • Keep equipment clean and sanitized
  • Teach and educate some patients how to care for themselves

Some CNAs depending on their level of experience and location may be allowed to dispense patient medications, perform lab draws, post-operative or pre-operative medical care.

Frequently patients living in a nursing home for months or even years will have more contact with a CNA than any other health worker will. This often creates a close bond between the CNA and their patients.

Certified Nurse Assistants (CNA) work alongside Registered Nurses (RN) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) to help transport patients that are in wheelchairs or on a stretcher that may need to have surgery or x-rays. They additionally contribute to admitting and discharging patients.

Becoming a certified nursing assistant does not require a college degree of any kind. However, to become a Certified Nurse Assistant you will need to attend and successfully graduate from state-approved CNA classes.

CNA classes are usually provided at community colleges and vocational training schools. Typically experienced registered nurses short and frequently lead these programs. CNA classes provide students with the necessary skills to gain employment.

Once you receive your certification, you might want to consider to keep going and earning your Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) certification or Associates Degree in Nursing (ADN).

All CNAs who pass their certified nursing assistant state examination is entered into the nursing aid state registry. This signifies the CNA has successfully met their rules training and testing standards.

Once you complete the nursing assistant course program, you will be eligible to take your state certification exam. Once you successfully pass your state  CNA competency examination.

Become a Certified Nurse Assistant

What Are the Career Paths for CNAs?

If you have ever walked into a nursing home or hospital, you would see plenty of CNAs working there. About The Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS). It shows us that 42% of CNAs are employed in nursing care facilities. With an additional 26% of CNAs being employed in local, state, and private hospitals.

Depending on your career goals, both facilities have their strengths and weakness. Both facilities will give you hands-on working experience to help accelerate your nursing career.

If you prefer more of a smaller less busy environment, you may want to consider working in a nursing home facility, on the other hand, if you enjoy more of a fast pace environment you may thrive in a hospital.

Deciding to accept a CNA employment position within a hospital will help to expose you to multiple working environments.

These settings may include several units such as emergency, oncology, or even acute care units. Deciding to work within a hospital can offer you potential room for growth as well as learning opportunities.

Some CNAs begin their careers starting out working in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes, public hospitals, outpatient clinics, and specialty or even teaching hospitals.

Nursing homes are among the largest sector where CNAs are found. These long-term care nursing facilities house older adults for long extended periods. Although being a smaller place to work nursing homes can sometimes be a bit hectic and stressful, as some patients may be challenging and uncooperative. On the other hand, some patients are very kind and easy to work with.

The main benefits of working at a nursing home are the job security it could offer you and the potential long-term relationships you can make with patients. Patients who are admitted to nursing homes are often there for extended periods sometimes even years allowing you to form long-term bonds with the residents.

Nursing care facilities and local and state hospitals tend to be well lighted, and clean. As with working in any healthcare facility or hospital as a CNA, you may be exposed to contagious diseases, nonetheless, CNAs take safety precautions to help reduce the risk of them becoming sick.

CNA Salary and Job Growth

The CNA pay will not make you rich. However, it will allow you to get your foot in the door and lay a strong foundation for your nursing career.

Within the world of nursing job, work experience is valuable and by becoming a CNA, you will gain hands-on experience with working with patients while additionally learning the inner workings of a hospital or nursing home setting.

Nursing Assistant Salary

The BLS shows nursing assistants earn approximately $25,100 annually. This amount according to the BLS is the CNAs annual median wage.

The certified nursing assistant salary is full-time at 40 hours a week. The actual salary will vary by your location, region and population, and other factors.

Depending upon how much you work and how long you are employed, you may qualify for vacation and holiday pay.

Most CNA positions offer medical or hospital insurance plans. Some employers may even offer retirement plans for CNA employees.

What Is My Earning Potential?

Your earning potential as a CNA could increase in pay. According to the BLS, certified nursing assistants within the top 10 percent of the country earn $36,170 annually or $17.39 per hour.

Please note that depending on what state, city, and years of experience, you have this will dictate your actual pay level.

The BLS reports CNAs living in New York, California, Florida, Texas, and Pennsylvania make the highest earnings.

What Are the Salaries of Similar Nursing Occupations?

Below you can compare similar occupations you may be interested in pursuing.

  • Medical Assistant – $29,370
  • Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses – $41,540
  • Registered Nurse – $65,470
  • Occupational Therapy Assistant – $48,940

Is There a Demand for This Career?

Yes. CNAs play a significant role in healthcare. Due to the daily tasks, CNA performs they help to free up time for nurses, physicians, and other medical workers within hospitals in return making their demand even greater.

Due to the nation’s current nursing shortage help wanted ads for CNA employment to appear to be quite abundant.

The United States Department of Health and Human Services states older adults (elderly) make up 14.1% of the U.S population this equates to 1 in 7 adults are over the age of 65.

Due to our aging population, CNAs are regularly needed. With this number ever-increasing so too makes the demand for employment opportunities for CNAs.

What are the Job Growth Opportunities for CNAs?

Certified Nurse Assistants projected growth according to the BLS is predicted to grow much faster than average.

From years, 2020 to 2030 for CNAs will be over one and a half a million employment openings. 1,440,700 to be exact according to the BLS.

The job outlook for CNAs appears to be bright according to the BLS Handbook.

There are several benefits to becoming CNA. For one becoming a CNA can offer you career freedom, you could move from one city to the next and still be able to find employment due to having your certification.

The largest patient population that is steadily growing is geriatrics (older adults). Long-term healthcare facilities such as nursing homes can offer you the chance for long-term job stability and are less competitive to gain employment.

You can take several options and careers paths if you find yourself burnt out from being a CNA. Perhaps looking into the next level of becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) may offer and open up more career opportunities.

Are Employment Opportunities for CNAs Competitive?

Some competition you will face will vary greatly upon if you are opting for a CNA career in a rural geographic location or a large suburban location.

If you live in a rural area, most nursing homes are state-funded, and finding employment there may be limited due to budget restraints.

Opting to pursue employment in a larger suburban area, you may find yourself faced with more competition due to the larger volume of residents residing there.

Obtaining employment as a CNA you will need to prepare yourself to stand out from the crowd.

You can do this by highlighting your strengths, experience, and willingness to work hard. Besides, you may want to consider not being overly meticulous about the initial position they offer you. This includes being flexible with an ability to commit to less than desirable working hours and shifts.

What Kind of Institutions Hire CNAs?

The BLS reports CNAs retained about 1.5 million employment positions in 2020. They additionally say CNAs were employed in several industries:

  • 42% Were used in Nursing care facilities
  • 26% Held jobs in private, local, and state hospitals
  • 4% Found employment in residential care facilities
  • 4% Were employed through government agencies

How Do I Advance in My CNA Career?

Becoming a CNA is becoming just that. Yes, you can get more hands-on experience and you may see a slight pay increase, but you will be limited as a CNA.

CNAs are only trained and certified to do so much.

Nevertheless, no need to worry, you can move up the nursing career ladder. Many students who want more responsibilities and more pay opt to further their nursing career by enrolling in a CNA to LPN bridge program. Alternatively, you can decide to pursue their Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree to become eligible to sit for the national examination to become RNs.

The great news about becoming a CNA is the real experience and skills this role will expose you to.

Nevertheless, moving up to higher-paying careers within the nursing field will require you to further your education. If you want to see these additional job opportunities.

Are you excited about beginning your nursing career? Great learn below on what education and training you will need to be a certified nurse assistant.

What You May Study in a CNA Degree Program

To become a certified nurse assistant you do not need post-secondary degrees of any kind. Nevertheless, you will need to register in a CNA training program to obtain the necessary skills and knowledge to pass your state examination.

What Degrees Are Available?

Associates Degree Nursing Program

Many vocational and community colleges offer CNA training programs. Although an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) is not mandatory or even required to practice as a CNA, it may be a good idea to enroll and pursue your ADN degree. Having an ADN will open more career doors, higher income but also more responsibility as an RN.

Depending on your school of choice requirements, you may earn credit for previous CNA classes previously taken. It is important to ask prospective schools if any of your CNA training courses are transferable to a degree program.

Bachelor’s Degree Nursing Program

Deciding to further your CNA career and earn your Bachelor’s Degree should be one of your ultimate goals. The benefits and a financial increase are well worth deciding to pursue.

Since you will be starting from the bottom, you may want to consider CNA to LPN bridge program. This takes about one year to complete. Once completed you can become eligible to enroll in an LPN to BSN degree program.

There are many routes to earning your Bachelor’s Degree in Science with a major in nursing even if you are starting as a CNA. Your best bet is identifying your end career goals and taking the steps to get there.

What Will I Learn in a CNA Training Program?

As a CNA nursing student, expect to be introduced to a wide variety of subjects in a condensed time.

The purpose of CNA classes is to help prepare you to meet the state requirements to pass your state test and to help you gain the experience needed to be successful once you land your new job.

CNA courses provide skills and information to help CNAs provide quality care for residents in a diverse and extensive range of settings.

Once you successfully complete your CNA program, you will become qualified to sit for your state nurse assistant competency exam. Once you pass you then can legally practice as a certified nurse assistant.

Cna training programs cover theory and skill classes with an emphasis on academics and hands-on training.

These classes will teach you how to care for people in the health care system. You will learn how to properly bathe, dress, and position residents. Some CNA classrooms have hospital beds and medical equipment to help you become familiar before you start your clinical rotations.

Some Topics CNA Classes Generally Cover:

  • Infection Control
  • Feeding residents
  • Transfer patients from wheelchairs
  • How to measure and record patient vital signs
  • How to give partial baths as well as shower and tub baths
  • Bed making skills

At the end of your CNA training program, you will practice all the skills you learned. Then have your skills evaluated by your instructors. Once you have successfully demonstrated your skills, you will be ready to test and take your state examination at an offsite testing location.

CNA Certification

Enrolling in a CNA school and completing the course is a big step and a huge accomplishment.

Once you have completed your training program, you will need to take the CNA certification within your state. Usually, the Nurse Assistant Competency exams testing is conducted at regional testing centers across the United States.

By obtaining your certification, it shows your future employees and patients that you now meet the federal and state law regulations minimal competency requirements.

Most states DO require nurse assistants to become certified despite whom they are employed by. If your goal is to work within a nursing home, it will be necessary to obtain your CNA certification within your state.

Due to the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, this Act requires all CNA medical workers to undergo specialized training. It’s best to check with your future employer for their exact training requirements.

What are the Requirements to Take my CNA Certification?

Your state board of nursing will have their requisites that will need to be met for you to become eligible to sit for your CNA exam.

Below Is an Example of What May Be Needed

According to Florida’s Board of Nursing department of health students wishing to sit and take the CNA certification to become licensed as a CNAs will need the following:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Graduated and have a high school diploma
  • Pass the CNA two-part examination
  • Complete the CNA school training program curriculum
  • Pass the record conviction guidelines
  • Submit fingerprints through an approved Florida law enforcement agency.

Every state has its state board of nursing guidelines of what is needed to help you become certified.

When deciding to enroll in a CNA training program, you may want to ask if the program is state-approved.

Not all states require your school to be state-approved. However, it may be wise to opt for a school that is state-approved just to be safe.

So do not be afraid when calling around to ask them if their CNA training program is state-approved.

All about Your CNA Certification Exam

Many times your school will help set you up an appointment with a third-party state-approved testing site within your state to take your CNA competency exam.

State Nursing Boards across the country look to Pearson Vue and Prometric to allow nursing students to take CNA computer-based examinations.

Once you finish your CNA classes, you will need to take the National Nurse Aide Assessment Examination (NNAAP). The NNAAP competency exam is a combination of oral or written along with a portion that will demonstrate your nursing skills.

NNAAP examinations are only in 25 states, the rest of the states utilize other exams, but generally, the CNA testing and studies are similar.

Every student must successfully pass and complete both portions before their name can be added to their state nurse aide registry.

Every state has a separate CNA nursing registry.

The purpose of state registries is to show employers that CNAs have met the federal and state requirements needed for employment.

Additionally being listed in the Nurse Aide Registry allows potential and current employers to see if your certification has been flagged for neglect, residence abuse, or any other derogatory information.

How Do I Transfer My Certification to Another State?

The process of moving your CNA certification from one state to the next and being eligible to practice in another state is called reciprocity.

Normally if your CNA certification is in good standing and is active, you may qualify for reciprocity. It is best to contact the state in which you are deciding to move to and ask them what is needed to qualify.

If you meet the qualifications, your name is then added to your new state of choice nurse registry, and you can practice as a CNA within your new location.

What’s the Best Way to Prepare for My CNA Examination?

Many regional testing centers have practice downloadable CNA exam guides you can take to test your knowledge. It is best to take the time to study the practice material to help prepare for the real exam as much as possible.

A few other excellent sources are checking with your local library, eBay, or even

All sources will have test-prep books on CNA examination practice tips. Along with practice, questions that can help you prepare for passing your CNA exam.

What Should I Expect to see on my CNA Exam?

General topics from state to state for CNA exams may include:

  • Safety practices for managing behavior
  • Emergencies and what to do
  • How to properly care for patient personal care needs
  • How to care for a dying patient
  • Legal and ethical issues – What can a CNA legally do
  • What are the CNA role and the role of others

The CNA exam overview will vary from state to state. Below is a sample glimpse of what CNAs from California Nurse Assistant written or oral examination and skills evaluation exam.

A written or oral examination that has 70 multiple-choice questions. Moreover, must be completed within 2 hours.

Alternatively, one can take the Oral examination in place of the written exam. The oral examination is made up of two parts that consist of 60 multiple-choice questions and must be completed within 2 hours.

To get your exact requirements, it is always best practice to contact your CNA School for the exact CNA exam requirements need for you to graduate from their program.

Depending on which state you live in you may be required to have a skills evaluation test also in combination with your written or oral portion as well. Normally there will be a nurse evaluator that will administer the skills evaluation portion.

The skills assessment test will be physically set up to resemble a caregiver or nursing home situation. The assessment area may have real equipment with a person (client, volunteer) on who you will perform your nursing skills on.

Plus you may be provided with a list of skills of what you may need to demonstrate for the assistant nurse evaluator.

The Skill Portion on your CNA exam may Include:

  • Record and measure patient’s blood pressure
  • Measure the patient’s weight and accurately record the data
  • Keep track and record of patient’s urinary output
  • Record and measure patient’s blood pressure
  • Measure the patient’s weight and accurately record the data
  • Keep track and record of patient’s urinary output

Do I Need to Maintain Re-certification?

Most nursing certifications do require that you maintain re-certification.

Many states require nursing aides who wish to remain within their state’s nursing assistant registry and to keep their certification active will need to renew their certification every 24 months.

Additionally, most states require CNAs who wish to renew their certification will need to provide evidence of at least 48 hours of continuing education hours have been met.

Some states may need further documentation that you have worked at least eight consecutive hours for pay in a nursing-related service.

CNA’s might can renew their certification through their Department of Public Health.

How Long Will It Take Me to Complete My Program?

Some are as short as four weeks while others are nine weeks. CNA classes vary. The great news is both options are quick. Starting a new career with only four weeks of training could be a significant employment investment for you.

Pima Medical Institute is a popular choice for students wishing to enroll in a CNA class. Their CNA classes are nine weeks long.

It consists of 130 clock hours and five weeks of theory and lab (80 hours) and one week in a clinical setting (40 hours) internship.

Is There CNA Classes Online?

If you are restricted on time and need a more convenient way to take CNA classes then maybe, it is best to enroll in a CNA online nursing program.

Web-based CNA classes do exist so you will need to search and ask around. The best place to start is by contacting schools. You may also find CNA classes at your local community college, vocational schools, private colleges, or even the Red Cross.

CNA classes online offer academics and theory via web-based programs. Most likely, when it comes time to complete the hands-on portion of your training you may complete your clinical at your local hospital near your home location.

How Much Will My Education Cost?

Certified nursing assistant school costs will vary from state to state and school to school. Some CNA school programs range from $1,600 to almost $1,800. Again, this number is just a sample. Also, this figure includes registration, physical exam, uniform, tennis shoes, watch as well as the class fees.

If you don’t have the money, do not worry most schools have financial aid representatives that could help you see what loans or grants you may qualify for to pay for your classes.

Cna schools have some payment plans you could make. This would work by placing a fee as a down payment and then registering for the school. Payment methods may even be based on your current income.

If you have limited or no income, then you may qualify for financial aid. It is best to contact a school today to see what financial options you may be entitled to or need to pay out of pocket to get started.

Are There Prerequisites for Me to attend a CNA Training Program?

Yes. You will need when enrolling into a CNA program is:

  • Be 16 years of age or older – Depending on which state you live in
  • Social Security number with a valid I.D
  • Background check/fingerprint
  • Physical Exam (normally you will have a time-frame of when this needs to be completed)

Some CNA classes do not require you to have an H.S diploma or equivalent while others will require it. Always ask upfront.

CNA classes that do require you to have an H.S diploma or G.E.D typically require you to have a minimum passing grade for math and science subjects.

What Accreditation Is There for My Program?

CNA programs will vary if their school has earned nursing accreditation. It is always best to ask before signing on the dotted line.

When a school is accredited, it could only mean benefits for you. The advantage of attending an accredited school is your certification or degree may be more likely to be accepted by employers.

Additionally, schools that are accredited could increase your chances of your credits transferring to another school. Schools that are accredited are eligible to receive federal funding compared to schools that are not accredited.

Here Are Some Employment Settings You Could Work in as a CNA

Not sure, which CNA job you would like to take? Take a closer look at CNA jobs you could work in:

Becoming a nursing assistant you can find employment in a variety of settings. However, the majority of CNAs nearly half work in nursing homes. Nevertheless, if you find working in a nursing home may not be for you then you may want to explore additional options.

  • Nursing Homes: Many CNAs find working in nursing homes rewarding. CNAs perform bathing, showing, and changing the resident’s briefs.
  • Hospitals: Within a hospital, setting CNAs could have more opportunities to learn. You will be exposed to new things and ideas, as you could work in different units such as labor and delivery or emergency departments. Less personal care for patients in comparison to working in a nursing home. The hospital environment tends to move at a more rapid pace.
  • Private Homes: Deciding to work as a nursing assistant in a private home environment may require providing personal and hygiene care. Light housekeeping, laundry, preparing meals, helping the patient take medication. You may be needed to take the patients’ blood pressure, pulse, and temperature. This environment is more relaxed in comparison to a hospital or nursing home environment.

CNA Career and School Frequently Asked Questions | What You Need to Know

How long does it take to become a CNA?

Depending on which school you attend, you could become a certified nursing assistant in as early as 4 to 9 weeks.

How do I apply for Financial Aid?

Before applying for financial aid, you will need to have your school of choice picked out. Once you enroll then, you can look at the Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) website.

The FAFSA website has an online application process for you to fill out. Once completed usually at the end of submitting the form electronically you will be given a code. This code shows your school how much and what loans you have qualified for. Your school will and can tell you what your FAFSA code means.

How can I advance in higher career positions?

Becoming a CNA does not have many career advancement opportunities. However, you may want to pursue a more advanced role such as Licensed Practical Nurses (LPN) that will take about one year.

If that is not enough maybe consider becoming a Registered Nurse (RN). You can become an RN in as little as two years if you attend full-time.

As with most careers the more education and experience you get the more pay and responsibilities, you can expect.

Do I have what it takes to become a nurse assistant?

Are you willing to do your best to get where you want to go? This will determine if you have what it takes to be a nursing assistant.

The benefits of becoming a CNA is that it can offer you a real introduction towards what goes on in a hospital or nursing home. Many RNs states they are glad they begin their careers as a nursing assistant. This is because many feel the skills and experiences they learned helped to lay a solid basis for their nursing career.

Career Outlook

There are so many job opportunities for CNAs. The future for CNAs is very bright. As a CNA once you get your certification you could work anywhere within the U.S and gain employment in as quickly as 24 hours. This is due to the fact CNAs collaborate with the largest patient population, which is geriatrics. Working in geriatrics offers unlimited opportunities. As the geriatric population continues to rise, new and much larger nursing homes will be needed.


Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2020 Edition, Nursing Assistants and Orderlies, on the Internet at (visited March 9, 2022).

Read Also – How to Become a Registered Nurse (RN) Guide

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