How to Become a Certified Nursing Assistant

Unlock the Door to this Rewarding Healthcare Profession

Young medical worker checking patient fluids

If you’ve gone to a hospital or nursing care facility, chances are, you’ve seen a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) hard at work. In the medical field, these healthcare professionals perform an invaluable service by providing basic care and helping patients with daily living activities. If you’re interested in playing a vital, supportive role in the healthcare industry, a career as a CNA could be your ideal path.

Our career guide will teach you everything you need to know about becoming a Certified Nursing Assistant, including the educational requirements, certifications, and daily tasks. We will also cover how long it generally takes you to launch into this new career.

Is becoming a CNA right for you? Click here to see more careers highlighted on our list of the best entry-level medical jobs.

Certified Nursing Assistant Definition

What Is a Certified Nursing Assistant?

Certified Nursing Assistants provide primary care while helping patients with activities related to daily living. In addition, CNAs may be the principal caregivers in nursing or residential care facilities.

Certified Nursing Assistant: Job Description

What Does a Certified Nursing Assistant Do?

Certified Nursing Assistants are part of a healthcare team under the supervision of Licensed Practical or Licensed Vocational Nurses and Registered Nurses. Some of their everyday tasks include cleaning patients, helping them use the bathroom, measuring vital signs, serving meals, and more. Certified Nursing Assistants are often the primary caregivers in nursing and residential care facilities.

Certified Nursing Assistant Duties

Some of the day-to-day responsibilities of CNAs include the following:

  • Cleaning and bathing patients
  • Helping patients use the toilet and dress
  • Turning, repositioning, and transferring patients between beds and wheelchairs
  • Listening to and recording patients’ health concerns and reporting that information to nurses
  • Measuring a patient’s vital signs, such as blood pressure or temperature
  • Serving meals and helping patients eat

Certified Nursing Assistant Skills

Most Certified Nursing Assistants possess excellent communication skills. This is because they must not only listen but respond to their patient’s concerns. And relay this information to other healthcare workers to sure there is continuity of care. To excel in this role, it’s helpful to be compassionate, patient, and physically healthy. You’ll spend most of the time on your feet. You will also need to lift or move patients.

Certified Nursing Assistant Hours & Work Environment

The majority of Certified Nursing Assistants work 40 hours per week. Because hospitals and nursing care facilities provide care 24 hours a day, Certified Nursing Assistants might need to work nights, weekends, or holidays. It’s essential to lift patients properly, as this profession has one of the highest rates of injuries. However, Certified Nursing Assistants often receive training on proper lifting patients, which can significantly reduce the risk of injury.

Healthcare worker assisting a female patient

Certified Nursing Assistant Schooling & Certification

How Long Does It Take to Become a Certified Nursing Assistant?

What Degree Do You Need to Be a Certified Nursing Assistant?

Completing the required education to become a Certified Nursing Assistant can be done relatively quickly. Typically, Certified Nursing Assistants must complete a state-approved program and pass the state’s competency exam. Keep in mind that specific requirements vary by state. Be sure to check with state boards of nursing or health for more information.

Like any worthwhile goal, a career as a CNA will seem more attainable if it is broken down into individual steps. Below is a step-by-step guide to the education, experience, and certifications needed to become a Certified Nursing Assistant:

1. Enroll in a Certified Nursing Assistant Diploma Program

Many Certified Nursing Assistants begin their career by completing a state-approved educational program. The coursework includes both instruction on the principles of nursing and supervised clinical work. These programs are available in high schools, community colleges, vocational and technical schools, hospitals, and nursing homes.

In addition, Certified Nursing Assistants may complete a short period of on-the-job training to learn about their employer’s policies and procedures.

2. Obtain Certification with a Major Professional Organization

While specific requirements vary by state, Certified Nursing Assistants often need to obtain a state-issued license or certification. After you have earned your diploma, you must typically pass a competency exam, which will allow you to use state-specific titles.

Typically, the competency exam consists of a written and a clinical skills test. The written test measures your mastery of knowledge and skills. You will have 90 minutes to complete the exam, which consists of 60 multiple-choice questions. On the other hand, the clinical skills test requires that you perform tasks in front of an evaluator. You will be asked to demonstrate five duties in 30 minutes.

Certified Nursing Assistants who pass the competency exam are placed on a state registry. Remember that you must be on the state registry before working in a nursing home. Some states have additional requirements, such as continuing education and a criminal background check. Be sure to check with your state board of nursing or health for more information.

Healthcare worker measuring a patient's blood pressure

3. Seek Employment as a Certified Nursing Assistant

After you’ve completed a formal program and obtained certification, it’s time to seek employment as a Certified Nursing Assistant. Ask your college’s career services team for assistance—they often help graduates look for open positions—or start applying to jobs on career websites like Indeed or LinkedIn.

How Much Does It Cost to Earn a Certified Nursing Assistant Diploma?

Some schools charge around $5,000 for tuition but remember that this amount doesn’t always include necessities like books, lab fees, room and board, etc. However, others may offer cheaper tuition costs or better financing options. When researching schools, remember to look for accredited institutions that volunteer their tuition rates and additional fees, so you know what you are signing up for.

Certified Nursing Assistant Salary

How Much Do Certified Nursing Assistants Make?

According to the latest data from the BLS, CNAs earn an average annual salary of about $33,000, which equals approximately $16.00 in hourly pay. The highest-paid Certified Nursing Assistants tend to work in junior colleges or scientific research and development services. The top 10% can even earn more than $44,000 per year.

Highest-Paying Industries for Certified Nursing Assistants

This chart shows the top-paying industries for Certified Nursing Assistants:

Industry Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Junior Colleges $29.48 $61,310
Scientific Research and Development $21.43 $44,580
Insurance Carriers $20.58 $42,810
Federal Executive Branch $20.12 $41,850
Technical and Trade Schools $19.36 $40,280

Highest-Paying States for Certified Nursing Assistants

State Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Alaska $20.71 $43,080
New York $19.56 $40,680
California $19.12 $39,760
District of Columbia $18.94 $39,390
Oregon $18.67 $38,830

Highest-Paying Cities for Certified Nursing Assistants

City Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
San Jose, California $22.93 $47,690
San Francisco, California $22.84 $47,500
Salinas, California $21.26 $44,210
Fairbanks, Alaska $21.10 $43,880
Napa, California $20.34 $42,310
New York, New York $20.17 $41,940
Anchorage, Alaska $19.99 $41,580
Santa Cruz, California $19.74 $41,070
Santa Rosa, California $19.60 $40,770
Seattle, Washington $19.51 $40,590

What is the Job Outlook for Certified Nursing Assistants?

The BLS projects the number of Certified Nursing Assistants’ jobs to increase by 5% by 2031. Over the next decade, about 220,200 jobs will open for Certified Nursing Assistants. Some of those openings may result from the need to replace workers who are retiring and exiting the workforce. With the healthcare industry expected to keep growing, there will likely be a continuing demand for well-trained CNAs.

Healthcare worker assisting an Asian woman

Start Your Career as a Certified Nursing Assistant

If you have an avid desire to help others—and you don’t mind a physically demanding job—then becoming a Certified Nursing Assistant could be a very satisfying career path for you. Find the right Certified Nursing Assistant program and get started on the road to a rewarding career today.