How to Become a CNA

how to become a cna

Are you looking for a healthcare career where you can help others but doesn’t require several years of college? Does the idea of working in a healthcare setting appeal to you? The idea of working as a nurse may sound appealing but the idea of having to attend college and wait years to begin working may not. Does that sound familiar? Ever consider working as a CNA? Wondering how to become a CNA? Continue reading and learn everything you need to know about CNAs, including requirements, career growth, salaries, and even how to become a CNA.

What is a CNA?

Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs), also known as certified nursing aides, are trained healthcare professionals who provide hands-on healthcare to patients under the supervision of a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or a registered nurse (RN). CNAs work in a variety of medical settings but are mostly found working in hospitals and nursing homes.

CNAs are found in many healthcare settings. What you may have thought was an LPN or RN helping you or a family member could very well have been a CNA. They help patients with their daily tasks like dressing, bathing, shaving, eating, and similar care that the patient cannot do on his or her own.

Career Outlook

CNAs play an important role in providing care to patients in hospitals, nursing homes, clinics, and other medical facilities. They are very much in demand and should be for quite a while to come. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports projected job growth of five percent for CNAs during the 2021-2031 decade.

This employment growth is about average for all occupations. They also predicted that an addition of about 220,200 new job openings per year for CNAs. These new job openings s will be due to CNAs retiring, changing occupations, and pursuing higher-level jobs in the nursing profession. The increasing number of older people with diseases, particularly those in nursing homes, puts a demand for more CNAs.

The one thing that could slightly hurt this profession is the financial cuts made by the government. There are currently about 1,310,090 CNAs in the U.S. according to the bureau. The BLS predicts there should be about 1,406,400 employed by 2031.The majority of CNAs work in nursing care facilities with the second highest employed at general medical and surgical hospitals.

CNAs are often required to work in the evenings, on weekends, and on holidays. Medical facilities like nursing homes and hospitals provide round-the-clock care, so CNAs may be required to work on back and night shifts.

The states that have the most employed CNAs include:

StateNumber employed
New York80,100


Although CNA wages used to be on the low side, they have increased in recent years. This may be because they are becoming more in demand every year. The BLS reports that CNAs earned an average annual salary of $35,760 with wages ranging from $28,030 to $45,940 as of May 2022. CNAs who are trained and certified in other areas typically experience higher wages.

Where you are employed and years of experience also can affect wages. Probably the biggest factor that can determine wage is the city/state in which you work. Location plays a big part in wage potential. Just look at the examples below.

The five states that offer the highest wages to CNAs include:

StateAnnual median salary
District of Columbia$43,820
New York$43,450

You can gain a real understanding of how wages vary from state to state by comparing the high-paying states with the states where the lowest wages were paid.

Lowest CNA wages by state

StateAnnual median salary

How to Become a CNA

Although becoming a CNA does not require a college degree, it does require some education and training. Most CNA programs offer a diploma or non-degree certificate program. A CNA program CNA can generally be completed in six to 12 weeks. The main purpose of the training programs, other than training, is to prepare the student for certification, which is required in many states. CNA programs offer coursework as well as clinical education. The training programs include courses in the following areas.

  • Taking vital signs
  • Performing CPR
  • Infection control
  • Human anatomy
  • Personal hygiene
  • Range of motion exercises
  • Basic caregiving
  • General safety
  • First aid skills

CNA programs can be found at hospitals, technical/vocational schools, and community colleges. The main prerequisites for a CNA program are a high school diploma or equivalent, criminal background check, TB test, and physical examination. When choosing a program, it’s important to choose one that’s accredited by the National League for Nursing Accredited Commission.

There are specific courses, programs, and exams that are required before you CNA become a CNA. However, to be a good CNA, there are skills the CNA should possess besides the basic requirements.

  • Patience – CNAs perform many basic tasks that may not always be pleasant, such as feeding, bathing, and grooming. CNAs need to have the patience to help keep the patient happy while still being professional.
  • Compassion – CNAs need a compassionate attitude to care for and help patients, many of whom may be very ill or dying.
  • Communication skills – A big part of a CNAs job is talking to and listening to patients. They must have good communication skills.
  • Physical strength and stamina – CNAs spend a lot of time on their feet and are often required to move or lift patients, which requires great strength and stamina.

Many schools offer online CNA programs. Online programs CNA be a great way to earn the credential at your convenience. Considering that students need to complete a clinical experience at a healthcare facility, only the courses CNA be taken online.

Day in the Life

CNAs help patients get through their daily activities and provide them with their basic care. CNAs working in hospitals are generally working with RNs and LPNs, but when they’re working at residential care and nursing facilities, they’re often the principal caregiver to patients. They do work under the supervision of RNs and LPNs. Some of their many duties include:

  • Helping patients get dressed
  • Assist patients with going to the bathroom
  • Taking and recording patients’ vital signs (temperature, blood pressure, pulse, heart rate)
  • Repositioning and turning patients in bed
  • Transferring patients to and from wheelchairs
  • Serving meals and assisting the patient with eating
  • Communicating with patients regarding their care and health concerns
  • Reporting all health information to nurses, doctors, and other medical professionals involved in the case
  • Providing comfort and mobility to patients
  • Performing light housekeeping duties
  • Providing hygiene and grooming
  • Documenting all reports and patient information

Although orderlies typically take care of things like changing linens, cleaning facilities and equipment, stocking supplies, and pushing patients in wheelchairs, CNAs often pitch in with those duties as well.

After working every day with the same patient and providing intimate care, it’s easy for the CNA and the patient to develop a bond or friendship. It often becomes difficult seeing the patient pass. This is especially true for CNAs working in nursing homes.

If you’ve ever been in the hospital and had the same professional helping you every day, it very well may have been a CNA. If you have a family member in a nursing home, and they have someone special taking care of their daily needs, it was probably a CNA. In many situations, CNAs are the healthcare professionals the patients see the most. The duties of a CNA can often be very hard, but they still do the job.

CNAs may be required to work very hard performing their duties, but most claim that the work is not just challenging but extremely rewarding as well. CNAs work alongside of not just RNs and LPNs but also doctors and other professionals providing direct patient care. Some states allow CNAs to become certified medication assistants (CMAs) with a little extra training.

Licensure, Certifications, and Continuing Education

States vary in their licensing and certification requirements for CNAs. In many of the states, CNAs are required to be certified or licensed. Once again, this varies from state to state. The states that do require CNA certification/licensure require that candidates pass a competency exam. Aspiring CNAs who have questions regarding licensure in his or her state should check directly with their state website for the most up-to-date information.

In most cases, this exam is the National Nurse Aide Assessment Program, which is created by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. About 21 states currently use the National Nurse Aide Assessment Program. Once the nursing assistant has passed the exam, the individual nursing assistant can be called a certified nursing assistant (CNA) or certified nursing aide depending on the state.

If the candidate passes on one part and fails on the other part, the candidate will only have to retake the failed part. The test can be retaken as many times as the individual, but after one year he or she will have to repeat the program and retake the competency exam. Once the test is passed, the nursing assistant will get his or her license. The initial CNA license is valid for two years. To maintain certification/licensure, the CNA must complete 48 hours of continuing education courses.

The CNA competency exam consists of two parts: a knowledge (written or oral) part and a skill test. Candidates must get a score of 80 percent or better to pass. You will typically have your results within a day or two of taking the exam. Once you’ve passed the test, your name will be put on the nurse aide registry.

In some states, a CNA cannot work as a CNA until they are added to the registry. The written portion of the exam consists of 70 multiple-choice questions that cover three areas: the role of the nurse aide; physical care skills; and psychosocial care skills. There are several categories within each of the three areas.

Students are usually allowed between 90 minutes and two hours to complete this portion. The skills portion covers 33 areas, such as hand hygiene; counting and recording pulse; putting on and removing PPE; cleaning dentures; giving modified baths; and dressing patients with weak arms; among several others. However, the student will only have to do five of the skills, and they will be chosen by the tester. They have 30 minutes to complete the skill portion.

Next Steps

Choosing to complete a CNA program is a fast and easy way to join the healthcare field and begin providing basic care to patients. Many CNAs find they love the work so much that they decide to advance their education and become LPNs or RNs.