Start Your Nursing Career As A Certified Nursing Assistant

The nation’s aging population is causing increased demand for healthcare professionals. This includes demand for entry-level positions such as Certified Nursing Assistant, or CNA. These professionals, also known as nurse aides, provide basic care to patients and handle certain medical procedures.

To be hired as a certified nursing assistant, prospective workers do not need an expensive college degree. Instead, they must complete a state-approved training program, pass a rigorous test and receive their state licence. In this article, we explain in detail what CNAs do and which steps must be taken to become one.


What Are Certified Nursing Assistants?

Certified Nursing Assistants, or CNAs, are healthcare professionals that work in hospitals, clinics, physician’s offices, home health centers, and other facilities. This position is also known as Nurse Aide, or NA. The responsibilities of a certified nursing assistant will vary depending on where they work. However, most certified nursing assistants help licensed practical nurses and registered nurses carry out basic health care tasks. For example, certified nursing assistants help patients eat, bathe, dress up and move around.

Certified nursing assistants are also trained to perform some medical procedures. For example, they know how to measure and interpret vital signs, administer medication, and provide catheter care. In certain facilities, certified nursing assistants will also be in charge of other tasks, such as greeting new patients, preparing empty rooms and filing paperwork. Also, they are usually required to maintain detailed patient records and prepare reports to help avoid issues between shifts.

Certified nursing assistants can work in both part-time and full-time positions. However, some healthcare facilities require more flexibility, as patients often need assistance during nights or weekends. In general, certified nursing assistants share shifts with licensed practical nurses and registered nurses, who supervise their work and constantly provide instructions. Certified nursing assistants may share workspace instead with home health aides and occupational therapy assistants when working for private healthcare agencies such as home health centers.

How Much Do CNAs Make?

According to a study by PayScale.com, the average salary of an entry-level certified nursing assistant with less than five years of experience is around $23,000 per year. Workers with five to ten years of experience receive compensation of around $25,000. Certified nursing assistants with more than ten years of experience can earn up to $27,000 per year. Actual salary also varies according to location. PayScale.com estimates that certified nursing assistants working in places such as Denver, Colorado and Las Vegas, Nevada, can earn between 11 and 14 percent above the national average.


It is not unusual for certified nursing assistant to advance to better positions in their careers. The most immediate position would be as a licensed practical nurse (LPN), which earns up to $37,000, depending on previous experience and location. To become a licensed practical nurse, certified nursing assistants must complete a state-approved training program, which is offered at community colleges and vocational schools.

The salary of certified nursing assistants matches that of other entry-level positions in the industry. Home health aides, for example, receive on average $23,000 per year when working full time at a home health care agency. Their salary can be higher or lower if they work on their own. Occupational Therapy aide, another high-demand entry-level job position, has an average salary of $28,000 per year. Other positions with higher requirements, such as dialysis and hemodialysis technician, offer better initial salaries above $30,000.

As of 2016, more than 1.6 million nursing assistants were employed around the country. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job demand for nursing assistants is expected to grow at least 11 percent in the next few years. By 2026, the agency predicts that more than 100,000 new nursing assistant job positions will be created.

How To Become A CNA

To become a certified nursing assistant, aspiring workers must first complete a state-approved training program. Such programs are offered by community colleges and vocational schools. However, students must have a high school diploma or GED before being allowed to enroll. Some healthcare facilities also offer CNA training programs to people interested in starting a career in the industry. Aspiring nurses can find a list of state-approved programs by contacting their state’s Board of Nursing.

Most training programs last between six and twelve weeks. The American Red Cross offers a Nurse Assistant Training program, or NAT, which aspiring nurses can take. This program is available in 13 states and prepares students to pass the required CNA examination. Harper College, in contrast, offers a CNA certificate program that lasts for 6 credit hours and can be finished in several days.

Finishing a state-approved program is only the first step to become a certified nursing assistant. The second step is to register with the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) and pass the Certified Nursing Aide Competency Exam (CNACE), which is needed to obtain certified status. This exam is also known as Nurse Aide Assessment Examination (NAAE). Newly-trained nurse assistants usually become eligible for the test as soon as they complete their education.

The CNA examination is designed to measure the knowledge of newly-trained nurse assistants and is divided in two parts. The first part is a written examination with around 60 multiple-choice questions that must be answered correctly in less than 90 minutes. However, the actual number of questions and available time varies by state. The second part is a clinical test where newly-trained nurse assistants will be asked to perform several medical procedures. In general, the clinical part is composed of five skill tests, handwashing and indirect care. The amount of time available to complete these tasks is usually 30 to 40 minutes. Those who fail the test can retake it up to three times.

After passing the CNA examination, aspiring nurse assistants must obtain a state license. This is a mandatory requirement in every U.S. state and territory, including the District of Columbia. This license is issued by the state’s Board of Nursing, and all newly-trained nurse assistants must obtain it before they are allowed to work. When issuing a nurse assistants license, states take into account professional and legal history of applicants. Some states also perform a criminal background check to determine professional fitness. Most states require nurse assistants to renew their license every two years. In some cases, this might require retaking the examination.

During the process, newly-trained nurse assistants will be asked to pay a procedure fee, which varies by state. For example, the Florida Board of Nursing charges a $175 licensing and application fee. Additional fees may be charged for fingerprinting. In contrast, applicants living in Nevada must pay $290 for the same fees. The final step for a certified nurse assistant would be to find a job once they have obtained their license from a state Board of Nursing. There are currently more than 80,000 job openings for nurse assistants nationwide.

Most certified nursing assistants go back to school once they join the workforce. By completing a twelve-month program at a community college or vocational school, nurse assistants can become Licensed Practical Nurses, or LPN. After that, they can specialize in a particular medical field, such as IV therapy, pharmacology, long-term care, developmental disabilities and correctional health. Another option is to become a registered nurse (RN) by obtaining an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in nursing. Registered nurses earn between $60,000 and $80,000 per year.

How Affordable Is A CNA Program?

To become a certified nursing assistant, people do not need to apply for a student loan or invest tens of thousands of dollars. The reason is that, as an entry-level position, nursing assistance does not require a college degree. Instead, aspiring nurse assistants only need to complete a certification or state-approved training program before being allowed to work.

On average, a CNA training program costs around $1,200. For example, the NAT program offered by the American Red Cross costs $1,300. The program offered by Harper College has a different price depending on where students come from. In-district students must pay $130 per credit, for a total of $780. Out-of-district students, in contrast, must pay almost $390 per credit, raising the program’s total cost to around $2,300.

Another option is to seek a nursing diploma, which are also offered by community colleges and vocational schools. Their cost is higher than a CNA training program, but workers who complete them will have an easier route towards becoming a registered nurse. A student attending Northeast Community College in Nebraska, for example, would have to pay around $4,000 to obtain a nursing diploma.

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