Certified Nursing Assistant Overview

Nurse talking with patient

Take the first step toward a career as a certified nursing assistant.

What Does a CNA Do?

Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) provide intimate, hands-on healthcare to patients in medical settings, helping with bathing, dressing and the basic activities of life. A day in the life of a CNA might also include:

  • Turning or repositioning bedridden patients
  • Taking patients’ temperature, blood pressure and other vital signs
  • Answering patient calls
  • Documenting patients’ health issues and report to nurses
  • Feeding patients, measuring and recording their food and liquid intake
  • Cleaning rooms and bed linens
  • Helping with medical procedures
  • Dressing wounds

A certified nursing assistant job has peaks and valleys. It can be physically demanding at times with some unpleasant responsibilities, but the role also allows CNAs to build strong relationships with patients.

While CNAs can be found in hospitals, the majority of them work in nursing and residential care facilities, where CNAs interact with patients on a regular basis and get to know them personally. If you’re interested in joining the booming health care field, becoming a CNA—also known as a nurses’ aid, home health aide, orderly or attendant—can be a good place to start. Learn which personal and professional traits you’ll need to succeed as a certified nursing assistant.

You are…You should have…
CompassionateStrong decision-making skills
An excellent listenerExcellent attention to detail
SupportiveGood communication skills
DependableProblem-solving skills
Physically fitGood ethical standards
Good-naturedAbility to maintain interpersonal relationships

CNA Job Outlook & Salary

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Job Growth

These days, the job prospects for CNAs are bright. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that demand for the profession will rise at a rate of 11 percent through 2026—much faster than typical job growth. As the population ages, demand for round-the-clock personal services is on the upswing.

How big a paycheck can you expect to earn as a certified nursing assistant? The BLS estimates a median income of $28,530 for CNAs in its current Occupational Outlook Handbook. But your earnings will vary according to where you live; the BLS found that the top 10 percent of nursing assistants earned more than $39,560.

By taking on more training, CNAs can move into higher-paying roles as licensed practical nurses or registered nurses.

How to Become a CNA

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You won’t need a degree in order to become a CNA, but you will need to earn a certificate and pass a competency exam. The educational requirements vary from state to state, but expect to invest four to 12 weeks to earn your CNA credential.

In CNA classes, you’ll learn about infection control, taking vital signs and delivering personal care. Topics might also include communication skills and patients’ rights. Upon completing your coursework, you’ll take the CNA certification exam, which usually includes a multiple-choice exam and a manual skills test.

Many schools offer convenient online options for CNA certificate programs. Before you enroll, be sure to check that the course is accredited by a recognized agency. A good CNA program should be state board-approved. Before applying to a school, inquire with your state board about a list of their approved programs. If you decide to earn an ADN or BSN in the future, accreditation is extremely important. The two main accreditation bodies to look for are the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

If you want to become an RN, some schools offer CNA-to-RN programs which don’t take as much time to complete as an associate’s degree.

Is financial aid available?

The first thing you’ll need to do is fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), as government financial aid is the most common. In order to be eligible, the school or program you’re enrolled in must be accredited. Other types of financial aid include scholarships, grants, private loans, and PLUS loans. Read up on ways to finance school.

Do I need to become licensed to work as a CNA?

Upon completing your CNA education, you’ll be required to pass a competency exam. Your name is then listed in your state’s registry.

Do CNAs have continuing education requirements?

Every two years, CNAs must complete at least 48 hours of continuing education. Often, employers will cover the costs of these courses.

Take the Next Step

With a strong job outlook and flexible work hours, the CNA role is a great entry point into the booming healthcare field. Most certification courses last 12 weeks or less, and plenty of schools offer online study options. Start searching for the school that suits you best.

Certified Nursing Assistant Career and Degree Guide


Complete Guide to CNA Classes


Here’s everything you need to know about CNA classes.

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