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What is a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)?

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Prospective certified nursing assistants (CNAs) can begin a rewarding entry-level career right out of high school. A CNA does not need a college degree. They can begin working shortly after completing training that takes about one year.

The 1.5 million nursing assistants employed in the U.S. primarily work in nursing care facilities, but they also work in hospitals, retirement communities, and home healthcare services. CNAs provide essential care to patients, and work under the supervision of registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs).

Read on to learn more about how to become a CNA, including education requirements and salary prospects.

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What Does a CNA Do?

CNAs fill important roles in a variety of different settings. Working under the guidance of RNs or LPNs, they help patients on a physical, emotional, and personal level. They perform daily activities for patients, such as helping them bathe, preparing meals, and transferring them into their wheelchairs.

CNAs also take vitals for patients, recording their weight, blood pressure, and temperature. Additionally, the job may require CNAs to emotionally support patients by listening and addressing their concerns.

CNAs work full-time or part-time in physically demanding environments that often require long hours spent on their feet. As nursing assistants gain more experience, they can advance to some of the top industries for CNAs, including skilled nursing facilities, home health aide agencies, and hospitals.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the difference between a CNA and an LPN?

    CNAs perform basic nursing duties under the direction of RNs and LPNs. Becoming a CNA takes about six months less than it takes to become an LPN, a position that offers expanded responsibilities working directly under RNs. LPNs, unlike CNAs, must complete educational programs that take about 1 to 2 years and pass the NCLEX-PN.

  • Do you need a license to be a CNA?

    No. Although, requirements vary in each state. CNAs must meet various requirements to get listed on state registries. This includes passing a state exam and completing a state-approved training program. Some employers hire CNAs without certification, but the duties remain limited in these roles.

  • What are career advancement options for a CNA?

    Starting out as a CNA offers the opportunity to advance to higher-paying healthcare positions. Many begin working as CNAs right out of high school. After gaining experience, CNAs can take educational and training courses to advance up the career ladder and become nursing home administrators, RNs, or geriatric care managers.

  • Is a CNA a good job?

    Yes. Becoming a CNA provides a fulfilling and challenging career opportunity for individuals with limited education. Nursing assistants make a median annual income of $29,640, according to the BLS. However, with experience and further education, individuals can advance to higher-paying positions, such as medical and health services managers who earn a median annual salary of $100,980.

Advantages of Becoming a Certified Nursing Assistant

A career as a CNA provides significant advantages to individuals who want to quickly get started in healthcare. Within about six months, CNAs complete state-approved nursing assistant programs offered at high schools or community colleges.

CNAs gain work experience in a variety of settings needed to advance and become an RN. Among other benefits, the job allows CNAs to work directly with patients, as well as the networking opportunities to work with doctors and nurses.

Some of the highest paying industries for CNAs include surgical hospitals and specialty hospitals that respectively pay annual mean salaries of $32,540 and $33,170. Visit this page to learn more about what CNAs get paid.

How to Become a CNA

CNA training programs appeal to individuals because of the minimal educational requirements and short time commitment. This fast and affordable pathway allows individuals to quickly begin working as a CNA. CNAs can use the work training and practical skills they gain to prepare for nursing school.

Education Requirements to Become a CNA

Most employers do not require a college degree to become a CNA. At a minimum, CNAs need a high school or GRE diploma, and must complete training programs offered through vocational schools, community colleges, hospitals, high schools, or organizations like the Red Cross.

Training programs take about 6-12 months. In that time, prospective CNAs learn basic nursing skills through classroom lessons, labs, and hands-on learning experiences taught under the supervision of nurses.

Classrooms often mirror hospitals with working equipment and hospital beds. Students practice skills, such as moving patients, infection control, and taking vital signs.

Part of the program also includes CPR training. Visit this page to find out more about the different CNA training programs and the coursework required.

Salary and Career Outlook for CNAs

Wages for CNAs start on the low end, but the position offers ample opportunities for promotion if individuals pursue more education, such as a bachelor’s degree in nursing and/or master’s degree in nursing. CNAs make a median annual salary of $29,640, according to the BLS, and the field is projected to grow by 8% from 2019-29. Completing additional credentials also gives CNAs the opportunity to move up in their careers.

CNAs commonly advance and become an RN or LPN. The path from CNA to RN requires earning either a diploma, associate degree, or bachelor’s degree.

Additionally, RNs must earn state licensure and pass the NCLEX-RN. LPNs who take one-year training programs through community colleges also need to earn their state license and pass the NCLEX-PN.

Reviewed By:

Reviewed By Nicole Galan, RN, MSN

Nicole Galan, RN, MSN
Nicole Galan is a registered nurse who started on a general medical/surgical care unit and then moved into infertility care where she worked for almost 10 years. She has also worked for over 13 years as a freelance writer specializing in consumer health sites and educational materials for nursing students. Galan currently works as a full-time freelancer and recently earned her master’s degree in nursing education from Capella University.

Advertisement is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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