Certified Nursing Assistant

Embarking on a fulfilling career as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) begins with a few key steps. This guide outlines the path to becoming a CNA, from training programs to certification.
Certified Nursing Assistant

Table of Contents

Are you considering a career in nursing but want an alternative to lengthy college programs? Look no further – becoming a Certified Nursing Assistant might be the ideal choice for you! With a CNA certification, you can jumpstart your nursing career and gain valuable experience in a relatively short time. This pathway not only offers a fast entry into the healthcare field but also presents numerous opportunities for professional growth within the nursing profession, and beyond.

What Is a Certified Nursing Assistant?

Certified nursing assistants, or CNAs, provide basic care to patients in hospitals, schools, continuing care retirement communities, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities. Their job duties may include bathing and feeding, wound care, taking vital signs such as temperature and blood pressure, recording intake and output measurements, transporting patients to appointments or procedures, using medical supplies, and helping with basic mobility.

Nursing assistants also may help doctors and nurses during examinations or treatments, as well as provide emotional support to patients during difficult periods of treatment or recovery from medical procedures. While CNAs do not diagnose illnesses, they document changes in a patient’s condition and report these observations to the appropriate medical staff.

What Does a CNA Do?

Certified nursing assistants play a vital role in the healthcare system, providing essential support to both patients and licensed nurses. Their primary focus is on delivering compassionate and competent care to individuals who require assistance with their daily activities and medical needs. They are typically responsible for performing routine clinical tasks, such as changing sheets, taking medications, bathing patients, and assisting patients with activities of daily living.

Additionally, CNAs report any unusual information about their patients to licensed nursing staff. This information can include changes in mental status, pain, blood pressure, and any other pertinent information that may be helpful to the patient’s condition or recovery. 

Key Duties and Responsibilities

  • Measuring key patient indicators, such as temperature, heart rate, and oxygen saturation rate.
  • Asking patients about their symptoms and relaying this information to a supervising registered nurse, licensed practical nurse, or physician.
  • Recording observations in a patient chart, which becomes part of his or her ongoing medical record.
  • Feeding patients and monitoring their food and liquid intake
  • Helping to turn, lift, or transport disabled patients or those with temporary mobility issues.
  • Assisting patients with bathing, grooming, brushing teeth, and other types of personal hygiene.
  • Assisting with wound care and some medical procedures
  • Cleaning rooms and maintaining a sanitized environment

Skills All Certified Nursing Assistants Need

A CNA must develop a range of skills to ensure optimal patient care. Proficiency in anatomy, and the ability to monitor vital signs, and assess a patient’s condition are fundamental nursing competencies. These foundational skills are vital for creating a secure healthcare environment for both patients and staff. In light of the numerous skills required for this role, the top five most coveted CNA skills are discussed below.

Excellent Verbal and Written Communication

Communication is a vital skill for any healthcare professional who provides direct patient care. Nurses and nurse aides must be able to effectively communicate with patients, including explaining symptoms and prescriptions. Clear and concise written communication is also critical. Nursing assistants are responsible for documenting patients’ vitals, medications, and responses to treatment. If the information is not transcribed correctly, it could lead to dangerous misunderstandings.

Attention to Detail / Astute Observation Skills

CNAs must regularly check in on patients and monitor their conditions. The CNA job description requires a high level of vigilance that is often lacking in other professional fields. It is important that CNAs keep a keen eye on their patients and have a strong sense of awareness to notice potentially dangerous patient conditions. It is often up to a CNA to notice even the slightest changes in their client’s condition so they can alert other members of the medical team.

Time Management and Organizational Skills

Certified nursing assistants must know how to prioritize tasks and follow through with personal responsibilities. CNAs should know how to make the most out of every minute they are on the job and work independently with limited supervision. A CNA’s day will be filled with administrative and clinical tasks with multiple responsibilities. If a CNA is unable to stay on task and meet deadlines, they can put the safety of their patients and healthcare team at risk.

Interpersonal Skills - Empathy and Compassion

Interpersonal skills are a vital quality for nurses. CNAs must navigate delicate social situations with compassion, empathy, and grace. A majority of their day is spent as the patient’s main caregiver, interacting with patients, families, physicians, and other members of the medical team. If a CNA is unable to be empathetic and project a caring bedside manner, they will struggle to build rapport with their patients and the rest of the medical team.

Patient Care Skills

Nursing assistants must have hands-on patient care skills. CNAs assist patients by providing basic bedside care, such as turning, bathing, and grooming. They must also know how to properly position their patients to prevent further injury and promote healing. The more hands-on patient care skills a nurse assistant has, the better they will be at their job.

How to Become a CNA

Becoming a certified nurse assistant is fast and simple, at least when compared to the process for other medical and healthcare professions. While there is certainly a fair amount of work involved, there are few careers in healthcare that offer the fast-track qualifications and credentials that this profession does. The process of becoming a CNA can take less than a year, making it one of the most attractive options for those who want to enter the medical field without a college degree.

1. Earn a High School Diploma

Earning a high school diploma or its equivalent, like a GED, is the essential first step to becoming a certified nurse assistant. It serves as a fundamental requirement for enrolling in a CNA program, where you’ll acquire the necessary skills for the role. High school education provides foundational knowledge in subjects like biology and English, crucial for healthcare roles. It also fosters valuable soft skills such as time management and organization, vital in the fast-paced healthcare environment.

2. Enroll in a CNA Training Program

The second step in your journey to becoming a CNA is enrolling in a state-approved training program, which can be found at community colleges or vocational schools. These programs vary in length and format but generally teach the same core skills.

You must be at least 16 years old and have a clean criminal background check to gain admission to a CNA program, as CNAs have direct contact with patients and must provide care in a trustworthy and ethical manner.

3. Develop Basic Nursing Skills

While the length of CNA training programs varies from state to state, the typical state-approved education program will require a minimum of 75 hours of classroom instruction, plus time spent shadowing an experienced nurse or nurse caregiver. As you progress through the course, you will be required to take numerous assessments to demonstrate your knowledge and skills.

Most instruction time will be spent in a classroom learning about topics like anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and medical terminology. Courses will include an introduction to many aspects of healthcare with an emphasis on specific aspects of nursing care, like bathing, dressing, and patient feeding. A CNA program will prepare you, in a short amount of time, to communicate and interact with doctors and nurses, and to administer basic medical treatment as appropriate.

4. Gain Clinical Experience

After you complete your CNA schooling, you must complete an in-person clinical training session at a hospital or healthcare facility before you can take the exam and become certified. Federal regulations mandate that all CNA training programs include at least 16 hours of “hands-on” clinical experience, though most states exceed this minimum. This session at nursing care facilities will verify that you are able to handle the physical demands of the job, as well as confirm your level of knowledge and awareness of relevant nursing standards.

During this phase of your education, which is typically called, “clinical studies”, you will work under the supervision of licensed practical nurses and registered nurses who will mentor and instruct you. In your clinical studies, you will learn how to manage the day-to-day tasks of a CNA and will be given many opportunities to practice essential skills, such as conducting patient assessments, administering medications, and various other patient care activities.

5. Pass a State Certification Exam

Once you complete your in-person clinical training, you are eligible to take a state certification exam. The clinical skills exam is designed to verify that you have the essential knowledge and skills to administer appropriate nursing care. The National Nurse Aide Assessment Program (NNAAP) is used in 20 states to determine your eligibility for certification. The remaining states have their own exams that must be successfully completed in order to become a CNA.

CNA Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average certified nursing assistant in the United States earned a mean annual income of $36,220 in 2022. While this salary may not appear impressive when compared to the median annual wage of other nursing professionals, it’s worth emphasizing that nursing assistants do not need a formal degree. Unlike other healthcare careers that require a significant commitment of time and money to higher education, the education requirements to become a CNA can be completed in a short period of time at a relatively low cost.

Additionally, CNA salary expectations and job outlook improve with experience and continuing education. Top-earning CNAs earned over $45,940 per year according to the BLS. The top 10 highest-paying States for CNAs are:

StateHourly Mean WageAnnual Mean WageAnnual 90th Percentile Wage
Alaska$20.71$43,080$55,520
New York$19.56$40,680$47,800
California$19.12$39,760$49,040
District of Columbia$18.94$39,390$47,520
Oregon$18.67$38,830$47,520
Washington$18.40$38,270$46,550
Minnesota$17.66$36,730$46,490
Hawaii$17.64$36,680$47,520
Connecticut$17.36$36,110$46,330
Job Growth
4 %
Mean Annual Wage
$ 36220
Job Openings
209 k

Benefits of Becoming a CNA

Most CNAs agree that one of the greatest benefits of the profession is the sense of fulfillment and purpose they feel while caring for others. Whether they are in nursing care facilities helping patients with a serious disability, or simply providing companionship, CNAs are able to watch the positive impact they have on others.

The full job description of a CNA also provides a multitude of perks and rewards that go beyond the personal satisfaction of helping others. If you are wondering about the personal and professional benefits of working in this field, here are the top five benefits of becoming a certified nursing assistant:

Affordable Training

Many professions within the healthcare industry require a lengthy and expensive college degree plus additional continuing education to obtain entry-level credentials. For example, if you are interested in becoming a registered nurse, you will have to complete a multi-year degree program in nursing that can cost anywhere from $40,000 to more than $200,000 to complete. However, if you choose to become a nursing assistant, you will benefit from relatively fast and inexpensive training. CNA programs typically cost between $700 and $1,500 and can be completed in approximately four to twelve months.

Job Stability & Growing Job Market

Nurses working in the role of a CNA will experience greater job security than many other healthcare professionals. With an impressive career outlook and a workforce of approximately 1.4 million professionals, CNAs play a significant role in the healthcare field. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that demand for this profession will grow at a rate of 8% through 2030, which translates into significant job security.

Job Flexibility

Having the flexibility to negotiate and control the hours you work is a meaningful perk when you are looking for a job. Certified nursing assistants have the ability to choose the shifts and days they will work. If you love taking the afternoon off or prefer to work late-night hours, you will have the ability to do so. CNAs work full-time, part-time, mornings, evenings, weekends, and holidays.

Variety of Work Environments

As a certified nursing assistant, you can work in a variety of environments depending on your level of experience and preferences. In general, certified nursing assistants work in a wide range of settings, including hospitals and nursing homes, senior care facilities, rehabilitation centers, skilled nursing facilities, corporate offices, home health care services, and private practice offices. Each environment has its own set of distinct advantages, which provides the CNA with the opportunity to work in a location that best suits their needs.

CNA Careers Can Be a Springboard to RN Careers

Becoming a CNA can be an excellent starting point for other careers in health care. Many CNAs choose to pursue advanced careers in other nursing positions after gaining hands-on experience in an entry-level position. Registered nursing is one profession that is very popular among CNAs, who often choose to continue their career in this field.

CNAs who apply to a nursing school can leverage their experience to stand out among other applicants. Nursing schools often value or require a period of clinical experience as part of the application process, and CNAs can use the experience they have obtained to meet this requirement.

CNA Programs Near Me

Certified nursing assistant programs, often referred to as CNA programs, are specialized training courses designed to equip individuals with the essential skills and knowledge required to excel in the role of a certified nursing assistant. CNA classes are typically offered by vocational and technical schools, community colleges, and healthcare institutions. The primary goal is to prepare students for the responsibilities and challenges they will encounter when caring for patients in a variety of healthcare settings.

Read More