How to Become a

Certified Nurse Assistant

The complete career guide to be a Certified Nurse Assistant: salary, job growth, employers, best schools, and education you may need to get started.

Why We Love It

  • $26,820
    Potential Avg. Salary
  • 17.6%
    Job Growth Rate
  • Growing Demand
    Job Outlook
  • Dependable Daily Workload
    Career Attribute

Certified nurse assistants—also referred to as nursing aides—perform basic tasks to care for patients in hospitals and nursing homes. They help patients perform routine tasks like bathing, using the restroom, and getting in wheelchairs, and they listen to patient health concerns and report concerns to nurses.

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What is a Certified Nurse Assistant?

The following job responsibilities are common for individuals in certified nurse assistant roles:

  • Assist patients with everyday tasks like bathing, eating, and dressing, as needed
  • Clean patient bed pans or assist patients with getting to restrooms and on toilets
  • Measure and record patient vitals, including heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen levels
  • Monitor patients for problems, illnesses, or deteriorating conditions, document concerns, and report concerns to nurses and physicians
  • Administer medications to patients, if allowed by state regulations

A Day in the Life

Certified nurse assistants (CNAs) are nurses who specialize in helping patients with day-to-day personal and health care tasks. CNAs work in hospitals and nursing homes and care for patients who are unable to care for themselves due to disease, disability, or as a result of recovering from an injury or surgery. CNAs assist patients with many personal care tasks and may need to feed, bathe, and dress patients in their care, as well as change bed pans or assist patients with getting to and using the restroom.

Beyond helping patients with day-to-day personal care tasks, certified nurse assistants also monitor the overall health of patients and report any signs of trouble to nurses and physicians. They monitor bed-ridden patients for issues like bed sores, monitor patient vitals—heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen levels—for signs of trouble, and record any signs of illness, progression of disease, or deterioration of condition. They document their concerns to be included in patients’ health records and files.

Nursing aides work more closely with patients than any other type of nurse or physician and often form strong bonds with the individuals they care for. They spend a lot of time with patients, caring for them and ensuring they’re happy and healthy and have all of their needs cared for. In some states—depending on the level of training a CNA has received—nursing aides may also be able to deliver medications to patients and administer medications.

Typical Work Schedule

Most CNAs work full-time schedules, but they may be required to work irregular hours and shifts. Because patients need care 24 hours a day and all days of the year, certified nurse assistants may need to take evening or overnight shifts, or work on weekends and holidays.

Projected Job Growth

Demand for CNAs is expected to grow significantly in the coming decade due to a couple factors. First, health insurance has become more accessible and affordable, allowing greater access to healthcare. Second, the large, aging Baby Boomer population is expected to increase demand for healthcare workers of all types as Boomers move into their senior years and require long-term care services.

Career Progression

  • Early Career: Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA), Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)
  • Mid-Career: Registered Nurse (RN)
  • Late Career: Nurse Practitioner (NP), Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA), Nurse Midwife (CNM)

Typical Employers

Certified nurse assistants are most commonly employed by nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. They may also work for hospitals or retirement communities, or provide in-home care to patients for government or private hospice providers.

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How To Become a Certified Nurse Assistant

To become a certified nurse assistant, you must complete an education program and pass a competency exam. However, there are many different ways that you can complete the educational requirements for becoming a CNA. Some high schools allow students to focus on a trade and offer CNA courses as part of the high school curriculum. If your high school offers this opportunity, you can take the licensing exam and find work as a certified nurse assistant as soon as you receive your high school diploma.

If your high school does not offer a CNA education program—or if you’ve already completed high school—you have a couple of other options. You can complete the certified nurse assistant program through a local trade, vocational, or community college, or you can find work in a nursing home or long-term care facility that provides an in-house training and education program. Often, the programs offered by nursing homes pay hourly wages for the training and cover the tuition costs of the program.

After completing the CNA course, you’ll need to take and pass a licensing exam in order to become licensed to work in the role in your state. After gaining experience as a CNA, you may want to further your skills and education by moving into higher-paying roles. You may want to become a certified medication assistant (CMA) to be able to administer medications to patients, or you may opt to pursue college degrees in order to move into licensed practical nurse (LPN) or registered nurse (RN) roles.

Certified Nurse Assistant Salary Data

We’ve provided you the following to learn more about this career. The salary and growth data on this page comes from recently published Bureau of Labor Statistics data while the recommendations and editorial content are based on our research.

National Anual Salary

Low Range




High Range


National Hourly Wage

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High Range


How do Certified Nurse Assistant salaries stack up to other jobs across the country? Based on the latest jobs data nationwide, Certified Nurse Assistant's can make an average annual salary of $26,820, or $13 per hour. This makes it an Above Average Salary. On the lower end, they can make $21,780 or $10 per hour, perhaps when just starting out or based on the state you live in.

Salary Rankings And Facts

  • #747 Nationally for All Careers

Highest Education Among Certified Nurse Assistants

  • 1.5%   Doctorate
  • 1.9%   Masters
  • 7.9%   Bachelors
  • 9.8%   Associates
  • 31.9%   College
  • 34.6%   High School
  • 12.4%   Less than High School

Job Growth Projections and Forecast

2014 Total Jobs


2024 Est. Jobs


Job Growth Rate


Est. New Jobs


How does Certified Nurse Assistant job growth stack up to other jobs across the country? By 2024, there will be a change of 262,000 jobs for a total of 1,754,100 people employed in the career nationwide. This is a 17.6% change in growth over the next ten years, giving the career a growth rate nationwide of Below Average.

Growth Rankings And Facts

  • #80 Nationally for All Careers

What Companies Employ The Most Certified Nurse Assistants

Industry Current Jobs New Jobs Needed % Increase
Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities) 614,700 59,000 59%
General medical and surgical hospitals; private 291,100 20,600 21%
Continuing care retirement communities and assisted living facilities for the elderly 157,600 76,600 77%

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