Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

For those interested in a rewarding, patient-facing role, the Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) is an excellent career pathway. Sometimes referred to as Nurse's Aides, CNAs are an important part of the medical care team, assisting doctors and other nurses with many essential tasks. As one of the quickest routes to a career in healthcare, many choose to start out as a CNA and then move on to licensed practical/vocational nursing or registered nursing. Read on to learn everything you need to know about becoming a CNA.

Why Become a CNA?

Entering the healthcare arena can be daunting. Becoming a certified nurse assistant is a great way to break into the industry without having to commit to a lot of schooling, as many programs can be completed in just a few months. There are many bridge programs available for CNAs who eventually decide to move up the nursing ladder to become LPNs or RNs, so it's a great entry-level healthcare career with room to grow. Aside from this, CNAs also spend the most face-time with patients, so they get to enjoy meaningful encounters and relationships with the people they care for. Simply put, if you are looking for a rewarding medical career, the CNA pathway is an excellent choice.

What Does a CNA Do?

CNAs provide direct care to patients of all ages, under the supervision of a registered nurse (RN) or physician. They help ill or injured patients with many facets of daily life, including help with mobility, bathing, dressing, monitoring vital signs, and much more. Other common duties that a CNA might perform include:

  • Repositioning bedridden patients, or transferring them to/from a stretcher or wheelchair
  • Answering and managing patient calls
  • Getting rooms ready for admissions
  • Keeping the attending physician and/or RN aware of patient changes, requests, etc.
  • Helping to feed and keep track of dietary needs
  • Assisting patients with trips to the bathroom and recording any issues or changes
  • Helping to keep the patient's room clean and comfortable; changing linens, fetching pillows, etc.
  • Changing dressings and monitoring wound healing
  • Assisting the doctor or nurse with certain medical procedures
  • Helping the patient with personal grooming, such as combing hair, brushing teeth, etc.
  • Making sure the patient's room is stocked with appropriate supplies

How to Become a CNA

The first step on the path to become a CNA is to seek out a top educational program. CNAs aren't required to hold a degree, but they do need to complete a state-approved certificate or diploma program. Once their training is complete, they will have to pass their state's certification exam in order to begin practicing.

Learn more about CNA programs.

CNA Program Eligibility Requirements

Once you've decided on the best school for your CNA training, you must ensure that you meet all the eligibility criteria in order to be accepted. Exact requirements will vary from school to school, but in general, you should be able to fulfill the following:

  • Must be 18 years of age or older with a valid ID
  • Must hold a high school diploma or GED
  • Must be First Aid and CPR certified
  • Proof of a current physical exam with up-to-date immunizations
  • Must pass a criminal background check and drug screen

CNA Certification Exam & Licensure

Once an approved program has been completed, students must sit for and pass their state's Nursing Assistant Certification examination. Each state's exam will be a little different, but all will consist of a combination of written or oral multiple-choice knowledge testing along with a nursing assistant essential skills test. The skills test requires a demonstration of 3-6 select nursing assistant duties (such as proper hand washing technique) in front of a nurse proctor. Students will generally be given 3 attempts at passing the certification exam within 2 years of completing their training program before re-training is required.

CNA Certification Renewal

Certification as a CNA in most states lasts for 2 years before it expires. In order to renew, each state has its own stipulations on how many hours you needed to have continuously worked as a CNA in the prior 2 years. If you have not worked as a CNA for enough hours, your license may be considered void and you may need to re-test and re-apply for a brand-new license. Some states also have continuing education requirements that you must meet before you can renew your license, otherwise you may be required to take the certification exam again.

If you are eligible to renew your CNA certification, and you don't need to make any modifications (such as a name change), you may be able to renew online. Otherwise, your state's board of nursing will let you know how to renew. Any applicable fees will be required at the time of renewal. You must ensure that your current CNA certification is not already expired; if so, you may also have to pay a late fee. If your license has been expired for an extended amount of time, you may be required to re-test and re-apply for new certification.

Renewals typically take a few weeks to process.

CNA Careers

CNAs can find gainful employment in a number of places. They are typically employed at the following facilities:

  • Hospitals
  • Nursing homes/assisted living facilities
  • Rehabilitation centers
  • Physician offices
  • Community health clinics
  • Home health care services

Employment outlook for nursing assistants is favorable, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicting growth at 11% through the year 2026, which is faster than the average for other occupations.

One may also consider joining the National Association of Health Care Assistants (NAHCA).

CNA Salary

While many things affect a CNA's salary, including location and type of employer, the national median yearly salary falls at $27,520 as of May 2017. The median hourly wage for a CNA is $13.23 nationally. The top-paying states for the profession according to the BLS include:

  • Alaska, with an annual mean wage of $37,950
  • New York, with an annual mean wage of $35,080
  • Nevada, with an annual mean wage of $34,480
  • Washington, D.C., with an annual mean wage of $34,170
  • California, with an annual mean wage of $33,560