How to Become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

certified nursing assistant

Are you considering a career in healthcare that allows you to make a significant impact on patients’ lives daily? Becoming a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), or a nurse assistant, might be the perfect choice! CNAs are essential healthcare professionals who play a crucial role in providing patient care and improving the healthcare experience. In this blog post, we will guide you through the process of becoming a CNA, discuss the roles and responsibilities of nurse assistants, explore the educational and training requirements, and compare the CNA role with that of a Medical Assistant.

Key Takeaways

  • CNAs provide direct patient care and assist with daily living activities under the supervision of licensed nursing staff.
  • Becoming a CNA requires completing state-approved training programs, passing certification exams, and possessing essential skills and qualities such as empathy, communication & critical thinking.
  • CNAs have opportunities to transition into other nursing positions through Education & experience for higher salaries & responsibilities than medical assistants ($30K median salary vs $39K).

Understanding the Role of a Certified Nursing Assistant

CNAs are the backbone of the healthcare industry, as they provide essential support for patients in various healthcare settings, including skilled nursing facilities. A successful CNA performs a wide range of duties, such as providing direct patient care, assisting with daily living activities, and working under the supervision of licensed nursing staff at a skilled nursing facility.

These professionals often serve as the primary caregivers for patients, helping with medical procedures and providing basic care. We should now examine the specific aspects of a CNA’s role in detail.

Direct Patient Care

CNAs play a vital role in providing direct patient care. Their responsibilities include monitoring vital signs, administering medication, and ensuring patient safety across various healthcare settings. CNAs follow strict protocols when checking vital signs, such as washing their hands, disinfecting the stethoscope, and positioning patients correctly. They can administer various types of medication, depending on state regulations and additional certifications obtained.

When it comes to patient safety, CNAs are expected to:

  • Adhere to infection control protocols

  • Correctly identify patients

  • Maintain a safe environment

  • Use monitoring technology

  • Record activities

These measures contribute significantly to delivering top-notch patient care while minimizing the risk of complications.

Certified Nursing Assistant

Assisting with Daily Living Activities

In addition to direct patient care, CNAs assist patients with daily living activities such as bathing, dressing, and grooming. They follow a step-by-step process for bathing, which includes sanitizing the bath chair or bed, performing hand hygiene, and gently washing the patient’s body with a sponge or washcloth. When assisting patients with dressing, CNAs practice proper hand hygiene, inquire about the patient’s clothing preferences, and encourage the patient to dress themselves as much as possible.

CNAs also provide grooming assistance, including shaving, hair care, oral hygiene, and applying makeup or accessories. They adhere to safety measures when assisting patients with daily living activities, such as surveying the patient’s room for potential hazards, wearing gloves when appropriate, and implementing hand hygiene before and after assisting the patient.

Working Under Supervision

CNAs work under the supervision of registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) to provide quality patient care. This professional relationship fosters successful teamwork and promotes positive patient outcomes. CNAs typically work under the direct guidance of RNs or LPNs, following their instructions and reporting any changes in the patient’s condition. RNs and LPNs provide oversight and support to CNAs, ensuring that tasks are performed accurately and that the patient’s needs are met.

Working closely with RNs and LPNs allows CNAs to gain from their guidance and expertise, subsequently improving the quality of patient care. The supervision of RNs and LPNs ensures that delegated tasks are executed safely and effectively, while maintaining consistency of care through precise implementation of the care plan.

Educational and Training Requirements for Nurse Assistants

To qualify as a certified nursing assistant CNA, completing a state-approved training program and passing a certification exam is mandatory. Community colleges, trade schools, and medical facilities all offer certified nursing assistant training programs. You can find these programs in each of these settings.

The National Nurse Aide Assessment Program (NNAAP) examination is a certification exam for CNAs, which evaluates students on three core areas of knowledge: Physical Care Skills, Psychosocial Care Skills, and the Role of the Nurse Aide. We should now further explore the educational and training requirements.

State-Approved Training Programs

State-approved nursing assistant training programs for CNAs typically range from 4-12 weeks in duration and cover essential nursing skills. These programs provide instruction in patient care, basic medical skills, and ethical and moral principles. Examples of state-approved training programs for CNAs include the American Red Cross certified nursing assistant program, the Century College CNA program, and the Miles Community College CNA program, among others.

The cost and availability of state-approved training programs for CNAs can vary. For example, the American Red Cross CNA program costs $1,250 and is available year-round, while the Century College CNA program costs $800 and is available year-round. It’s advisable to research the cost and availability of training programs in your area to find the best fit for your needs and budget.

Certification Exam

After completing a state-approved training program, aspiring certified nursing assistants must pass a certification exam, which typically consists of a written/oral test and a demonstration of practical skills. The clinical skills exam is an essential component of CNA certification, as it tests the candidate’s ability to perform five basic skills, including measuring and recording vital signs, handwashing, and mobility assistance.

To adequately prepare for the certification exam, candidates can:

  • Review NCLEX prep books and other study aids

  • Complete practice exams

  • Participate in study groups

  • Take advantage of review courses and practice tests offered by reputable organizations such as ATI Testing, Kaplan Nursing, and Mometrix Test Preparation.

Nurse Assistant Work Settings

Certified nursing assistants work in various healthcare settings, including:

  • Hospitals: As a nursing assistant, they often collaborate closely with patients and provide essential care and support, such as aiding in mobility and offering emotional support.

  • Nursing homes: CNAs provide direct care to residents.

  • Assisted living facilities: CNAs offer general assistance and help with light housekeeping.

  • Nursing care facilities: These establishments also employ certified nursing assistants to provide essential care to patients.

In private homes, CNAs may provide specialized care, such as aiding with medication management, providing transportation, and offering emotional support. Working in these different settings offers nurse assistants the opportunity to gain versatile experience and contribute to the well-being of patients from various backgrounds and with diverse needs.

Certified Nurse Assistant

Skills and Qualities of Successful Nurse Assistants

Successful nurse assistants possess essential skills and qualities, including empathy, communication, professionalism, critical thinking, and time management. Empathy allows CNAs to understand and connect with patients, while strong communication and interpersonal skills ensure that patients’ needs are understood and met.

Effective communication is also crucial for collaboration with other healthcare professionals and maintaining patient safety. Professionalism helps CNAs maintain a respectful and responsible demeanor in their interactions with patients and colleagues. Critical thinking assists them in making sound decisions and judgments, while time management enables them to prioritize tasks and manage their time effectively.

Salary Expectations and Job Outlook for Certified Nurse Assistants

As of 2022, the median salary for CNAs is $35,740, with a projected job growth rate of 4% over the next 10 years. This growth rate is faster than the average for all occupations, making it a promising career choice for those interested in healthcare. However, it’s worth noting that the salary expectations for CNAs may be lower than other nursing positions. For example, the median salary for RNs was $77,600 in 2021.

Despite the lower salary compared to other nursing positions, working as a certified nursing assistant can be a rewarding career, providing opportunities to:

  • Make a significant impact on patients’ lives

  • Gain valuable experience in the healthcare field

  • Serve as a stepping stone to other nursing positions, such as LPNs or RNs, through further education and training.

Transitioning to Other Nursing Positions

CNAs who wish to advance their careers have several options available, such as:

  • Pursuing an LPN or RN pathway

  • Further education and training

  • Expanding their scope of practice

  • Taking on more responsibilities in patient care

We should now scrutinize the LPN and RN pathways more thoroughly, considering labor statistics.

LPN Pathway

The LPN pathway involves additional education and licensing compared to CNAs. LPNs have more extensive educational requirements, which involve year-long training programs that provide a deeper understanding of healthcare and the human body. Prerequisites for LPN programs typically include a high school diploma or GED and prerequisite courses in subjects such as anatomy and physiology.

Becoming an LPN enables CNAs to broaden their scope of practice and assume greater responsibilities in patient care.

RN Pathway

The RN pathway requires completing the following steps:

  1. Complete an approved nursing program, such as an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). These programs typically take two to four years to complete.

  2. After completing the nursing program, aspiring RNs must pass the NCLEX-RN exam.

  3. Obtain a license to practice.

RNs have a more comprehensive role and responsibilities than CNAs, allowing them to execute more intricate tasks, such as administering medications and constructing care plans. Furthermore, RNs enjoy a higher salary potential, with a median annual wage of $77,600 in 2021.

Comparing Nurse Assistant Roles: CNA vs Medical Assistant

While CNAs focus on direct patient care and work under the supervision of RNs and LPNs, medical assistants perform both administrative and clinical tasks in various healthcare settings.

Medical assistants are responsible for:

  • Conducting patient assessments and evaluations to help physicians with patient care and treatment

  • Coding insurance documents

  • Making arrangements for hospital admissions

  • Answering phone calls

  • Helping with billing and bookkeeping

To become a medical assistant, a high school diploma or equivalent is required, along with any applicable state-specific certification requirements. The average salary for a medical assistant in the US is around $39,100, which is higher than the median salary for CNAs. Both CNA and medical assistant roles offer unique opportunities for those interested in healthcare careers, and the choice between the two depends on personal preferences and career goals.


In conclusion, becoming a Certified Nursing Assistant is a rewarding career choice for those looking to make a significant impact on patients’ lives and gain valuable experience in the healthcare field. CNAs provide direct patient care, assist with daily living activities, and work under the supervision of RNs and LPNs. With educational and certification requirements in place, CNAs can find employment in various healthcare settings, such as hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and private homes. For those looking to advance their careers, pursuing an LPN or RN pathway can lead to increased responsibilities and higher salary potential. Whether you choose to become a CNA or explore other healthcare professions, such as medical assisting, the opportunities to make a difference in patients’ lives are vast and fulfilling.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a nursing assistant do?

Certified Nursing Assistants, or CNAs, provide direct care to patients in hospitals, nursing homes and home care. They help with activities of daily living such as eating, bathing, grooming, and mobility. Additionally, orderlies transport patients and clean treatment areas.

What is the difference between a CNA and a nursing assistant?

CNAs have taken and passed a certification exam, making them more desirable for employers than NAs. This also gives CNAs the potential to receive higher salaries compared to NAs. Thus, the key difference between a CNA and nursing assistant is their certification exam.

What’s the fastest you can become a CNA?

With the right program and dedication, you can become a CNA within 4-8 weeks. Most states offer various options for completing the program quickly, such as enrolling in full-time or self-paced classes, and taking both required courses simultaneously.

What are the primary responsibilities of a CNA?

As a CNA, primary responsibilities include providing direct patient care, assisting with daily living activities, and working under the supervision of licensed nursing staff.

What are the educational and training requirements to become a CNA?

To become a CNA, one must complete a state-approved training program and pass a certification exam.