Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)


Updated October 25, 2023

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Certified nursing assistants provide basic care for patients in hospitals and long-term care facilities.

The average certified nursing assistant salary exceeds $28,500 a year, with strong projected job growth through 2028. This page explains how to become a certified nursing assistant, including education and licensure requirements.

Essential Career Information for Certified Nursing Assistants
Median Annual Salary $35,740
Employment Growth Forecast from 2022-2032 4%
Number of New Jobs from 2022-2032 58,400
Average Entry-Level Education Requirements State-Approved Educational Program
Annual Salary of the Highest 10% $46,700
Annual Salary of the Lowest 10% $27,630

Source: BLS

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What is a Certified Nursing Assistant?

A nursing assistant is a healthcare professional who cares for patients in hospitals and nursing homes. Also known as a nursing aide, nursing assistants provide basic care, including assisting patients with daily activities, like bathing and eating. They also record changes in patients' conditions and take vital signs.

Most nursing assistants work in nursing care facilities or hospitals. They may also work in assisted living facilities or retirement communities. A small number of nursing assistants work for home healthcare services, caring for patients in their homes. Since hospitals and nursing homes provide 24-hour care, many nursing assistants work nights and weekends.

A nursing assistant is a healthcare professional who cares for patients in hospitals and nursing homes.

Nursing assistants need a license to practice, which requires completing a state-approved nursing assistant program and passing a competency exam. In some states, nursing assistants who complete the licensure process earn the title certified nursing assistant or certified nurse aide, abbreviated as CNA. Other states may use titles like certified nurse assistant, hospital aide, nursing attendant, or nursing care attendant.

  • C.N.A.
  • Certified Nurse Aide
  • Certified Nursing Assistant
  • Hospital Aide
  • Hospital Attendant
  • Nursing Aide
  • Nursing Attendant
  • Nursing Care Attendant

What Does a Certified Nursing Assistant Do?

Nursing assistants provide basic care for patients in nursing homes, hospitals, and long-term care facilities. They assist patients with daily living activities, including helping patients dress, transferring patients from their bed to a wheelchair, and serving meals. Nursing assistants work in a healthcare team to provide patient care, often under the supervision of a licensed practical nurse or a registered nurse.

Nursing assistants work in a healthcare team to provide patient care, often under the supervision of a licensed practical nurse or a registered nurse.

Nursing assistants draw on healthcare training to monitor patients' conditions. They listen to patients describe their symptoms and record any health concerns. In addition, nursing assistants measure patients' vital signs, including temperature and blood pressure. They record the results of these tests on charts for nurses and physicians. In some states, nursing assistants also dispense medication.

In long-term care facilities, including nursing homes and residential care facilities, nursing assistants act as principal caregivers for residents. They spend extended time with residents and develop close professional relationships with patients, which requires strong communication and interpersonal skills.

Nursing assistants also help position, turn, and transfer patients, which requires physical stamina. During nursing assistant training, students learn how to safely lift and move patients to prevent injuries.

How to Become a Certified Nursing Assistant

Candidates must complete a state-approved training program and pass a competency exam to become certified nursing assistants. During their training program, which typically lasts 4-12 weeks, learners study patient care, including elder care and ethical care. They also learn how to assist patients with daily activities.

Nursing assistant training also incorporates clinical hours, during which students work under the supervision of an experienced CNA to strengthen their abilities and gain hands-on experience. After completing an educational program, nursing assistants can apply for a state license, which requires passing a competency exam.

Prospective CNAs must complete a state-approved nursing assistant program. Programmatic accrediting agencies review nursing assistant programs to determine whether they meet high standards for training CNAs. The Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools and the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs grant accreditation to institutions that offer nursing assistant and allied health programs.

Certificate Programs

Prospective nursing assistants must complete a state-approved education program to earn their license. Many nursing assistant programs take 4-12 weeks to complete. These programs focus on nursing assistant job duties, offering specialized training for CNA careers. During a nursing assistant program, students also complete clinical hours to meet licensing requirements.

Prospective nursing assistants can also pursue a certificate in allied health. Certificate programs for licensed practical nurses or medical assistants often meet the requirements for a nursing assistant license. During these programs, students take classes on topics like anatomy, physiology, and patient-centered care.

Associate Degree Programs

Most nursing assistants complete specialized training through a nursing assistant program rather than a degree program. However, an associate degree helps nursing assistants advance their careers and pursue healthcare roles with greater responsibilities.

During an associate program in nursing, healthcare assisting, or another allied health field, learners study topics like evidence-based practice, medical terminology, and clinical procedures. Depending on the program, students may complete an internship, practicum, or clinical rotation to build hands-on skills. Graduates with an associate degree in nursing qualify for a registered nurse license.

Nursing Assistant Professional Licensure and Certification

Nursing assistants must hold a state-issued license to pursue jobs as a CNA. Each state sets its own licensure requirements, which generally include completing a state-approved training program and passing a competency exam. In most states, the exam includes multiple-choice questions and a clinical component that asks candidates to perform common CNA tasks. Most states also incorporate a background check during the licensure process.

After meeting the education requirements and passing the examination, candidates become certified nursing assistants. Certified nursing assistants must renew their credentials on a regular basis. Renewal requirements vary by state.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to become a certified nursing assistant?

Completing a state-approved certified nursing assistant program generally takes 4-12 weeks. Students must also complete at least 75 clinical hours.

How do I get my CNA certification?

Candidates for CNA certification must complete a state-approved training program and pass a competency examination administered by the state.

What are the duties of a certified nursing assistant?

Certified nursing assistants help patients eat, bathe, dress, and complete other daily tasks. They also monitor vital signs and report patient conditions to nurses.

What is the fastest way to become a CNA?

Prospective CNAs can complete an accelerated training program in about one month. After finishing their training, candidates must pass a competency exam to become a CNA.

Can I become a CNA online?

Yes; prospective CNAs can complete nursing assistant training online. Many programs allow online students to complete clinical hours at an approved site near their home.

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