How to Become a CNA: Classes, Training, Certification & Your Career

Are you a generous person who enjoys caring for others?

Do you take pride in your work and relish the chance to learn new things?

We’ve got the perfect opportunity for you!

The healthcare sector is crying out for more qualified, ambitious Certified Nurse Assistants (CNAs).

If that sounds like you, let’s have a chat.

CNAs work 1-2-1 with patients, ensuring they get the care they need to live happily and healthily.

This role involves spending time socializing with patients, supporting them during bathroom activities, helping to deliver meals, monitoring medication schedules, tending to wounds and bandages (if applicable), and assisting with other tasks where necessary.

It’s a complex and challenging job.

Yet, it has a huge impact on the quality of life for those individuals experiencing prolonged or permanent illness.

If it sounds like a role you could perform…

Keep reading for more information on the duties required of a Certified Nurse Assistant.


CNA Job Description

CNAs have a lot of important responsibilities but they’re not alone in their work. They are supported by a qualified nurse or doctor.

The CNA is expected to work without direct supervision in many cases.

However, their superior is available for advice, assistance, and intervention (where necessary).

As the role requires close physical contact with vulnerable patients, a CNA must be comfortable raising any concerns they have about a patient’s welfare or their own safety.

Assistants must be sensitive, compassionate, and have a desire to help people heal and recover from various types of physical trauma.

Duties

The role of Certified Nurse Assistant, in a general sense, involves caring for the day to day needs of patients.

This may involve any or all of the following:

  • Assisting with travel to and from the restroom
  • Providing support with bathing (performing daily washes in some cases)
  • Helping to feed meals or taking control of feeding
  • Physically turning/rolling low mobility patients
  • Transporting patients to and from appointments
  • Assisting with walking where required
  • Replacing dressings and cleaning wounds
  • Assisting senior staff members with surgery prep
  • Monitoring and recording patients’ vital signs

The daily duties required to depend on the type of patients a CNA is working with.

Some days may include all of the above tasks. Others may involve just one or two for each individual patient.

There is a lot of variety which is why the role suits those who can adapt quickly and multitask effectively.


Salary

The average CNA earns $30,000 per year.

Some earn more by providing particular skills, qualifications, or types of experience.

Highly experienced CNAs – with at least three years’ experience in the sector – may go on to earn as much as $36,000.

There is also the potential for transfers to other medical and healthcare departments.

An individual may work for two or three years as a CNA before moving into another unrelated hospital role.

The job provides a useful ‘foot in the door’ for graduates and those looking to start a new career.

Average National Salary: $30,000

$25K
10%
$27K
25%
$30K
50%
$33K
75%
$36K
90%

Average CNA Salary by State

State Salary
Alabama $29,419
Alaska $35,418
Arizona $31,223
Arkansas $29,016
California $35,229
Colorado $31,534
Connecticut $34,222
Delaware $33,210
Florida $30,047
Georgia $30,601
Hawaii $33,185
Idaho $29,852
Illinois $32,483
Indiana $30,901
Iowa $30,269
Kansas $30,016
Kentucky $29,763
Louisiana $30,300
Maine $30,490
Maryland $32,611
Massachusetts $34,476
Michigan $31,713
Minnesota $32,416
Mississippi $27,568
Missouri $30,198
Montana $28,725
Nebraska $29,057
Nevada $32,479
New Hampshire $32,163
New Jersey $35,033
New Mexico $28,909
New York $33,938
North Carolina $30,174
North Dakota $29,699
Ohio $30,882
Oklahoma $29,731
Oregon $31,561
Pennsylvania $31,624
Rhode Island $31,687
South Carolina $31,687
South Dakota $26,687
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
* Salary information last updated 2020

How To Become a Certified Nurse Assistant

Step 1 Complete A Program

The training requirements for a CNA vary depending on where you plan to work.

It’s a good idea to consult local policies on nursing qualifications and requirements before starting any training.

If you already have this information, you’re ready to go.

Let’s discuss some approaches to training and how to find a great program.

Two great places to look for training are the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing and the American Red Cross.

If you’re still in education, check with the careers advice team at your school.

Look out for information on training programs at community colleges, trade schools, and on social media.

The majority of CNA training programs last for 6 to 12 weeks.

Most don’t require their applicants to have college degrees.

However, any credentials you do have will boost your chance of acceptance.

The minimum requirement for most is a GED or high school diploma.

Applicants must normally be over the age of eighteen to start CNA training.

There are exceptions in a handful of states where the age requirement is sixteen or older.

Most programs deliver 75 hours (approximately) of classroom-based lessons designed to prepare learners for the technical, physical, and emotional demands of the CAN role.

In addition, there are clinic or hospital-based lessons where learners are expected to perform hands-on activities.

CNA training programs cover the following topics:

  • Infection management
  • Nutrition and wellbeing
  • Anatomy (clinical)
  • Physiology (clinical)
  • Nursing Skills
  • First Aid (inc. CPR)
  • Mobility and stretching
  • Legal and ethical issues (clinical)
  • Dementia care (and related conditions)
  • Monitoring vital signs

Step 2 Pass Licensure Exam

After passing the CNA program, trainees must take a licensure test.

Research all options carefully.

There are various factors to consider before deciding where to take the exam.

The criteria for participating in these tests vary from state to state.

What you need to demonstrate in one state might be different in another.

Joining criteria are based on the number of classroom hours and ‘outfield’ lessons completed.

Some states require more instruction than others.

The test itself is a state-regulated competency examination.

It includes a multiple-choice section and a module that asks learners to demonstrate practical skills in front of a test invigilator.

This next part is important.

Trainees who have passed a CNA program can start work immediately with employer approval.

They do not have to wait to pass the exam if the prospective employer agrees they’re ready for the role.

Trainees must pass their licensure test within four months of starting work as a new CNA.

Most people take the exam before accepting a role in a hospital or clinic but it’s a recommendation and not a prerequisite.

You cannot work indefinitely without the test.

CNA roles are awarded on the assumption a trainee has passed the licensure exam or is planning to do so.

Failure to take the test may result in suspension from a current role.

CNAs must complete 48 hours of ‘top-up’ education for every additional two years spent working in the role.

Step 3 Start Working

With the licensure test in hand (or scheduled), you can start to apply for CNA jobs.

The qualifications associated with the CNA position allow applicants to practice under the supervision of senior nurses.

Without further training, you cannot practice as an independent nurse or freelance healthcare professional.

CNA roles are available at hospitals, community clinics, walk-in centers, retirement homes, doctors’ surgeries, and walk-in centers.

If you’re interested in training for a more senior position as an independent nurse, an introductory career as a CNA can be very valuable.

It’s a great way to acquire hands-on experience and determine if the job is really right for you.

There are various options for those who want to take their studies further and gain more certifications.

If you want to work in a specialized medical field, for instance, you’ll need to return to education.

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Education for Certified Assistant Nurses

If you have a GED or high school diploma there are shorter programs, and if you can’t find any, at least you have that because it is a requirement of many CNA programs.

There are many medical facilities and colleges offering CNA programs.

A standard CNA program includes these topics and usually more:

  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Nursing Skills
  • Infection Control
  • CPR
  • Vital Signs and General Patent Assessment

In most programs, you will also have on-the-job training so you will get to try things for yourself as well.

Being certified is required to work as a CNA and the examination is on a per-state basis.

Video About The Career


Certification & Licensing

After you have been studying and finished with the program you enrolled in, you need to get certified.

Working without certification is not allowed, and it will be impossible to find work in any reputable medical facility without certification.

In every state, there is a CNA exam, some of it will be on paper in the form of a multiple-choice test, but you will also need to demonstrate your skills in-person.

It is highly recommended to go through some online CNA practice tests to get the hang of it and practice before you go to take your test.

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

Average Training Program Duration: 0-6 Months


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Job Outlook

If a trainee passes their program and licensure exam, they should have excellent job prospects.

There is a growing demand for skilled CNAs and plenty of work to go around for those who are passionate and motivated.

As the country’s population ages, the demand for retirement care continues to rise.

It is expected to peak in the next ten or twenty years when a generation of older citizens leads to unprecedented levels of senior care.

As far as job prospects, this is a fertile career to move into.

If you struggle to find a position today, it won’t always be the case in the future.

Be patient. Keep trying.

The downside to this specific career path is there’s no upward momentum.

There’s no promotion to a superior role without further education.

Additional certification is always required for those who want to practice independently or move into other areas of clinical healthcare or nursing.

Employment Growth Projection: 9%

1,513,200
2018
1,648,600
2028

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


Should You Become A Certified Nurse Assistant?

Overall Satisfaction

Overall Satisfaction: High

This is a career path with very specific personal requirements and challenges that are uncommon in other professions.

It is not the right path for everybody.

To succeed, future CNAs must have a genuine passion for providing care and helping vulnerable individuals live a dignified and rewarding life.

High pressure, high-stress circumstances are common and emotional resilience is key.

CNAs must be able to respond to all situations sensitively whether they involve bathing patients, calming patients who are distressed, or helping patients to the restroom.

These healthcare professionals are trusted with the most intimate aspects of people’s lives.

They need to be friendly, reliable, and kind in all situations.

For the right type of person – an individual who has long dreamed about entering the healthcare profession – work as a CNA can be life-affirming.

Through your actions, patients are given the opportunity to regain confidence and enjoy life.

Generally, CNA roles in hospitals are more demanding than those in local clinics and surgeries.

Average Salary

Average Salary: High

When compared with other medical and healthcare roles, the salary expectations for CNA roles are dishearteningly low.

It’s why so many assistant nurses choose to further their education and move into different or tangentially related positions.

For new nurses, the salary may not be so unappealing.

In 2019, the average wage for a recently trained CNA was $28,000 to $30,000.

The problem is with the lack of upward momentum.

To earn significantly more than this, some form of further education is almost always required.

Most people don’t enter the profession because they want to make a lot of money.

They choose it because they want to make a difference.

Job Growth Outlook

Job Growth Outlook: High

Demand for CNAs is predicted to increase by 9% over the next decade and reach unprecedented levels within twenty or thirty years.

Unlike many industries, there is a guaranteed need for nurse assistants due to the country’s rapidly expanding elderly population.

Education Duration

Education Duration: 0-6 Months

There are various steps on the journey to becoming a qualified CNA.

The first is to begin training with an approved program.

After passing the program, a learner may take their licensure test and become fully credentialed.

The bulk of the training lasts around six months though CNA programs differ from state to state.

Some are as brief as two weeks.

It depends on where you’re starting from – do you have prior knowledge or is the field completely new – and whether you plan to apply for a position as soon as possible.

For most, it is useful to take the time and complete a longer course.

It can lead to a better salary when a role in a hospital or clinic is eventually sought.

Personal Skills Needed

Personal Skills Needed

We’ve covered some of the skills needed to be a successful CNA.

Aside from emotional resilience and adaptability, these professionals must also have a reasonable degree of physical fitness, particularly if working at a large hospital.

They may be expected to lift, move, roll, and transport patients.

The job can be tiring because it involves many hours of face to face contact with sick or physically impaired individuals.

The ability to remain calm, amicable, and approachable is essential no matter what the situation.

Some of the interpersonal skills required for this role include:

  • Superb communication skills
  • Empathy and sensitivity
  • Patience
  • Precision (care for every task)
  • Emotional resilience
  • Conflict resolution skills
  • Excellent time management skills
  • Ability to organize oneself/patients
  • Great bedside manner
  • Ability to draw on training/education
  • Critical thinking skills


Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Does Completing a CNA Program Make Me a Certified Nurse?

Completing a CNA training program and taking the licensure test certifies an individual to operate as a nurse assistant only.

Graduates of these programs can practice under the supervision of senior nurses.

Without further training, they cannot work independently and must report to a more qualified professional.

To become an independent, highly qualified nurse, additional training is required.

If you’re determined to reach this level, it’s useful to view the CNA program as a fast track into the healthcare sector.

It’s a necessary stepping stone from which to enhance your skills.

Q. Do CNAs Administer Medications?

CNA responsibilities are different depending on where you choose to study and work.

However, it is common for this role to include the administration of basic medications.

Sometimes, hospital policy requires the CNA to be supervised during this process.

The delivery of more invasive procedures is, again, determined by hospital and statewide policies.

Many hospitals require CNAs to perform (or at least assist with) tasks such as the insertion of cannulas, catheters, and other medical devices.

Newly trained CNAs receive ‘on the job’ support from an experienced team of nurses and healthcare professionals.

They are not left supervised to carry out tasks they do not feel comfortable performing.

When combined with their CNA program and licensure exam, this support forms a robust network of easily accessible resources.

Regardless of how recently they underwent training, CNAs are held accountable for their actions in a ward or clinic.

They must adhere to clearly stated ethical and legal rules.

If they do not, they may face suspension and an investigation depending on the severity of the transgression.

Q. Do I Need To Be Physically Strong To Be A CNA?

A reasonable degree of physical fitness is expected though CNAs do not need to be a particular weight or height.

If you can move around the hospital comfortably all day and transport patients between locations, your current fitness is fine.

There are times when CNAs need to manually roll patients in their beds or lift patients into wheelchairs.

This is hard work when dealing with larger patients but nurses do not operate alone.

There should always be somebody close by who can assist with physically challenging jobs.

Q. What Are The Downsides To Being A CNA?

The responsibilities some CNAs view as major downsides are the same tasks others take great pride in.

So, it’s difficult to say for sure.

For newly trained assistants, dealing with bathroom breaks and personal hygiene can be tough at the start.

However, with the right attitude, assisting patients during intimate acts (bathing, going to the toilet, etc) quickly becomes just another aspect of the job.

Individuals who thrive in these professions are not easily embarrassed.

They understand that cleaning and dealing with patients’ bodily functions is a key part of enabling them to live happy, healthy lives.

The days are long and often physically exhausting.

What do you get for your efforts?

The opportunity to change somebody’s life for the better.

The great thing about careers in nursing is the people who pursue them usually know what they’re getting into.

They understand hospitals aren’t pretty places.

They can be emotionally trying and downright devastating sometimes.

They also offer a glimpse of human life and human hope that cannot be found anywhere else.


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