Career Guide: How to Become a CNA

Last updated: July 16, 2024
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Eleana Bowman
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Career Guide: How to Become a CNA
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If you love taking care of people…

If you’re looking for a compelling career in the healthcare field where you can make an impact…

If you’re ready for a role that is challenging and rewarding…

Becoming a CNA, or certified nursing assistant, might be perfect for you.

Certified nursing assistants (CNAs) are essential to a healthcare team — they provide direct, hands-on patient care. And, to take on the responsibilities with confidence, you’ll need rigorous training and official certification.

This career guide will cover the basics of how to become a CNA, including information on job duties, education requirements, and the average salary. You can start your journey to becoming a CNA by taking the steps outlined below.

What is a CNA?

A CNA, an abbreviation for certified nursing assistant, is a frontline healthcare professional who provides basic patient care under a licensed nurse’s direction. They work with patients in a wide variety of settings, including hospitals, nursing homes, and long-term care facilities.

CNAs are responsible for helping patients with activities in their daily lives, taking their vital signs, and assisting with medical procedures while following care plan orders.

These professionals are often the first point of contact for patients and their families. As such, they must be compassionate, organized, and knowledgeable.

The role of a CNA is essential within the healthcare system, which is reflected by the 1,371,050 employed nursing assistants throughout the U.S. The aging population has increased the demand for these professionals, which are projected to grow in number by 5% from 2021–2031.

Some start working as CNAs with no intentions of advancement, while others pursue this role before pursuing a higher-level nursing degree, such as a registered nurse or licensed practical nurse.

In either case, this career offers a steady salary, flexible work hours, and the chance to positively impact patients’ lives.

CNA job duties and responsibilities

While a CNA’s job duties and responsibilities are standard, every day is atypical and diverse, as the health of their charges can vary day-to-day. CNAs may care for new patients or those with recently updated needs.

The most common duties CNAs perform include the following:

Providing personal care

A nursing assistant’s primary role is to provide essential personal care services for patients. This includes assisting them with activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing, and grooming.

Every patient has a different level of basic care needs, so CNAs must be able to adjust their approach depending on the situation. They must also pay attention to patient safety and comfort while providing care.

Monitoring and reporting patient symptoms

CNAs are typically the first healthcare professionals to note patient condition changes. They are responsible for accurately documenting and reporting changes in a patient’s vitals and other symptoms.

CNAs must also monitor patients for signs of pain, discomfort, and other medical issues and report them to the supervising nurse. Strong attention to detail and the ability to quickly recognize symptoms are essential for this job.

Assisting with mobility

Some patients require assistance with mobility. CNAs help patients move around and perform exercises to improve their strength, flexibility, and balance. They also assist with transfers and lifting patients, whether as part of a team effort or by using mechanical equipment.

To minimize the risk of injury, CNAs must maintain proper ergonometric techniques when assisting patients. They must also be knowledgeable about the use of medical equipment, such as wheelchairs, canes, and walkers.

Taking and recording vital signs

CNAs are responsible for taking patients’ vital signs, including blood pressure, temperature, and pulse. They must accurately record these readings in each patient’s medical chart and report any changes promptly.

CNAs must also know acceptable ranges for patients’ vital signs and recognize when values are outside of them. Missing or incorrect vital sign recordings could be dangerous and lead to misdiagnosis or a delay in treatment.

Help with meals

There are a variety of duties that CNAs must complete related to meals. This includes setting up trays and delivering them to patients, assisting with feeding, documenting intake values, and regularly monitoring patients for signs of malnutrition or dehydration.

CNAs must also be familiar with meal plans, therapeutic diets, and any special dietary restrictions. For instance, some patients may require thickened liquids or pureed foods to prevent them from choking during meals, so CNAs must be able to provide those items.

Preparing rooms for admissions

Hospital admissions can come at any time of day, so CNAs must be prepared to assist with the admission process. This can include helping to move patients from one room to another, setting up rooms for admission, or stocking supplies.

CNAs must be comfortable carrying out tasks quickly and efficiently to ensure admissions are handled in a timely manner. As such, being organized and detail-oriented is vital to this role.

Turning and repositioning patients

CNAs must regularly turn and reposition bedridden patients to help reduce the risk of bedsores. This also helps prevent stiffness and muscle atrophy. To do this, CNAs must be able to safely lift and move patients using proper ergonomic techniques.

This job duty is often completed in pairs of two, so good communication and teamwork skills are vital.

Some bedridden patients may require special care, such as pressure relief mattresses or positioning devices, so it’s also helpful for CNAs to be familiar with these items.

Answering patient call lights

CNAs must constantly be on their toes so they can respond quickly to patient call lights. They might be called to help patients with personal hygiene needs or to provide a listening ear.

CNAs must also be aware of any policies or regulations related to answering call lights to avoid patient safety issues.

These professionals must be comfortable interacting with patients from different backgrounds and have strong interpersonal skills. They should also be able to recognize when a patient requires assistance from other medical staff and know when and how to contact them.

How to become a CNA: the step-by-step process

While the education and training required to work as a CNA are streamlined, becoming a CNA is not always straightforward.

Requirements range from state to state, but most states require prospective CNAs to complete an approved program — a program that’s typically offered at community colleges or vocational schools.

Let’s look at how to become a CNA in more detail.

  1. Obtain a high school diploma or GED

One of the fundamental requirements for becoming a CNA is a high school diploma or equivalent. This is a requirement in most states, so staying on track for graduation is crucial if you are still in high school or need a GED.

  1. Complete an approved CNA program

The next step is to enroll in and complete a state-approved training program. The hours of classroom training will vary depending on the state, but they can range from a few weeks to several months.

These courses provide a comprehensive overview of patient care techniques, including medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, communication skills, infection control, and nutrition basics.

Completing such a program ensures that the CNA is well-equipped to provide the best care possible — while also considering HIPAA and other regulations.

  1. Complete clinical training

Once their coursework is complete, aspiring CNAs must complete a set number of hours in a clinical setting. This provides them with hands-on experience under the supervision of an experienced CNA or registered nurse.

This part of their training helps ensure that aspiring CNAs are comfortable and confident when performing their duties in a real healthcare environment.

Some training occurs in a hospital, while other sessions might be held in a senior living facility, rehab facility, or another type of healthcare facility.

  1. Pass the state certification exam

The final step to becoming a CNA is to pass the competency exam required by the state. This test assesses the CNA’s knowledge and ability to perform all the required duties outlined by state regulations.

Once the individual passes this exam, they will receive their CNA certification and be able to start their job hunt.

  1. Stay up to date with certification

If a CNA wants to keep their certification current, they must complete a certain number of hours each year performing CNA duties and enroll in continuing education courses.

These requirements, which are typically set by each state’s nursing board, help ensure that CNAs stay up-to-date on the latest regulations, policies, and best practices for providing outstanding patient care.

At this point, aspiring CNAs should have a solid understanding of how to become CNAs and what is involved in the process. You can become a CNA with hard work, dedication, and a commitment to providing quality patient care.

Remember that each state has its own set of requirements and regulations regarding CNA work, so be sure to research those before starting your journey.

CNA salary and job demand

A CNA’s salary is typically competitive compared to other entry-level healthcare positions.

The average salary for a CNA is $30,290 per year or $14.56 per hour. This rate can vary, however, depending on numerous factors, including the location, the CNA’s experience, and the type of facility.

In addition to earning a good salary, CNAs benefit from job stability and security. As mentioned earlier, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the demand for CNAs will grow at a rate of 5% over the next decade. This equates to nearly 220,200 new openings yearly, making the prospective job market quite favorable.

With such significant growth, aspiring CNAs can look forward to a bright future with lots of opportunities and potential for career advancement.

The flexibility of this career path makes it a great option for anyone looking to start a new career or switch careers in the bustling healthcare industry. It is an excellent way to get your foot in the door and provides plenty of potential for future growth.

Career progression

Some CNAs decide to use their job as a helpful stepping stone toward future healthcare roles.

Many hospitals and other medical facilities look favorably on applicants with prior experience working in healthcare. So becoming a CNA is an excellent first step for those pursuing advanced nursing or medical positions.

Some of the most prevalent career paths for CNAs include licensed practical nurses, registered nurses, and medical assistants. The curriculum built into the CNA training makes transitioning into these careers straightforward.

CNAs may also decide to pursue additional certifications to broaden their job prospects. For example, they may become medical assistants or phlebotomists by completing additional coursework and obtaining the necessary credentials.

Staying up to date with soft skills and professional development is an integral part of maintaining a successful CNA career.

Start your journey to becoming a CNA

Becoming a CNA is an ideal option if you want to join the medical field and make a difference in people’s lives. The training consists of state-approved education, clinical experience, and passing a certification exam.

Once certified, CNAs can look forward to competitive salaries, job security, and the potential for career advancement.

With the proper dedication and a study plan, you can become a CNA in no time and have a successful career in the healthcare industry.

There’s no better time to begin a new career than now. Check out open positions on Jobcase, and be sure to take a look at our Getting Hired Resource Center for help landing a new job, building a resume, and interviewing for positions.

1 Comment


Bullet point

Cna's In California as a new graduate start around $19 hourly and go up to at least $25 hourly in 2023 in most city's. Work for registry and get $24-$28 hrly and sometimes more. 😀