How to Become a CNA:
The Definitive Guide


Do you love to take care of people?

Are you compassionate and enjoy taking things slow?

You may be in the right place!

The world needs more Certified Nurse Assistants (CNAs).

Maybe that’s you!

As a Certified Nurse Assistant, you will be one on one with patients, helping them with medications, taking care of bandages, assisting with bathroom breaks and meals, and much more.

Does this sound like something that you would be interested in?

Then read on!

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CNA Job Description

A certified nurse assistant works under a registered nurse or doctor, in order to make sure that the patients receive the care that they need.

As a CNA, you will work directly with patients to help them with everyday needs.

This can include things like helping them get dressed, going to the bathroom, giving them medications, possibly even helping them eat if they are unable to do so.

The job can be demanding, and it takes a special person with patience and empathy, but it is worth it in the end.

Duties

As a certified nurse assistant, you will be responsible for mostly the daily physical care of your patients.

Some of the things that you can expect to do on a daily basis are:

  • Helping to and from bathroom breaks
  • Showering or helping with showering
  • Feeding or helping with food
  • Turn bed-ridden patients
  • Transport patients to different areas
  • Help with walking
  • Change dressings or help with surgical prep
  • Check vitals

This is just a basic list of the things you may do throughout the day, it’s possible you will do many more things in one day, and only a few other days.


Salary

The salary for a certified nurse assistant is typically around $31,000 a year.

It’s possible to make more, depending on how much education you’ve had, the certifications you have received, and how many years you’ve worked in the field.

It’s possible to make upwards of $36,000 a year, but this usually happens after you’ve worked as a certified nurse assistant for a few years.

This job can help you get your foot into the medical door, the more experience you have, the more job opportunities will be created for you.

The more certifications and specializations you acquire, the likelier it’ll be to make more money.

Average National Salary: $31,000

$28K
$29K
$31K
$33K
$36K
10%
25%
50%
75%
90%
*Salary information last updated 2019

Average Annual Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
Alabama$29,691
Alaska$35,521
Arizona$31,328
Arkansas$29,224
California$35,395
Colorado$31,592
Connecticut$34,286
Delaware$33,272
Florida$30,103
Georgia$30,657
Hawaii$33,246
Idaho$29,907
Illinois$32,543
Indiana$30,958
Iowa$30,325
Kansas$30,071
Kentucky$29,818
Louisiana$30,356
Maine$30,547
Maryland$32,671
Massachusetts$34,476
Michigan$31,713
Minnesota$31,713
Mississippi$31,713
Missouri$31,713
Montana$31,713
Nebraska$29,057
Nevada$32,479
New Hampshire$32,163
New Jersey$35,033
New Mexico$28,962
New York$34,000
North Carolina$31,713
North Dakota$29,754
Ohio$30,939
Oklahoma$29,786
Oregon$31,561
Pennsylvania$31,624
Rhode Island$33,398
South Carolina$29,659
South Dakota$27,124
Tennessee$28,788
Texas$31,116
Utah$30,021
Vermont$30,515
Virginia$31,497
Washington$33,842
West Virginia$28,075
Wisconsin$31,212
Wyoming$28,202

Annual Average Salary: Top 5 States

The top earning state in the field is Alaska, where the average salary is $35,521

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

Alaska - $35,521
California - $35,395
New Jersey - $35,033
Massachusetts - $34,476
Connecticut - $34,286

How to Become a Certified Nurse Assistant

Step 1Complete a Program

Training programs are different depending on which state that you live in.

You will need to check local regulations before applying for a program.

If you’ve already done that, great!

Let’s talk about what else you can do to get your foot in the door.

You can find training programs from the American Red Cross or even the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing.

Other places you may be able to find programs are at your local community college, trade schools, and even online.

These programs can last between six and twelve weeks, depending on where you go.

You won’t need a college degree to start this program, only a GED or high school diploma.

Most states require you to be 18 years old before you can attend one of these programs.

There are a few states that will allow 16 and 17-year-olds to attend the program.

Most programs will allow you 75 hours of classroom education.

There will also be clinical classes where you will learn hands-on skills.

Step 2Pass Licensure Exam

After you pass the program, you are going to want to take the licensure exam.

There are many things to take into consideration when looking for where to take the exam.

Each state has different laws about what is necessary.

Some of the things that you’ll want to look out for are how many classroom hours you’ve acquired, and how much clinical time you’ve done.

The exams can vary on the number of questions there are, as well as how long it will take to finish.

One of the things that you’ll want to keep in mind is that you will likely be able to work for about four months without getting a certification, but that doesn’t mean you can do it forever.

Most employers will allow this, but many will not hire without licensing or the promise of licensure.

Step 3Start Working

Once you’ve passed your exam, you’re going to want to apply, apply, apply to jobs.

It’s important to remember that you will only be able to practice under registered nurses, so you won’t be able to become an independent or freelance nurse assistant.

Depending on your preference of where you want to work, you can apply for jobs at hospitals, outpatient care centers, doctor’s offices, nursing homes, the list goes on.

Although being a certified nurse assistant is a rewarding job, it can be difficult as well.

If you want to look into becoming a registered nurse, or another career, then it’s important to keep in mind that this job as a CNA will get your foot in the door.

Go Back to School

Now that you’ve got your foot in the door, it’s time to go back to school.

Of course, this isn’t necessary, but it will help you to advance in your career.

Whether you want to become certified in another area, or you want to work within a specialized field, going back to school will help your career no matter what.

If this is something that you’re interested in, you’ll want to check out your state’s requirements to see what you are able to do.

Many students go back to school to become a registered nurse, or to brush up on their skills.

Whatever you want to do is up to you!


Education

As long as you have your high school diploma or a GED, the program to become a certified nurse assistant won’t take you very long.

Typically, you’ll need to complete a 6-12 week program.

You can do this at a community college or medical facility.

You may also find a program through the American Red Cross.

Check around in your area to find where you can participate in a program.

While taking classes to become a certified nurse assistant, you’ll learn things like:

  • Infection control
  • Nutrition
  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Basic nursing skills
  • Adult CPR
  • Range of motion exercises
  • Legal and ethical aspects of health care
  • Caring for people with dementia and other conditions
  • How to take vital signs

In a certified nursing assistant program, you will also have lots of hands-on experience.

Most training programs are two parts, first the classroom and lab, then onto clinics where you can try out your skills on real people.

As long as you have completed the classroom portion of the program, then you can move on to clinical.

During clinical training, you will work directly with residents in a specific facility.

This could be a nursing home, a hospital, or somewhere else that your program has designated.

This will give you much-needed hands-on experience.

During clinical, you will be supervised by a licensed nurse, so you won’t be all by yourself.

Through your clinical, you will experience what it’s like to work as a certified nurse assistant on a day to day basis.

Federal law requires that you must complete this training, as well as passing a state competency exam and be placed on a state Nurse Aide Registry.

So, in order to get a job as a certified nurse assistant, you must pass a program as well as the exam.

Video About The Career


Licensing

After you have completed your certified nurse assistant program, you are going to want to become certified.

You will not be able to work in the United States without a certification.

The variations on the laws and the exams vary from state to state, so you will certainly want to contact your in-state licensure committee.

If you want to become licensed in your state, you’ll need to pass a state-issues competency exam.

There will be a multiple-choice portion of the exam, but in most cases, you’ll typically have to demonstrate what you have learned in the classroom and through experience.

In order to stay licensed as a certified nurse assistant, you will have to complete 48 hours of continued education every two years.

Some of the things that you can expect on the test include:

Roleplay or scenarios in which you will have to explain what you are doing as you do it, why you are doing it, and how it helps the patient.

You’ll be evaluated based on the demonstration you give to explain what you learned in the program that you took.

Then you can expect to take a written test.

The test can vary from state to state, and even program to program.

Typically, the test consists of multiple-choice questions, which can take around two hours to complete.

There are many online practice tests to take if you are worried about what will be on your exam.

Some websites will give you hundreds of questions so that you can make sure you know every aspect of the field.

Taking practice tests can also help you to retain information so that you can pass the real exam.

Once you have passed the test, you are eligible to become a certified nurse assistant!

Congratulations!

Now the real fun begins.

Certification Example:

cna certification example

Average Training Program Duration: 0-6 Months

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Job Outlook

The job outlook for a certified nurse assistant looks great.

Compared to other careers in the same field, a certified nurse assistant has a much higher job outlook.

There has been a growing demand for services like those in a long care facility.

Baby boomers are growing older, which means that they are going to need people to take care of them.

Certified nurse assistants can administer medications, help with meals and bedtime, which will allow the older generation to worry less about the little things.

One of the issues with this career is that there isn’t much upward mobility, if you want to do something else, you’ll need to either go back to school or find other certifications and specialties.

Employment Growth Projection: 9%

1,513,200
2016
1,648,600
2026

That's a higher than average projected growth of 135,400 jobs.

Certified Nurse Assistant: Interest Over Time


Should You Become a Certified Nurse Assistant?

Overall Satisfaction

Overall Satisfaction: High

This job is not for everyone.

Those that can handle high-stress situations will do well within this career.

Those that get stressed out quickly or have a hard time taking criticism will not find this job to their satisfaction.

There is little flexibility with scheduling and work hours for this career.

It’s also a career that doesn’t allow for much upward mobility unless education and certifications are acquired.

Certified nurse assistants that work in hospitals find it more stressful than CNA’s who work in smaller offices.

Average Salary

Average Salary: Low

As of 2019 in the United States, the average salary for a certified nurse assistant is $31,000 a year.

Typically, you can expect a range from $28,000 a year to almost $36,000 a year within this career.

Some important factors can make a difference in the range of salary for certified nurse assistants.

For example, those that have higher education, whether that’s through a university or trade school, certifications, and experience in the field will have a higher salary than those just starting out.

Job Growth Outlook

Job Growth Outlook: Medium

Within the next ten years, the career of a certified nurse assistant is looking to grow around nine percent.

This is faster than other similar occupations.

As the baby boom generation grows older, there will need to be more certified nurse assistants to take care of them.

Certified nurse assistants can work in hospitals, retirement communities, doctor’s offices, and residential care facilities.

Due to the variety of places to work, this job outlook is great compared to many in the same field.

Education Duration

Education Duration: 0-6 Months

The time it takes you to go through a program really depends on where you start your program.

Some programs can take as little as two weeks, while others can take up to 16.

Depending on how much knowledge you have about this career, you may want to opt for the longer program.

You want to make sure that you have obtained as much information as you possibly can.

Remember, just because the program only takes two weeks, you still have to take an exam at the end and pass it.

Personal Skills Needed

Personal Skills Needed

One of the important things to remember about being a certified nurse assistant is that you will be in direct contact with patients for the majority of your day.

It can be exhausting, but there are some skills that you will need to have in order to work as a certified nurse assistant.

These include:

  • Communication Skills
  • Compassion
  • Patience
  • Attention to detail
  • Physical and emotional strength
  • Time management and organizational skills
  • Respectful bedside manner.
  • Basic medical knowledge
  • Problem-solving
  • Conflict resolution


Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What Is the Average Salary for a CNA?

The average salary for a certified nurse assistant is around $31,000.

Those that work in the field for a long time tend to make more than people who are just starting out.

Certifications and specializations can earn you more money as well.

This is certainly not the highest paying job in the medical field, but it is a step in the door for people who are interested in pursuing this kind of career.

It’s possible to make up to $36,000 and as low as $28,000.

That all depends on where you work as well, especially if you work at a hospital compared to a nursing home, you will see a difference in wages.

Q. How Long Does It Take to Become a CNA?

The amount of time that it takes to become a certified nurse assistant depends on what program you enroll in.

Some programs are as short as two weeks, while some can be as long as sixteen.

Shorter programs may be easier for people who already have a background in the medical field, so completing a longer program will help out in the long run.

It can also depend on when you take your licensing exam as well, some people do it right away after graduating from the program, and some do it four months after they have already started a job.

Q. What Does a CNA Do?

A certified nurse assistant does many things throughout the day.

Typically, the day is started by helping patients with vitals, getting them out of bed and to the bathroom.

You’ll also administer medications, help them with meals, as well as personal hygiene like showering.

You may have to dress or change dressings on wounds, rotate the patient in bed so they don’t get bed sores, help them walk, and much more.

The day will be full of lots of walking and lifting, so you will want to make sure that you have physical strength.

Q. What Is the Demand for CNAs?

The demand for certified nurse assistants is fairly high at the moment, though it might go down in the next ten years as more people are accepting in-home health care.

With the baby boomer generation getting older, there is a necessity for certified nurse assistants in hospitals as well as in nursing homes.

Certified nurse assistants are important parts of the medical field, they help in a variety of ways, and lighten the load on nurses and doctors so they can treat patients.

Q. How Much Does It Cost to Become a CNA?

Again, this will vary on the school that you choose and the program you enroll in.

On average, you can expect to pay around $1,200 for the program.

Then you need to remember that you are going to need books, and other materials for school, which can be around $500-$1,000 as well.

When it comes to the exam, you will spend around $125 to take that.

Then you will need to register with the state that you are in, which comes to roughly $50.

All in all, you can expect to pay around $2,500.


Certified Nurse Assistant Information by State


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