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CNA Careers and Salary Outlook

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A certified nursing assistant (CNA) takes on several roles in caring for patients. Those who enjoy helping to improve people’s lives can find fulfilling careers in the nursing field, and starting as a CNA can get your foot in the door for other roles in the profession. Our guide covers the day-to-day and long term responsibilities of a CNA, along with information on career opportunities and CNA salaries.

What is a CNA?

A CNA provides basic healthcare to patients. They handle tasks like taking a patient’s blood pressure and temperature, dressing wounds, repositioning bedridden patients, and helping nurses and doctors with medical tasks. CNAs also perform quality-of-life functions, including feeding patients, helping them with hygiene, and cleaning rooms.

CNAs work in entry-level jobs in the nursing profession. They perform many of the tasks that registered nurses (RNs) may not have time to do.

  • What Do CNAs Do?

    A CNA helps healthcare practitioners deal with patient needs under the supervision of an RN or a licensed practical nurse (LPN). Nursing assistants may also be referred to as nurse aides or patient care assistants. This role requires a strong work ethic and intensive training in the specialty. Although many CNAs carry much of the same training as nurses, they are unable to treat patients and carry out some procedures due to legal reasons. These assistants often work as liaisons between nursing teams and patients, relaying patient information to nurses and vice versa.

    In terms of medical tasks, CNAs take vital signs, including blood pressure, temperature, pulse, and weight. Beyond this, daily responsibilities include aiding patients with their quality of life. Their patients commonly struggle with mobility, so nursing assistants may reposition patients or help them move into beds, wheelchairs, bathtubs, or other locations.

    CNAs feed patients, making sure they receive all the necessary nutrients. They also bathe patients and keep them clean and hygienic. CNAs tidy patients’ rooms by changing sheets and generally keeping a clean environment.

  • Where Do CNAs Work?

    CNAs work can work in several different settings. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), these professionals most commonly work in nursing care facilities, providing care for older adults or individuals with disabilities who cannot care for themselves. CNAs can also find work in hospitals, continuing care retirement communities, and assisted living facilities. In these cases, CNAs often work under the direction of nurses or doctors.

    Sometimes, they work in private houses, hired by people who need help with medical care and independent living but who want to remain in their own homes. CNAs work jobs that can demand unusual hours, with some working weekends and nights to assist patients at all times.

  • Skills That Could Affect CNA Salaries

    CNAs need basic medical knowledge and skills to effectively carry out their jobs. They take vital signs and should understand how to care for people with infections, disorders, and diseases. These assistants should also feel comfortable handling another person’s hygiene.

    In addition to these skills, CNAs need interpersonal skills that they cannot necessarily learn in classrooms or training courses, like empathy and compassion. Nursing assistants work with ill and struggling people on a daily basis. They need to listen and communicate effectively to meet patients’ needs and help them remain as comfortable as possible. CNAs should also have patience for effective communication. Finally, since they work with vulnerable people, CNAs need a high standard of ethics.

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How to Become a CNA

Specific education and testing requirements for becoming a CNA vary depending on the state. That said, the road to becoming a CNA does not last as long, nor does it come with as many requirements as the certification process for an RN or LPN. For individuals who want to enter the nursing industry but who do not want to (or cannot, for various reasons) complete a full nursing degree, a position as a CNA often becomes a worthwhile and rewarding career.

The following sections dig in deeper to explore various CNA requirements for education and training.


Each prospective CNA should possess a high school diploma. Beyond that, an aspiring CNA needs to complete an education program approved by their state. High schools, vocational schools, community colleges, and organizations like the Red Cross offer CNA training programs. You can typically find a list of approved programs on the state licensing board’s website. Training programs cover basic nursing skills, such as checking vital signs.

For the most part, CNA programs usually require somewhere around 75 hours of theoretical study. Programs can last anywhere from one to a few months. For individuals who want to start as CNAs and later earn their degrees and licenses as RNs or LPNs, these programs provide a foundation for further study.

Training and Certification

In addition to studying theory, CNA programs also require clinical training. This means that prospective CNAs learn on the job, with a supervisor observing their work. As with the rest of the CNA requirements, the state sets the number of required supervision hours.

After prospective nursing assistants complete their training, they need to pass an exam set by the state. Passing this exam gives CNAs the certification they need to work at nursing homes and other locations. Some states include other requirements to become a CNA, like a background check or drug screening.

CNAs in some states can also opt to earn extra credentials, like the certified medication assistant (CMA) credential. This allows nursing assistants to take on additional responsibilities, such as giving patients medication.

CNA Salaries and Job Growth

CNA salaries depend on a few different factors, including location, experience level, and employer. Overall, the BLS data shows that nursing assistants make a mean annual wage of about $28,540. California, Florida, and New York employ the most CNAs, while states like Alaska, New York, and Nevada offer the highest salaries. In addition, the BLS projects the nursing assistant profession to grow by 9% from 2018 to 2028, which is faster than average.

The charts below give more insight into CNA salaries with data from PayScale. The second table shows that increased experience level can increase the median CNA salary by about $5,000. In addition, CNAs commonly view their nursing assistant roles as entry-level positions. As such, the last table illustrates median salaries of other potential roles that CNAs may pursue later in their careers.

Highest Salary Locations for CNAs
National Median $27,891
Denver, Colorado $28,000
Los Angeles, California $34,450
Las Vegas, Nevada $32,500
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania $33,402
Chicago, Illinois $28,000

Source: PayScale

Median Salary for CNAs by Career Experience

  • Entry Level: $23,440 yearly
  • Early Career: $24,420 yearly
  • Mid Career: $25,710 yearly
  • Experienced: $26,960 yearly
  • Late Career: $28,580 yearly

Source: PayScale

Related Job Salaries
Administrative Assistant Registered Nurse Office Manager Medical Assistant Licensed Practical Nurse
$39,162 yearly $63,393 yearly $47,349 yearly $32,840 yearly $43,528 yearly

Source: PayScale

CNA Resources

  • Red Cross CNA Training The Red Cross operates a nurse assistant training program that prepares individuals to become qualified CNAs. Courses last 4-8 weeks, and the Red Cross offers these courses in accessible locations near public transportation. Students can learn about skills like CPR, infection control, and taking vital signs. The course prepares them to take the state competency test.
  • National Network of Career Nursing Assistants This group operates as a professional organization for CNAs who want to connect and participate in programs like National Nursing Assistants’ Week. The group also provides plenty of useful information, like how to find a CNA training program and how to request reciprocity if moving to another state.
  • National Association of Health Care Assistants Specifically for CNAs, this professional association hosts events like the annual CNA Fest conference, where nursing assistants can meet and learn from others in their field. The group also offers educational opportunities and access to members-only publications and a newsletter.
  • Union Test Prep Practice Test for CNAs Individuals preparing for their CNA examination can take advantage of this resource, which offers a practice test. Questions cover the skills and knowledge that CNAs need, including basic nursing skills, client rights, emotional and mental health needs, restorative skills, and legal and ethical behavior.
  • Mometrix Test Preparation On its website, Mometrix offers plenty of free preparation and study resources for several different standardized tests, such as the CNA certification exam. Users can take a practice test, watch an instructional video, and read about different strategies for conquering the exam.

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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