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 Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs).

CNAs work one-on-one 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
  • Assisting with other nursing tasks where necessary.

It’s a complex and challenging job.

Yet, it has a huge impact on the quality of life of patients with long-term illnesses.

If you think you can perform this role, then read on to learn everything you need to know about CNAs.


What a Certified Nursing Assistant Does

CNAs have a lot of important responsibilities, most of which are supported by a senior nurse.

In most cases, they’re expected to work without the need for constant supervision.

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

Further, this role requires close physical contact with vulnerable patients.

As such, CNAs must (be):

  • Sensitive and compassionate
  • Comfortable raising any concerns about a patient’s welfare or their own safety
  • Have a desire to help patients heal and recover from their physical trauma

Duties

In general, a CNA’s role involves caring for the day-to-day needs of their patients.

What they do every day depends on the type of patients assigned to them.

That’s why becoming a CNA suits those who can adapt quickly and multitask effectively.

Their patient may need some nursing services like:

  • Assistance with travel to and from the restroom
  • Personal support with bathing, performing daily washes at times
  • Help with eating meals/feeding
  • Physically turning/rolling low mobility patients
  • Transport patients to and from appointments
  • Assistance with walking where required
  • Replace dressings and clean wounds
  • Assist senior staff members with surgery preparation
  • Monitor and record patients’ vital signs

Expected Average Salary of a Certified Nursing Assistant

A CNA earns an average wage of $30,000 per year.

Some earn more by showcasing particular skills, qualifications, or extensive experiences.

CNAs working at least three years in the sector may go on to earn as much as $36,000.

These highly-experienced CNAs may even get transferred to other medical and healthcare departments.

This occurrence proves that this job provides an entry for CNAs looking to scale the career ladder.

Average National Salary: $30,000

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

Average CNA Salary by State

StateSalary
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 2022

How to Become a Certified Nursing Assistant

Step 1 Complete a CNA Program

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

So before you proceed, it’s best to research state policies on nurse assistant qualifications and requirements.

We recommend that you consult with the careers advice team or guidance counselors at your high school.

You may also lookup for information at your local community colleges, trade schools, and even on social media.

Once you have this information, then you can start looking for or enrolling in a CNA program

To find a program that meets your preferences, most aspiring CNAs will go to:

  • Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing
  • American Red Cross

In order to be admitted, most schools don’t require you to have a college degree.

At the least, you will present your high school diploma or its GED equivalent.

However, any credentials you do have will boost your chances of admission into the program.

Also, you must be over 18 years old to receive CNA training.

In some states, 16-year-olds are accepted and allowed to undergo the training.

Most CNA training programs last for 6 to 12 weeks.

In that time, you will complete about 75 hours of classroom-based learning.

The lessons are designed to prepare you for the technical, physical, and emotional demands of being a CNA.

On top of this, you will receive hands-on lessons at the school’s or a partner institution’s clinic or hospital.

Step 2 Pass the CNA Licensure Exam

After completing the CNA program, you will then take a licensure exam.

The thing is, you have to consider some factors beforehand, especially if you want to take the exam in another state.

Note that the criteria for participating in the exam vary from state to state.

One such example is the joining criteria.

The joining criteria are based on the number of classroom hours and “outfield” lessons completed.

In some states, they may require you to acquire more instruction, while others may require less.

So we encourage you to research all options carefully.

In regards to the licensure, it is a state-regulated competency examination.

It includes a:

  • Multiple-choice section
  • Module that asks you to demonstrate practical skills in front of an invigilator

If you pass, you will become a duly-recognized CNA.

Step 3 Get Employed as a CNA

With the license in hand, you can now start to apply for jobs as a CNA.

You can work at any of these health care facilities:

  • Hospitals
  • Community clinics
  • Walk-in centers
  • Retirement homes

As you know, your position will only allow you to practice under the supervision of senior nurses.

Important Advisory

In the usual practice, you must take the licensure exam before getting a job.

However, this is only a recommendation, not a prerequisite.

In fact, you may enter the workforce immediately after completing the CNA program.

This is only allowable if:

  • The prospective employer sees that you’re ready to take on the role; and,
  • You will take and pass the licensure exam within four months after getting employed

If you’ve already taken the exam, then with the employer’s consent, you can start working without waiting for the exam results.

Remember: CNA roles are awarded on the assumption that you’ve passed or planned to take the exam.

You can’t work indefinitely without taking the exam at some point.

Being certified is required to work as a CNA.

Failure to do so may result in suspension from the current role.

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Education and Training of a Certified Nursing Assistant

Many academic institutions offer CNA programs across the U.S.

In the program, you will be taught the following topics:

  • Infection control and management
  • Nutrition and well-being
  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Nursing skills
  • First aid (including CPR)
  • Mobility and stretching
  • Legal and ethical issues
  • Dementia care and related conditions
  • Monitoring vital signs
  • General patient assessment

The curriculum also requires on-the-job training so you can receive hands-on experience of the work expected from you.

Video About The Career


Certification and Licensing

After completing the CNA program, you will then need to be certified.

Although you can work with the conditions mentioned above, the bottom line is you must be a CNA to continue to work.

No reputable healthcare facility will employ or continue to employ you in such a case.

Moving on, all states have CNA exams, and the requirements are on a per-state basis.

In the exam, as previously stated, you will:

  • Answer a multiple-choice questions
  • Undergo skills assessment

It’s highly recommended to go through some online CNA practice tests to get the hang of it.

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

To retain this designation, you will complete 48 hours of continuing education every two years.

Average Training Program Duration: 0-6 Months


Job Outlook

There is a growing demand for skilled CNAs, and plenty of work to go around for the highly competent.

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, leading to unprecedented levels of senior care.

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

With education and license attained, you will certainly receive excellent job prospects.

And if you struggle to find a position today, just be patient and keep trying.

You will get the job you want at the healthcare facility of your choice eventually.

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

There’s no promotion to a superior role without you getting further education and additional certification.

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 Nursing Assistant?

Overall Satisfaction

Overall Satisfaction: High

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

You’ll find that CNA roles in hospitals will have higher demands than in other departments.

And so, it’s not for everybody.

Intense pressure and stress are common here, and emotional resilience is key to combating them.

To succeed, future CNAs must:

  • Have a genuine passion for providing health care
  • Want to help vulnerable individuals live well
  • Be able to respond to all situations sensitively
  • Be friendly, reliable, and kind

After all, you’re entrusted with the most intimate aspects of people’s lives.

To the right person, working as a CNA can be life-affirming.

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

Average Salary

Average Salary: High

Compared to health care roles, the salary expectations for CNA roles are dishearteningly low.

It’s why so many nurse assistants choose to further their education and move into more advanced positions.

For new nurse assistants, however, the current salary offers may not be so unappealing.

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

And they’re satisfied with this.

Mostly because they entered this profession because it’s their calling, their passion.

They want to make a difference, and the money’s just a bonus.

Job Growth Outlook

Job Growth Outlook: High

Demand for CNAs is predicted to increase by 9% over the next decade.

And within 20 to 30 years, it will reach unprecedented levels.

The country’s rapidly expanding elderly population has created a guaranteed need for nurse assistants.

Education Duration

Education Duration: 0-6 Months

There are many steps to take to become a qualified CNA.

The first is to begin training with an approved program.

Training duration varies from state to state, but it usually lasts from two weeks up to six months.

Of course, the pace at which you take the course affects the completion time as well.

Most of it depends on your starting point.

Do you have prior knowledge and want to improve your qualifications?

Are you a newbie and want to start from the very basics?

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

In this way, it can lead to a better salary offer once they enter the healthcare industry.

Then, after completing the program, you’ll take and pass their licensure exam.

Doing so makes you a fully-credentialed healthcare professional.

Personal Skills Needed

Personal Skills Needed

Up to this point, we’ve covered some of the skills needed to be an excellent CNA.

These are:

  • Emotional resilience and adaptability
  • Good physical fitness to be able to work on your feet for hours
  • Calm, amicable, and approachable in any situation

Other skills you need are:

  • Good communication skills
  • Empathy and patience
  • Time management skills
  • Organizational skills
  • Great bedside manner
  • High precision to complete tasks
  • Problem-solving and critical thinking


Frequently Asked Questions

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

No, It certifies you to operate as a nurse assistant only.

This means that you can only do your role under the senior nurses’ supervision.

You must always report to your immediate supervisor.

If you want to be qualified for a more senior position, then additional training and certification are required.

This case has made CNA known as an “introductory” career in the health care sector.

It will let you acquire the necessary experience to determine if advancing into nursing is for you.

Q. Do CNAs Administer Medications?

Yes, it’s common for CNAs to administer medications to patients.

Aside from this, you’ll also at least assist in the insertion of cannulas or catheters.

Do note that you can only do such invasive procedures under supervision.

As such, you have a team of health care professionals giving you support in carrying out your tasks.

They won’t let you perform tasks you’re not comfortable or confident in doing.

It’s important to remember that CNAs are held accountable for their actions in a ward or clinic.

There are hospital and state policies in place that you must adhere to.

If you break the legal and ethical rules, you may face suspension or termination.

An investigation may also likely occur, depending on the severity of the issue.

Q. Do I Need to Be Physically Strong to Be a CNA?

A reasonable degree of physical fitness is expected from aspiring CNAs.

You want to have the stamina to move around the hospital without discomfort all-day

Plus, being physically strong enables you to:

  • Transport patients in-between locations
  • Manually roll patients toward their beds
  • Lift patients into their wheelchairs

Of course, you will have somebody with you to carry out these physically demanding tasks

Q. What Are the Downsides to Being a CNA?

Some CNAs take pride in their responsibilities, while others see them as burdens.

And so, it’s difficult to say for sure.

For new CNAs, dealing with a patient’s bathroom breaks and personal hygiene can be tough at the start.

But with the right attitude, assisting patients during intimate acts will quickly become another aspect of the job.

This goes to show that individuals who thrive in these professions are not easily embarrassed.

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

Plus, you and other aspiring CNAs understand exactly what you’re getting into.

You know that hospitals aren’t pretty places.

It can be emotionally trying and downright devastating for you sometimes.

But, you can see a glimpse of hope in your patients that can’t be found anywhere else.

And you, the CNA, are one of the people who gave them that hope.

You have the opportunity to change somebody’s life for the better.


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