Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) Career Guide

What is a CNA?

Certified Nurse Assistants (CNAs) provide care to patients in medical settings by assisting them with their everyday tasks, specifically eating, bathing, and more. It takes compassion and patience to get the job done. There are also educational and licensing requirements to consider if you want to become a CNA. Learn more about the scope of work and the path to becoming a certified nurse assistant.

How to Become a Certified Nursing Assistant

To become a certified nursing assistant, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recommends the following:

  • Complete an approved training program
  • Pass your state’s competency exam

Some states require you to pass a criminal background check as well. Check with your state board of nursing or health to learn if this is a requirement where you live.

CNA training programs are typically offered in vocational schools, community colleges, high schools, and through the Red Cross. To ensure you experience a smooth process on your path to becoming a CNA, you’ll want to apply for your license within a specific time frame after completing your training. This information can be found on your state board of nursing’s website and should be communicated to you during your program.

What to Expect on the CNA Skills Test

The CNA skills test is an opportunity to take what they’ve learned and apply it in a test setting to demonstrate that you are prepared for work as a certified nursing assistant. According to CNA Plus Academy, a popular CNA exam training website, the test is broken down into two parts: written and critical.

The written or theoretical portion of the exam consists of multiple-choice questions. While it varies from state to state, those taking the test will typically have 90 minutes to answer 60 or more questions.

The clinical exam consists of performing assigned tasks using a set of specific skills, usually five, along with demonstrating hand washing and indirect care. The test time length may vary by state, but it typically lasts 30 to 40 minutes encompassing 20 to 30 tasks. Examples of these tasks include:

  • Feeding a patient
  • Changing a patient’s position from lying to their side
  • Dressing a patient
  • Assisting a patient with their bedpan
  • Emptying, recording, and measuring the contents of a patient’s urinary drainage bag
  • Measuring a patient’s pulse
  • Changing the patient’s bed while they are in it

There are three opportunities to take and pass both portions of the CNA exam. Those who are unable to pass the written and clinical exam within two years of completing their CNA training must start the program over again, including the application process.

Certified Nursing Assistant Duties and Responsibilities

CNAs play a critical role in their patient’s quality of life. They work under the supervision of a registered nurse (RN) or licensed practical nurse (LPN) performing a variety of tasks that ease their patient’s day. They take notes about the patient’s health concerns and relay them to the supervising RN, measure vital signs, housekeep, tend to their patient’s specific health concerns, and most importantly, keep the patient clean.

CNAs can work in many different environments but they will typically perform similar jobs regardless of the setting.

What do CNAs do in hospitals?

Certified nursing assistants offer help in nearly every aspect of patient care when working in hospitals. CNAs help to feed, clean, and move bedridden patients, respond to calls, measure blood pressure and other vital signs and monitor the food intake of each patient to ensure they receive enough nourishment.

In addition to these responsibilities, some hospitals hire CNAs strictly as unit clerks who enter data in computers, answer the phones, and receive special training to watch monitors and alert nursing staff of concerns.

As a hospital CNA, it is common to work nights, weekends, and holidays, according to the BLS Nursing Assistants Work Environment . It is recommended to be healthy and fit while working as a hospital CNA because the job will frequently require physical energy to help move patients around. It is also helpful to have strong interpersonal skills as most CNAs will build strong relationships with their patients.

What do CNAs do in assisted living facilities?

Assisted living facilities house individuals who can typically take care of themselves on a day-to-day basis, but may need some assistance when grooming, dressing or in other circumstances. CNAs working in these facilities help to keep the residents’ rooms clean, monitor and record vital signs, write down resident’s activities throughout the day, and answer bed calls.

As a CNA working in an assisted living facility, you will do what you can to keep the residents safe and happy. Many CNAs in these facilities work full-time and may have weekend, night, or holiday schedules to meet the demand of the residents. It helps to be physically fit, to make it easier when helping someone from their bed to their wheelchair and vice-versa.

What do CNAs do in nursing homes?

CNAs in nursing homes can expect to do the same duties as a nursing assistant in an assisted living facility. One small difference between the two is the varying mental states of the residents CNAs serve in a nursing home. Nursing homes typically house residents that require more attention than assisted living facilities and it is your duty as the CNA to ensure their needs are met.

While working in a nursing home, you can expect to feed residents, clean their rooms, bathe, clean, and dress the residents, monitor their health conditions, and assist in engagement activities. Work in a nursing home is just as demanding as any other facility because the residents rely heavily on nursing assistants to get through their day.

Nursing home CNAs can expect a standard work schedule with some rotating nightly, weekend, or holiday shifts to help with residents who need extra help.

What do CNAs do in Emergency Rooms (ER)?

Patients in the ER are critically ill and need immediate help to relieve their symptoms. This means that CNAs are expected to keep the emergency room orderly and running efficiently. CNAs that work in the ER are tasked with taking non-critical patients into rooms, taking patients to get changed, monitoring their vital signs, and recording notes about vital signs and other concerns. They may also prepare patients for X-rays or bring them a blanket to keep them warm.

Emergency room CNAs work full-time, but their schedule consists of odd hours including nights, weekends, and holidays. They may be on-call to respond to an overflow of patients at the hospital, too.

Certified Nursing Assistant Salary and Pay Per Hour

CNAs can work in many different locations, which will cause their pay to vary. The national median pay for nursing assistants and orderlies in 2020 was $30,830, according to the BLS.

National median wages varied by work environment. The BLS reports that in May 2020, the median annual wage for nursing assistants in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

  • Government $37,240
  • Hospitals; state, local, and private $32,160
  • Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities) $30,120
  • Continuing care retirement communities and assisted living facilities for the elderly $30,020
  • Home healthcare services $29,210

Certified Nursing Assistant Career Outlook

Employment of nursing assistants is projected to grow 8% from 2020 to 2030, according to 2020 BLS data. faster than the average projected growth for all occupations.

The growth is expected to be in correlation with the aging baby-boom generation that will need increased medical attention as they reach retirement and beyond. Those looking to become CNAs can expect an increase in demand from assisted living facilities, ERs, and nursing homes.

Certified Nursing Assistant License

If you are a CNA transferring from another state, you need to request “reciprocity,” according to the National Network of Career Nursing Assistants. This means you are asking the destination state to recognize the license you received in the original state. This requires a ‘Proof of Nurse Aide Registration’ form for most states. It can be found online or in the endorsement application packet when applying for a job in a new location.

CNA Renewal Certification

Certified nurse’s assistants are in high demand and will continue to be as medical conditions become more complex and prevalent with our aging population. The medical industry and state licensing boards require up-to-date licensing in order to guarantee their employees follow protocol. CNA renewal will likely vary state to state, so it’s important to know how to renew yours.

If you are trying to renew your certification, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Renew your certification before it expires. You may wish to renew your license at least one month in advance, because it can take up to a few weeks for the renewal to be issued.
  • You must have proof that you have worked as a CNA for the minimum number of hours designated by your state’s Nursing Aide Registry.
  • If you have not worked as a CNA in the last two years, you may be required to take the certification exam again.
  • Obtain and fill out a renewal application from the Nursing Aide Registry office. Your most recent employer will fill out the second section.
  • Mail the renewal fee, application form, and any documents that are also requested to the address that is specified on the renewal application form.

If you skip any of these steps or fail to renew your license on time, you may be required to take the certification exam over again.

Consider Certified Nurse Assisting as Your Health Care Career

If you’re excited about helping people, interested in working in a variety of health care settings and ready to work hard to improve the lives of patients, you may be a good fit for certified nurse assisting. Many colleges and universities offer programs to get you started in this new career.

Information on this page last updated March 2022