Certified Nursing Assistant CNA Guide

Debra Riley


Welcome to our main Certified Nursing Assistant CNA Guide. This article deals with all aspects of how to become a CNA in the United States. We look at job descriptions, where they work, training, career outlook, and of course salaries.

A CNA assists patients with their healthcare needs under the direction of a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or registered nurse (RN) – and doctors.

CNAs also go by the name of Patient Care Assistant (PCA), nurse’s aid, or nursing assistant.

Job Description – Direct Patient Care

If you want to experience direct nursing experience, you will enjoy working as a CNA. While some people use their experience as CNAs to meet the educational and job requirements for career progression toward registered nursing and beyond – other people remain CNAs.

You may believe that a CNA is a medical assistant or licensed practical nurse. However, the requirements for becoming a nursing assistant differ. An LPN must pass a state exam and acquire a license. Medical assistants primarily concentrate on assisting the doctor with a patient’s care.

A certified nursing assistant will work directly with patients and their day-to-day care. A very hands-on nursing career.

What You Need to Work in the Field

To obtain a CNA designation, you need to obtain a certificate. LPNs, on the other hand, enroll in classes that provide instruction, much the same as those that lead to an RN. In turn, LPNs must perform certain tasks that CNAs never perform.

CNA Responsibilities

A CNA is an invaluable member of the medical team as he or she assists the other nursing personnel in their daily jobs. Some of the responsibilities that CNAs perform include the following:

  • Turning patients to prevent bedsores
  • Collecting supplies for the doctor or nurses
  • Obtaining a patient’s vital signs
  • Answering patient requests or calls
  • Documenting patient information
  • Feeding patients
  • Measuring a patient’s liquid and food consumption
  • Attending to the personal hygiene of patients
  • Stocking medical inventory
  • Preparing a room for admission
  • Dressing patient wounds
  • Helping with health procedures

As you can see, when you work as a CNA or nursing assistant, you are involved directly with patient care. The job of a CNA is demanding both physically and mentally.

The type of responsibilities you must assume will vary by location and facility. The number of tasks you perform will be based on the nursing needs in the site where you work. Individual states establish the duties of CNAs. Therefore, what you can do is based on the state’s mandates.

cna guide

Where Do CNAs Work?

CNAs work in various kinds of healthcare settings including the following:

  • Inpatient hospitals
  • Nursing care facilities
  • Hospices
  • Retirement homes
  • Adult care or rehabilitation centers
  • Long-term residences

You will rarely see a CNA working in a doctor’s office. Their responsibilities focus on direct patient care. Therefore, they are needed in facilities where patients need ongoing care from a medical provider.

According to statistics collected from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, most nursing assistants work in nursing care facilities where they serve as intermediaries between the nurse and patient.

Very few CNAs work in home health care. Nurses and medical assistants are more likely to provide care in the home healthcare field.

Are You Flexible and Organized?

If you believe that you possess the qualities to become a nursing assistant, you should have traits that show that you are flexible, organized, compassionate, dependable, empathetic, and physically strong.

You should also be a good communicator. CNAs should be able to speak to the patient, his or her family, and the medical care staff.

How Much Can a Certified Nursing Assistant Earn?

The average CNA salary is $27,000 across all states and industries in the U.S. The level of salary just depends on the work setting. A CNA working in a government setting such as a VA hospital will earn more than a CNA who provides services in a residential home. In fact, the salary can differ by as much as $12,000 annually.

Again, you need to be flexible if you take on a CNA role. You should be able to accommodate the scheduling of the employer. While some CNAs only work at night, others may work various shifts throughout the week. If you are paid hourly, you can earn extra by working overtime. Other job roles are salaried.

States with Higher Salaries

While the cost of living must be factored into the amount you make, states that pay higher CNA salaries include Alaska (the highest at $17.81 per hour) and New York (which pays $16.65 per hour on average). The District of Columbia comes in third at $15.87 per hour on average. CNAs working in Nevada and Hawaii make just over $15.00 per hour on average.

Metropolitan Area Salaries

If you live in the states of Louisiana or Mississippi, the pay range slumps to just under $10.00 per hour on average. If you want to make more money, you need to concentrate on getting a job in a larger metropolitan area. Some of the higher-paying cities include San Francisco at $21.83 per hour and Fairbanks, Alaska at $20.17 per hour. Each of these cities sets the CNA salary at about $41,000 to $45,000 per year.

Higher Paying Non-Metro Areas

CNAs in non-metro areas or who work in rural areas enjoy higher salaries in southeast Alaska, Southwest Idaho, and Martha’s Vineyard. Again, you need to find out the rental and mortgage rates for the aforementioned cities to see what you can expect to make overall. Always consider the cost of living in the areas with higher than average salaries.

Excellent Job Prospects

Your chances of getting a job as a CNA are excellent, given that workers in this role are expected to be in high demand until 2024. This number will continue to increase as healthcare workers will need to take care of the boomer generation. Nursing assistants will need to care for dementia patients or older people undergoing neurological changes.

CNA Training

To become a certified nursing assistant (CNA), you need to enroll in a CNA training program. One popular program is offered by the American Red Cross and spans up to eight weeks. It just depends on where it is given. To attend the training, you need to do the following:

  • Attend an orientation about the training and career
  • Show that you received a GED or high school diploma or take a math or reading evaluation
  • Have a criminal background check performed
  • Complete a TB test and fill out the Red Cross’s physical document

If you attend the Red Cross training program, you must show up at a brick-and-mortar location. If you are pressed for time or you wish to take training online, you can do that as well.

Community colleges and vocational schools provide CNA training on the Internet. Some of the online CNA programs originate from hospitals. While you will receive your certificate sooner by going online, some employers may worry about the instructions. In-person training allows students to gain more direct hands-on experience.

How Long the Training Lasts

Most of the training programs last from a month to three months, depending on scheduling. Students complete clinical and class hours according to a state’s mandates. After you complete state-approved instruction, you can sit for the exam.

Exams feature two parts, one that covers multiple choice types of questions and the other that tests your practical nursing skills. Once you pass the exam and receive your certificate, your name is included on your state’s registry. From that point, you can start to apply for CNA openings.

Advancing as a Nurse – Career Progression

If you wish to go on to work as an LPN or RN after your CNA training, you can do so. Once you start training as an LPN or RN, you will find that your nursing assistant education will make learning easier. However, any training that you receive as a CNA cannot be used to reduce the time spent training as an LPN or RN.

When making the decision to become a nursing assistant, you need to review your personal and professional situation. Women who are older often find that CNA training offers a viable option, especially if they have not worked outside the home. Their caring nature and organizational ability can be used in the field.

If you are a younger woman or man, you will find that working as a nursing assistant will help you make the connections needed to advance to an LPN or RN possibly. Because this field is burgeoning, you will not find any shortage of work.

If you want to make good use of your time and would like to work directly with patients, you will like working as a CNA.

Can You Meet the Challenge?

It takes a special kind of person to take on the demands of this occupation. If you feel that you are up to the task and want to experience the rewards associated with a medical profession, you will want to learn more about your options online.

You can obtain further details by contacting professional organizations such as the Nursing Association of Health Care Assistants.

Learn all you can online first before you set up a time for training. Make sure that you are mentally and physically equipped for this rewarding yet demanding healthcare role.

Certified Nursing Assistant Resources

Nursing Association of Health Care Assistants


Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)

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