How to Become a Nursing Assistant (CNA)

A Nursing Assistant – also called a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), Patient Care Assistant, or Nurse’s Aide – is a key role in the nursing world. CNAs provide hands-on healthcare and much-needed support to the patients in their service while also assisting Registered Nurses (RNs) and Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) with daily tasks.

CNAs are usually the ones who spend the most time with patients, whether they’re in a hospital, assisted living home, or other healthcare facility. Because of this, they can form a strong and rewarding bond with the people in their care. Becoming a Nursing Assistant is also a great way to start a career in nursing because it doesn’t require a college degree. If this sounds like the job for you, but you’re not sure where to start, keep reading to learn how to become a Nursing Assistant. 

Nursing assistant wheelchair
Nursing Assistant
What Does a Nursing Assistant Do?

As mentioned above, Nursing Assistants are the ones directly taking care of patients who can’t care for themselves and are constantly by their sides. A CNA can work in any specialty, but their duties generally revolve around making sure the patient is comfortable and recovering as quickly as possible. Some common tasks CNAs may perform are:

  • Answering patient calls
  • Turning or repositioning patients in bed
  • Bathing patients
  • Assisting patients with elimination
  • Dressing wounds
  • Feeding patients, measuring and recording their food and liquid intake
  • Taking blood pressure, temperature, and other vital signs
  • Documenting patient information
  • Cleaning rooms and bed linens
  • Stocking supplies
  • Preparing rooms for admissions

Nursing Assistants work closely with LPNs and RNs but cannot perform the more technical procedures those nurses can, like inserting a catheter or administering medications. This is because LPNs and RNs require further training and education, while CNAs only require a Nursing Assistant certification (more on that later).

Career Path for Nursing Assistants

Certified Nursing Assistant roles are essentially entry-level, which means you have a lot of options for where your career will go. Many people interested in a career in nursing become a CNA while taking courses to become an LPN or RN, but you don’t have to follow that path if it’s not for you. The good news is that the demand for Nursing Assistants and other nursing related jobs will continue to trend upward: The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects CNA employment to grow 8% by 2030.

If you’re not looking to become an RN or LPN, you can advance your career in other ways. Your CNA certification gives you access to many different positions, like:

  • Critical Care Technician (CCT). These techs usually work with the patients in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). You’ll need your CNA certification and Basic Life Support (BLS) certification.
  • Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). EMTs respond to emergencies and also provide Basic Life Support to stabilize and transport injured individuals.
  • Home Health Aide. Also called Personal Health Aides, Home Health Aides have similar responsibilities to a CNA but work with patients in their homes. They may provide additional services like preparing meals or taking care of pets.
  • Patient Care Technician (PCT). You can become a PCT with additional training and completion of a PCT course. This allows you to perform higher-level nursing tasks, like drawing blood or reading EKG levels.
  • Physical Therapy Assistant. Similar to a CNA, but in the physical therapy realm, Physical Therapy Assistants work alongside Physical Therapists to help patients recover their strength.
  • Qualified Medical Aide (QMA). QMAs are CNAs who have completed 100 hours of pharmacology and medication knowledge training and passed a QMA exam. This allows you to administer medication and monitor patient reactions under the supervision of other licensed nurses.
  • Travel CNA. In a traveling nurse role, you’ll contract with a travel nursing agency to help fill staffing needs around the country. These contracts are usually short-term but are compensated generously.
Nursing assistant helping patient
Highest Education Level
CNAs offer the following education background
  • Vocational Degree or Certification (24.2%)
  • Bachelor's Degree (23.5%)
  • High School or GED (23.1%)
  • Associate's Degree (17.6%)
  • Master's Degree (6.9%)
  • Some College (2.1%)
  • Doctorate Degree (1.4%)
  • Some High School (1.1%)
Average Work Experience
Here's a breakdown of the years of experience offered by CNAs
  • Less than 1 year (54.8%)
  • None (26.7%)
  • 1-2 years (15.7%)
  • 8-10 years (2.8%)


Requirements To Be a CNA

There are two main requirements to be a CNA in most states – a high school diploma or GED and your CNA training certificate. While that’s a relatively short list of requirements, certification in CPR and First Aid or Basic Life Support can make you a more attractive candidate and open other doors. Take a look at the list of other qualifications and skills employers look for in a CNA.


Nursing Assistant Certification

Training programs for your nursing assistant certification are offered in a variety of locations, including community colleges, trade schools, and medical facilities, and end with a certification exam. However, additional training may be required in your state to be officially certified as a CNA. You can use this resource to see what your state requires.

The certification exam consists of a written or oral exam and a clinical skills portion. In most cases, the written portion is a multiple-choice test covering medical terminology, anatomy, CNA responsibilities, and more. The practical skills test is conducted by a nurse who will choose from a list of more than 20 skills to test you on.

Once you’re certified, you’ll need to renew your certification every two years. If you’ve been employed in those two years, all you have to do is submit a renewal form and pay a fee. If you haven’t been employed, but your certification hasn’t been expired for more than two years, you’ll need to take a competency test. If your certification has been expired for more than two years, you’ll have to go through the training and exam again to get a new certificate.

How Much Do CNAs Make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median Nursing Assistant Salary is just above $30,000. That number could go up or down depending on other certifications you have and the type of facility you’re working in (e.g., a hospital or private nursing home).

  • United States

**Data source: Bureau of Labor Statistics


Remember, Nursing Assistant salaries vary significantly by location, so use our free Salary Research Tool to find the salaries in your area. 

Nursing assistant salary
Tips for Writing a Nursing Assistant Resume

The number one tip for Nursing Assistant resumes (and any resume) is to tailor it to the job description. Each job description will be slightly different, and if you send the same resume with every application, you might not make it past the company’s automated Applicant Tracking System (ATS). Tailoring your resume means looking for keywords in the job description and adding them to your resume where appropriate. For CNAs, keywords will usually present themselves as certification and training terminology as well as specific skills like patient care, charting/recordkeeping, patient safety, and activities of daily living.

It's expected that many CNAs with a brand new certification won’t have a lot of experience, so don’t fret if that’s the case for you. You can make sure you stand out to hiring managers by highlighting any other training or transferrable skills you’ve picked up along the way (like taking care of an elderly relative or providing customer service).

Where to Find Nursing Assistant Jobs

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