How to Become a CNA: Job Description, Education Requirements & Salary

Would you like to work in the medical field without having to spend an eternity in college or drop a load of cash on the schooling? Are you down with giving sponge baths and collecting urine samples? Yes? Sweet, then you should totally become a certified nursing assistant (CNA from here on out). It’s a quick little journey to becoming a CNA, so buckle up and prepare for the ride.

How to Become a CNA

Are you excited to become a CNA? Well if you aren’t excited yet, you certainly will be after you read how easy it is to become one. Let’s get to it!

Education and Training

The first thing that you will need to do to become a CNA is to find a training program that is state approved and accredited. During this program you will learn all of the basics of clinical work with minor nursing skills in a clinical setting. CNA programs can be found in many high schools, community colleges, vocational and technical schools, hospitals and even through some other health care organizations.

There will also be a pretty good amount of on the job training involved during the CNA program. Your training will be under the direct supervision of a trained nurse or otherwise appointed person. It’s important to get this training documented as it is one of the requirements to even take your final CNA examination test.

Licensing, Certifications and Registrations

Once you have your state approved CNA program completed, you will be able to take your certified nursing assistant competency exam. With the completion of the CNA examination, you will then finally have the official title of a certified nursing assistant. Awesome job!

There are some extra credentials that you can earn that will look really good on your resume and may even help you to get a better rate of pay. Some states will allow CNA’s to become Certified Medication Assistants (CMA) too. CMA’s are able to administer medications. You may also get extra certifications in specialty areas such as geriatrics or rehabilitation if you choose to work in those settings.

There are a few special qualities that will be great to have when you are a CNA and each will help to perform your job.

  • Communication skills – As a certified nursing assistant, you will really need to be able to communicate effectively. This is so very important because each patient will have very specific medical needs and they may have special instructions involved with their care that is crucial. If you do not communicate properly with your supervising nursing staff then you may be risking their health and potentially harming your patient. Ask questions and make sure that you understand the expectations set out for their care.
  • Compassion – Having a decent amount of compassion is part of this job. You will be caring for the sick, injured and the elderly and they will certainly appreciate the compassion and empathy that you show towards them
  • Patience – This is a job that can be very taxing at times and it will often require a good amount of patience. You will have to provide each patient with the highest quality of care and the best way to do that is by exercising patients when bathing, feeding and cleaning up after your patients.
  • Physical Stamina – You will be a busy little bee while working as a CNA. You’ll really need to be in good physical health to keep up with the physical demands of being on your feet for your shifts, along with doing all of the heavy lifting and moving of patients that is required.

CNA Schools

Sorry, we could not find any matching schools

How Long Does it Take to Become a CNA

One of the best things about the process of becoming a CNA is that it doesn’t really take that long at all! A CNA program on average can take anywhere from 3 to 8 weeks depending on how intensive the course is and the examination required can be taken immediately after. That’s nothing compared to other professions that take years to complete. Another good thing about the short duration of this program is that is allows you to get working faster and earning an income.


CNA Requirements

You are over the biggest hurdle and have almost done everything that you need to become a CNA! Woohoo! Now you need to take your state examination, but first you need to make sure that you meet all of the requirements to take the CNA licensing exam first. Here are the minimum requirements:

  • Age – To become a CNA you will have to be at least 18 years of age
  • Competency – Once you have completed your CNA course you will then have to pass a written competency course. This extra written course helps to ensure the state that you have indeed completed the required CNA course in full. You will also have to complete at least 40 hours of clinical training under the direct supervision of a nurse to test the requirements that were set out.
  • High School Education – A high school diploma of GED is required to complete the state licensing process to become a CNA.
  • Transcripts – You will have to submit an official transcript of your CNA program as well as the transcripts from high school or your GED program.
  • Background Check – There will be a pretty intense and extensive background check performed before you can get your CNA licensure. You will need to have a background that is free of drug related incidents and any criminal charges as well. Having either of these things on your personal record will make it impossible to complete the licensing process.
  • Wrongdoing – It is also very crucial that you do not have any incidents of abuse or neglect on your record. This too will make it impossible to move ahead with your plans to become a CNA.
  • Tests – You will obviously need to pass all of the tests within your CNA course along with the ones that are required by the state licensing board. You will be able to take the exam a total of three times, so make sure that each one counts and that you learn from each one to improve upon your results.
  • English Proficiency – It is very important that you are able to understand, speak and read English very well. It is essential to be able to communicate with your patients and the other medical staff in order to perform your job to the best of your ability. It’s great if you do speak other languages though because you will likely encounter several patients that have a language barrier. You will make them feel more at ease if you can communicate with them even if on a basic level.

CNA Salary

Let’s go ahead and talk about the cheddar that you are going to earn as a CNA, because we know that you are wondering what the salary is by now. Well I guess we will have to tell you before you get creative with ways to take our temperature…

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2013 the median annual salary for CNA’s is $24,890, which translates into $11.97 an hour. As with any salary expectation there is going to be a variation depending on experience, location and the type of facility that you are employed in. To give you an idea of the possible salary range that you may encounter: The lowest 10% of salaries paid to CNA’s is $18,600 and the highest 10% of salaries paid to CNA’s is $35,780.

So as you can see the difference in pay isn’t super substantial, but something to consider nonetheless. The graph below provides a nice and clear picture of which states have the highest paid CNA’s. Hopefully you are in one of the states that have higher rates of pay and if not, at least you know where they are and you can make career decision with a different mindset.

cna BLS

What Does a CNA Do?

Your main job as a CNA is to provide rather basic care for patients in hospitals or residential care facilities like nursing homes or rehabilitation centers. In a hospital setting you will be a support care person and an assistant to nurses and doctors. For those that work in nursing homes or similar environments will serve as the primary care person for  patients that do not need more advanced or acute medical attention.

During your shifts as a CNA you will typically perform the following job duties:

  • Bathe and keep patients clean
  • Assist patients with their toilet needs and help them get dressed
  • Assist patients with turning or re-positioning themselves while in bed or a wheelchair. There may be times when it is necessary to move or re-position a patient that is unable to move on their own
  • Be the first point of contact between the patient and nurses. If the patient has any issues or health concerns you will record them and report to a nurse
  • Check patients’ vital signs at regular intervals. Vitals that you will most often check will be blood pressure, temperature and oxygen saturation
  • Bring patients meals and fluids as needed. You may also have patients that require assistance eating or drinking, which will require your attention as well

There will also be a small amount of charting that is required of CNA’s, but it is significantly less than what is required of nurses. You will be responsible for entering all of the vitals that you record for each patient as well as any notes that pertain to them or their care. A lot of CNA’s carry a note pad around and jot down anything that is pertinent to each patient while they are in the room. Doing this ensures that the correct information is entered rather than having to remember all of the details, temps and blood pressures of the patients under your care.

Where Can I Work as a CNA and What Will I Do?

As a CNA you will work in hospitals, clinics and nursing homes or rehabilitation centers. Each place that you work will have different job duties and different job expectations. Let’s break down each place that you can work as a CNA and what the job is in these specific places.


As a CNA in a hospital setting you will constantly be on the go. Besides the basic care functions that we previously listed under the job duties section, you will actually perform many other duties that are specific to a job within a hospital. You can expect to perform the following functions while working as a CNA in a hospital: changing linens, attaching EKG leads, accuchecks (mostly for diabetic patients), blood draws, collect urine and fecal samples and act as a patient sitter for those that are high risk.


As a CNA you may work in a clinical setting as well. In a clinical setting you will assist the nurses and doctors for the most part. You will check patients in upon arrival and out upon departure. You will also take each patient’s vitals, weigh them and even collect urine samples. It’s common for CNA’s in clinics to make patient phone calls to obtain insurance authorizations, medication prescription requests or to schedule other procedures as they are needed. CNA’s are often in charge of getting patient rooms set up and cleaned as well.

Nursing Home or Rehabilitation Facility:

Your job as a CNA in a nursing home or rehabilitation facility will echo the duties that we’ve already mentioned. The key difference here, however, is that your patients may not be able to care for themselves at all and are usually in these facilities for extended stays. You will likely form stronger bonds with these patients that you are going to be caring for each day and sometimes completely including feeding and diaper changes.

CNA Courses

To become a CNA you will need to find a state approved program at a fully accredited school. We did a bit of research and found some CNA programs that are pretty good options for you to enroll in if they are in your neck of the woods. If they aren’t, then you can see what kind of programs to look for when you get ready to enroll in a CNA program.

Pima Medical Institute

The Pima Medical Institute offers a certified nursing assistant program that will teach you all of the skills that are needed to successfully perform your jobs duties as a CNA as well as pass your state board examination. This is a quick and thorough program that will cover infection control, communication, interpersonal skills, safety and emergency procedures, personal care skills, psychosocial needs, basic restorative care and many other important topics.

The CNA program at the Pima Medical Institute is only six weeks long, which is awesome! You will be able to use financial aid for this program at this school and there is a helpful Net Price Calculator that can help you to figure out what the tuition fees will be. It’s a pretty cool little tool that can help with the initial sticker shock that comes with going to college.

St. Charles Community College

The St. Charles Community College offers a certified nurse assistant program. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services is actually the driving force behind this program as they actually are the ones providing the instruction. The CNA program will teach each student basic nursing skills, resident rights, safety, and communication techniques as well as how to control infection. This is a program that will leave you totally prepared to work in a hospital, nursing home or clinical setting.

There three components to the CNA program at St. Charles Community College. The three components are: classroom instruction, clinical internship and the final exam, which is actually your state board exam. Each student will have to complete each phase of this program and each is required to become a fully certified CNA. Most students are able to finish this program within about 5 months.

American Red Cross

Believe it or not, the American Red Cross offers a certified nurse’s assistant program as well. The course covers everything that a program that is offered through a college or vocational school does. You will learn about CPR, how to take vital signs, range of motion exercises and many other important skills that are necessary to become an awesome CNA.

There are two components to the Red Cross CNA program. Part 1 is the nurse assistant training and this part is mainly done in a classroom. Part 2 is the clinical component that gives students a lot of hands on experience. This CNA program is only 4 to 8 weeks long and will leave you in perfect condition to take your state licensing test.

Watch this Video!

You guys have to watch this super fun video from YouTube poster “NurseMendoza”. He will surely pump you up and make you excited about becoming a CNA. It’s really nice to hear a nurse pump up the importance of CNA’s and it is much deserved. Definitely give this little video a watch and let it fuel your desire to start on the journey to become a certified nursing assistant. You can watch the video right below or by clicking here. Enjoy!

Final Grade

It’s time to put down the thermometers and blood pressure cuffs because the time has come for the final grades for the job as a certified nursing assistant.

  • Degree vs. Debt: A

We are going to give out lots of A’s with this career choice it seems. The program to become a CNA is short, sweet and most importantly cheap. The degree to debt ratio is for once almost nonexistent for the most part. The course to become a CNA is really not that expensive at all and there are places that offer it for virtually nothing. You also will be making a decent wage to start with, so money that you pay out of pocket will be quickly made up.

  • Difficulty of Degree: A

This is a program that is actually pretty easy and it is also pretty fast to complete. You can’t really go wrong with 3 to 8 weeks of training and a brief certification test. Most of what you will cover in your classes is learned by practicing and reading from informative text books. There’s virtually no math required and a very small amount of science that actually comes in the form of anatomy and physiology.

  • Happiness Quotient: B-

We know that this is a rewarding job for most because you are helping people when they need it the most and that is great! There are some things about this job that kind of stink…literally. A big part of this job is bathing patients, helping them to and from the bathroom or even having to change your patients diapers. Those things aren’t all that enjoyable and can be a bit on the less than desirable side to put it mildly. There are also times that will really pull on your heart strings and that can be hard to deal with on the daily. There will be times that you lose patients or that you have to see them suffering. There isn’t much you can do except help them, but it doesn’t make it any less sad.

  • Job Outlook: A

The job outlook for CNA’s is booming in a major way and it locks in some serious job security for you and your fellow CNA’s. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is projecting the job growth for CNA’s is going to be at about 21% from 2012 to 2022 and that is amazing. That is way faster than the average for all other careers. A possible reason for this huge growth is because the “baby boomer” generation is getting older and there are more patients as a result, so more patients means a higher need for health care workers.

Sources and Recommended Reading

Sources are as important to us as a good pair of nursing shoes and cute scrubs are going to be to you once you become a CNA. You can get click happy in the article itself to be led to each of these links or you can just click from down here as well. Either way you slice it there is a good amount of information that will get your gears turning.

One comment
  1. Anonymous

    November 18, 2015 at 11:58 am

    Hi, you have shared really valuable information How to Become a CNA, really great idea for good career.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *