How to Become a CNA

This guide will walk you through everything you need to know about becoming a CNA, from the definition of the job all the way through education, licensure, and renewal. There are many paths to becoming a CNA, and we’ll explore all of them so that you can choose the one that makes the most sense for you.

What is a CNA?

CNAs act as caretakers for patients, and they perform a wide range of duties. Some of their duties involve helping to provide treatment to those suffering from medical problems. However, other duties simply include day to day caretaking of an elderly and/or incapacitated patient on a day to day basis. Sometimes, a patient will want someone to simply help them do things that provide a semblance of normalcy, such as fixing their hair or other ordinary grooming activities.

What does a CNA do?

A lot of people aren’t entirely sure of a CNA’s day to day responsibilities, and the truth is that they are many and vary widely. A nursing assistant provides medical care for patients of any gender, age or ethnicity in outpatient clinics and residential healthcare facilities. CNAs can be responsible for feeding, bathing and grooming patients, assisting RNs and LPNs with medical equipment and monitoring their patients’ vital signs. In addition to these tactical responsibilities CNAs also provide patients with significant emotional and social support. CNAs are not certified to dispense medications without additional certification. If they have this certification, they can provide the patient with medications after the dosage has been measured by a doctor or nurse.

Where do CNAs work?

Nursing assistants are employed in hospitals, adult daycare centers, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and private homes. In every setting, these professionals serve as a helpful liaison between the patient and their supervisor. Very often, they assist the LPN’s and RN’s in doing their job by supplying valuable information regarding their patients from what they have observed as they care for them.

Who do CNAs work with?

CNAs are supervised by a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or a registered nurse (RN) as they assist patients with their healthcare needs. Although this position requires a certain amount of skill and a strong work ethic, in view of various legal requirements and restrictions, CNAs are not allowed to perform certain medical procedures.

What are the requirements for becoming a CNA?

Before you try to become a CNA, you must make sure you have the proper education. Typically, this position does not require a college diploma, only a high school one. If you have not yet obtained your high school diploma and are past high school age, then you will need to get your high school equivalency diploma or GED.

How much money does a CNA make?

The average salary of a CNA varies from state to state. You can view the full salary ranges on our CNA salary page. In general, however, the current annual salary for a CNA for most of the country is roughly $39,000 according to information from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. There are a number of factors that can dramatically influence your pay, however. If you’ve spent several years as a nurse aide, have specialized work experience, or if you can find work at a University or government facility, it’s possible to make upwards of $55,000.

How to become a CNA

If you’d like to go down the path of becoming a CNA, these basic steps will walk you through what you need to do to obtain your license.

Where can I find CNA classes or training?

The training nursing assistants require, which lasts from 6 to 12 weeks, is provided by community colleges, the American Red Cross, various medical facilities, and online schools that offer CNA certification classes. Some long term care facilities, hospitals, and nursing homes may offer to pay for your training in exchange for signing an agreement to work for them after completing your CNA training program. While a few clinics may offer on-the-job training to their unskilled, inexperienced employees, this is rare. Also, anyone who is interested in becoming a certified nursing assistant must successfully complete the mandatory multiple-choice CNA exam as well as the CNA skills test.

Check out our state by state listings for CNA classes to find a training location near you or browse the listings below.

The CNA schools displayed in this section offer tuition-based programs.

What to expect during CNA training

During your CNA training, you will spend a lot of time in the classroom and hands-on training. During your CNA course you will learn about the following:

  • Medical terminology
  • Infection control
  • Patient and residents rights
  • Documentation
  • Communication skills
  • Basic patient care-vital signs, bathing, dressing, grooming, etc.
  • Preventing the spread of infections

Remember that your desired place of employment can influence what training you need. For instance, if you prefer to only work in nursing homes, you will not need to be trained in taking care of infants and children. However, if you are going to work in a hospital setting, they may require training for all ages, psychiatric patient training, and any other qualifications that they specify, so make sure you check. As you would assume, clinical hours (working hands-on with patients) will be part of your training and you will have to prove to your instructor(s) that you have learned the skills taught to you in your program and are able to put them to use in real life.

What is the CNA certification process?

While each state has a different process for CNA certification, they generally follow a similar protocol. Once a CNA has completed their approved training program and successfully passed the exam, they must go through the process of registering their name with the respective state CNA registry. All states require a criminal background check in addition to the training and exam requirements. State registry institutions can be boards of health, or within a Department of Health and Human Services. Some states require that CNAs renew their name with the registry every two years. Additionally, there are paperwork stipulations for those candidates that are seeking state reciprocity if they are registered as a CNA in another state, have completed RN programs in the military, or have completed some RN or LPN courses.

How long does it take to be a CNA?

In order to get a CNA license, you’ll need to pass a state-accredited CNA training course, which can last anywhere from 4 weeks to 16 weeks depending on the specific program. Becoming a CNA is very attractive to job seekers because the programs can be completed relatively quickly, which can open up many job opportunities. The length of time that it takes to get certified is far less than it takes to get a nursing certification, which can take at least 24-36 months. However, it can take four years to complete a nursing program.

Getting a job as a CNA

Since so many CNAs want to advance their careers in healthcare, the turnover rate for nursing assistant positions is relatively high. At the same time, the demand for them is also quite high, especially in those facilities that offer assisted living and continuing care for the elderly. Many of these institutions are well aware of the significant role a well-trained, dedicated nursing assistant can play in the quality of care they offer. Note also that various organizations, including the National Association of Health Care Assistants, provide CNAs with much-needed professional support.

There are several sites that provide CNA job openings such as:

The high turnover rate in nursing assistant positions is also due to the fact that it is relatively easy for them to receive additional training and become RNs. This is especially true today when they can continue working and take online classes at the same time. They can also find a wide range of degree programs that will enable them to advance their careers and continue to work in the healthcare field.

Renewing Your CNA License

After you get your CNA license, you will have to renew it. Typically, this renewal must be done every two years. In order to get your CNA license renewed, you will have to go through your state nursing board.

If you have not been actively working as a CNA during the two year period, getting your license renewal will be far more difficult. Most states require that CNAs work a certain number of continuous hours to get a renewal. Otherwise, you will likely have to apply, pass the background check, and take the test again. In addition, it is often recommended that you take continuing education classes after you get your license. If you haven’t, it is possible that you will need up having to take the CNA exam again.

It also is important to keep accurate records. Always save your pay stubs and contracts from employers. This will be important for ensuring that you are able to prove your work history to the licensing board.