Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) Career Overview

Rebecca Munday
Updated November 23, 2022
Learn what a certified nursing assistant (CNA) does and find out if a career as a CNA could be right for you.
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Job Outlookcursor-click

8% growth from 2020-2030

Are you looking for a quick way to enter the healthcare field? A career as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) could be for you. CNAs, sometimes called a nursing assistant or nurse aide, are a part of the healthcare team who works under the supervision of a registered nurse (RN).

Requiring only 4-16 weeks, a CNA license is the fastest way to enter the healthcare field. Keep reading for more on CNA responsibilities, education, and salaries.

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What Does a CNA Do?

High School or GED Diploma required
Certification required

CNAs are essential care providers in hospitals, nursing homes, and residential care centers, assisting patients with basic activities, such as moving, eating, dressing, and staying sanitary. They also support nurses and other care providers by taking vital signs, including temperature and blood pressure.

While CNAs do not provide medical care, they must have enough healthcare knowledge to recognize when to call for a nurse or other clinician to assess a situation where the patient’s health might be at risk.

closeup of nurse hands on computer keyboard

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Key Responsibilities

  • Helping patients stay clean, comfortable, and groomed
  • Assisting patients with eating and drinking
  • Helping patients physically to move, such as by getting them in and out of bed or helping them change positions
  • Taking vitals and recognizing possible warning signs, such as changes in blood pressure or indications of an infected wound

Career Traits

  • Written and oral communication
  • Physical stamina
  • Interpersonal skills including patience and compassion
  • Attention to detail
  • Time management

Where Do Certified Nursing Assistants Work?

According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data from July 2022, 96% of CNAs work in skilled nursing facilities, hospitals, residential care facilities, or home health care. CNAs do many of the same duties in all of these work settings. These responsibilities include assisting patients with daily tasks, communicating with other members of the healthcare team, checking patients’ vital signs, and following facility and legal procedures about safety.

Nursing and residential care facilities

CNAs mostly care for older adults admitted for longer periods of time and who need help with daily activities. Entry-level CNAs may find more opportunities in these work settings.


CNAs care for patients of all ages who stay for shorter periods of time and have various conditions, which allows for more opportunities to learn. Experienced CNAs are preferred.

Home Health Care

CNAs work out of patients’ homes and can be asked to perform additional duties outside of their CNA scope of practice, such as cleaning, cooking, and running errands.

Why Become a Certified Nursing Assistant?

The pros of being a CNA make the career a popular choice for people who want to eventually advance their nursing career. However, the cons of being a CNA can be significant.

Advantages of Becoming a CNA

  • check-circleAbility to form close relationships with patients
  • check-circleQuick education and training
  • check-circleOptions for career advancement
  • check-circleFlexible schedule

Disadvantages of Becoming a CNA

  • x-circleLow salary
  • x-circleLong shifts
  • x-circleLack of autonomy
  • x-circlePhysically demanding

How to Become a CNA

You must complete a training program that includes 75 hours of training, including at least 16 hours of supervised practical training. Required subjects in a CNA program include residents’ rights, personal care skills, basic nursing skills, basic restorative skills, caring for cognitively impaired residents, and mental and social services needs.

You must have a high school or GED diploma to enroll in a certified nursing assistant program before you can sit for a state licensure exam. After passing the exam, you receive your CNA license and get added to your state’s registry. Then, you can start applying for positions as a CNA.

How Much Do Certified Nursing Assistants Make?

The BLS projects 8% job growth for CNAs between 2020 and 2030. BLS projects 192,800 job openings for CNAs each year.

CNAs make an average of $13.97 an hour for a total average annual salary of $30,000, according to Payscale data from July 2022. The lowest 10% of CNAs make $10.73 hourly, while the highest 10% of earners take home $17.98 hourly. Skills, experience level, work setting, and location can affect how much money CNAs make.

CNAs with skills, such Microsoft Excel, office administration, medical terminology, typing, and cognitive behavioral therapy, earn higher-than-average salaries, according to Payscale data from July 2022.

CNAs with 10-19 years of experience earn 4% more than average. CNAs with more than 20 years of experience earn about 8% more than average.

According to BLS data from May 2021, junior colleges, scientific research and development services, and the federal executive branch offer CNAs higher-than-average pay.

Frequently Asked Questions about Certified Nursing Assistants

question-mark-circleWhat is the role of a CNA?

CNAs help the healthcare team carry out the care plan, assist the patient with daily living activities, and report any changes in patient ability or needs to their supervisor.

question-mark-circleHow long does it take to become a CNA?

CNA programs can range from 4-16 weeks, but the process may take longer if you are balancing other commitments. After the CNA program, you can complete the clinical hours and take the exam. The whole process can take six months or more, depending on your state’s requirements.

question-mark-circleWhat’s the difference between a registered nurse and a CNA?

Registered nurses (RN) and other healthcare professionals work under the authority of their own license. CNAs work under the authority of the license of the RN who supervises them.

question-mark-circleIs being a CNA hard?

The heavy workload, long shifts, and physical demands of being a CNA can be hard for some individuals.

Related Pages

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