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Everything you need to know to become a qualified CNA

What is a certified nursing assistant (CNA)?
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If you’re thinking about a career in the medical field, researching how to become a certified nursing assistant (CNA) is a good first step. It can open the door to many other opportunities such as becoming a Registered Nurse or Licensed Nurse Practitioner, and takes just weeks to complete the certification process.

What is a CNA?

A CNA is responsible for the direct care of a patient, whether in the hospital, an assisted living facility, or in the home.

They take care of personal needs that a patient can no longer perform themselves, such as bathing, eating, getting to and from the restroom, transitioning from bed to chair, and any other aspect of daily life that a patient might need assistance with.

A CNA reports to a registered nurse (RN) or a licensed practical nurse (LPN). The RN or LPN then reports to the doctor directly. While a CNA must go through a certification process, an RN or LPN must also received a license from the state to practice. An RN or LPN can also perform basic medical procedures that a CNA cannot, like inserting an intravenous catheter.

CNA duties and responsibilities

The list of typical CNA duties is long and changes depending on the needs of their client. It can include:

  • Turning or repositioning patients to minimize chance of bed sores and muscle atrophy

  • Gathering and stocking supplies for and RN or the patient’s doctor

  • Obtaining vital signs on a regular interval and recording them

  • Responding to patient calls or alarms

  • Bathing patients

  • Documenting all information obtained

  • Feeding patients, then measuring and recording their food and liquid intake

  • Personal hygiene, including combing hair, shaving, caring for nails, and brushing teeth

  • Cleaning rooms and bed linens

  • Prepare rooms for admissions

  • Helping with medical procedures

  • Dressing wounds as needed

  • Assisting patients with elimination

Responsibilities can change from patient to patient. CNAs that work in a private residence may also have other duties as determined by their employer.

Becoming a CNA

Becoming a CNA does not require a college degree, but certification is needed. It can be acquired in just four to eight weeks.

Certification programs are typically held at hospitals, community colleges, vocational or training schools, and high schools. They can also be taken online. Because certification programs differ in format, it’s important to research each one to see which best fits your needs. The most popular certification class is held by the American Red Cross.

“The CNA class only took about a month and was very easy,” says Chrysta S. Brodt, CNA and owner of Angells On Whidbey Adult Family Home. “The hardest part was learning how to actually do the job and manage the clients schedules once you start working. CNAs are always in high demand, and it only took about a week before I got hired on by a small care home.”

There are several prerequisites that are expected before attending a certification:

  • Attendance at an orientation information session

  • TABE (reading and math assessment), or verification of high school diploma or GED

  • Red Cross criminal background check prior to registration

  • Completion of Red Cross physical form and TB test

  • CPR and First Aid certification

All classes require a mix of classroom and clinical hours. The number of clinical hours varies from state to state. After the completion of classes, students must take a two-part test consisting of a multiple choice written exam and a practical skill based exam. If you pass, you are added to the national CNA registry and can start applying for jobs immediately.

Expected CNA salaries

There is a high demand for CNAs. As the Baby Boomer generation ages, the need for certified personal care will increase exponentially. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth for CNAs is expected to be 18 percent through 2024.

“The pay is far less than being an RN or a LPA, but the rewards are greater than anyone could ever pay me,” says CNA Rosalind Jones.

The following information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the nation’s top-paying states for a CNA.


Average Hourly Wage

Average Annual Wage

Rhode Island



North Dakota












Becoming a CNA is easy when you’re armed with information. For those interested in more information about becoming a CNA, professional organizations such as the National Network of Career Nursing Assistants and the Nursing Association of Health Care Assistants are great sources of information.

Read next: Learn where to get senior care certifications

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