How to Become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) (2024)

Nearly 1.4 million certified nursing assistants (CNAs) are working in the US. These vital patient care providers are the backbone of the American healthcare system. And with a short certification process, becoming a CNA is often the most accessible way for new workers to join the nursing field.

However, you must fulfill a few CNA certification requirements before you can begin. This article will explore what certified nursing assistants do, how much they earn, and how to become a CNA. Keep reading to prepare for your nursing assistant career today.

What is a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)?

Certified nursing assistants, or CNAs, work under registered nurses (RNs) or licensed practical nurses (LPNs). They assist with daily patient care tasks like dressing, bathing, and checking patient vital signs. You may also refer to CNAs as:

  • Nursing assistants
  • Patient care assistants (PCAs)
  • Nurse aids

Some CNAs use the position as a springboard to further their nursing careers. They will build upon their certifications and education to become LPNs or RNs.

Others use the CNA certification to test the waters, so to speak. They become CNAs to determine whether they want to continue to the next step in their healthcare journey.

CNA vs Medical Assistant vs LPN

CNA vs Medical Assistant

While certified nursing assistants and medical assistants (MAs) have some similarities, they are not the same job. Both careers assist doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers with treatments, procedures, and tests. However, MAs primarily conduct patient assessments and evaluations as they assist doctors with patient care and treatment.

On the other hand, certified nursing assistants focus on direct patient care. Nursing assistants also have specific job-related duties that are dictated by the state of employment.


Tobecome an LPN, you must pass a state-mandated exam and obtain a nursing license. On the other hand, CNAs only need to obtain a certification to practice.

Though both career paths don't require a college degree to practice, LPNs have higher education requirements than CNAs. For example, LPNs gain a deeper knowledge about healthcare and the human body during their year-long training programs. Such additional knowledge allows them to perform more complex procedures that CNAs cannot, like inserting a peripheral intravenous catheter.

What Does a CNA Do?

CNAs can help a unit run smoothly, especially for nurses with multiple medically complex patients. Common CNA responsibilities include:

  1. Turning or repositioning patients
  2. Gathering supplies for the RN or MD
  3. Checking and charting vital signs
  4. Answering patient calls/bells
  5. Bathing, feeding, and dressing patients
  6. Measuring and recording patient food/liquid intake
  7. Preparing rooms for admissions
  8. Assisting with medical procedures
  9. Dressing wounds
  10. Assisting patients with elimination

Direct responsibilities will vary based on the location of employment and the nurse's level of need. Different states have individual CNA requirements and duties. You can check your state guidelines for specific details about approved CNA duties and tasks in the state where you plan to practice.

Where Do CNAs Work?

The most common CNA workplaces include:

  • Hospitals (state and local)
  • Skilled nursing facilities
  • Long-term residential facilities
  • Rehabilitation centers
  • Adult daycare centers

Certified nursing assistants rarely work in outpatient, office, or clinic settings. These facilities all require nursing assistants to act as a liaison between the nurse and the patient.

CNA Qualities

As patient care liaisons, CNAs must enjoy interacting with people and have good bedside manners. But other skills or attributes that can help your nursing assistant career include:

  1. Flexibility
  2. Advanced communication skills
  3. Time management
  4. Compassion
  5. Reliability
  6. Physical Strength
  7. Empathy

CNA Salary

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for nursing assistants in 2021 was$30,290 per yearor $14.56 per hour.

However, CNA salary expectations will vary depending on the setting and area. CNAs working at junior colleges earn the most, with an average mean salary of $69,150. On the other hand, home healthcare services have the lowest median pay at $32,160.

Where Do CNAs Make the Most Money?

According to the BLS, the following states have the highest pay scale for certified nursing assistants.

Highest Paying States For CNAs

StateHourly AvgAnnual Average
District of Columbia$21.07$43,820
New York$20.89$43,450

Metropolitan areas tend to pay higher for nursing assistants. Some of the highest-paying cities include:

Highest Paying Cities for CNAs

Metro AreaHourlyAnnual
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA$25.13$52,280
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA$24.81$51,600
Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI$22.36 $46,520
Salem, OR$21.59 $44,900
New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA$21.50 $44,720

Nonmetropolitan areas that pay CNAs the most in the US include:

  1. Alaska nonmetropolitan area
  2. North Valley-Northern Mountains Region of California nonmetropolitan area
  3. Massachusetts nonmetropolitan area
  4. Eastern Sierra-Mother Lode Region of California nonmetropolitan area
  5. North Coast Region of California nonmetropolitan area

How to Become A CNA

Certified nursing assistants must complete a state-approved training program. CNA programs are generally found at local community colleges, high schools, vocational or technical schools, or local hospitals.

Most programs have similar requirements that must be completed prior to application and acceptance. The American Red Cross runs a popular CNA training program throughout the country which runs for 4-8 weeks depending on class size and location. Prerequisites include:

  1. Attendance at an orientation information session
  2. TABE (reading and math assessment) OR verification of High School diploma or GED
  3. Red Cross criminal background check prior to registration
  4. Completion of Red Cross physical form and TB test

Top CNA Programs

We consulted nursing experts to curate the top 10 CNA programs in the nation. To determine which programs made this list, we used the following methods and panel:


Our nurses ranked these programs based on numerous factors, including:

  • Reputation
  • Tuition
  • Acceptance rate, when available

Nurse Panel

3 Registered Nurses with years of experience and multiple degrees comprise our selection panel:

  • Tracy Everhart, MSN, RN, CNS
  • Tyler Faust, MSN, RN
  • Kathleen Gaines, MSN, BSN, RN, BA, CBC

Because individual nursing pathways take various forms, our panel ranked these CNA programs in no particular order.

1. American Red Cross

Total Program Cost: $1,250

Online: Hybrid

Program Length: 4-8 weeks

The American Red Cross, well known for its education and certifications, also teaches students to become CNAs. The hybrid program lets students complete courses online while earning experience in person.

As a nationwide organization, the American Red Cross reaches numerous cities and states, so individuals across the country can enroll. Depending on how quickly the student completes courses, the program takes 4-8 weeks to complete. Also, program costs can vary from location to location.

2. Cochise College

Program Tuition: Up to $2,000

Online: No

Program Length: 12 weeks

Based in Cochise County, Arizona, Cochise College offers multiple allied health programs, including a nursing assistant certificate. Cochise College's two-course CNA program teaches skills to become a nurse assistant as well as basic CPR and First Aid skills. Graduates also become CPR and First Aid certified. Arizona residents get an in-state discount, though Cochise also extends discounts to senior citizens and charges a per-credit rate.

3. Hutchinson Community College

In-State Program Tuition: $927 Out-of-State Program Tuition: $1,066

Online: No

Program Length: 12 weeks

Created to educate nurses to work with elderly patients in long-term healthcare settings, Hutchinson Community College's CNA program requires just 4.5 credits to graduates, making it among the shortest and most affordable CNA programs available.

Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, students must study on-site in Hutchinson, Kansas. While the Kansas Board of Nursing doesn't disclose outcomes for CNA programs, this short program quickly prepares nurses to gain a CNA certification.

4. Pratt Community College

Program Tuition: $985

Online: Hybrid

Program Length: 12 weeks

Pratt Community College, another college located in Kansas, offers its CNA program in a hybrid format, allowing students to complete coursework and theory online. The program requires five credits, though students who choose to study online do not receive an in-state tuition discount. Regardless, Pratt CC's CNA program costs far less than other programs. Graduates can find positions in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and various hospitals.

5. Elizabethtown Community and Technical College

Program Tuition: $781

Online: No

Program Length: 12 weeks

Elizabethtown Community and Technical College offers the best CNA program in Kentucky and perhaps in the region. The low-cost CNA program requires the completion of just 96 hours of practice, 16 of which must be supervised clinical skills training.

Students can also complete a Medicaid Nurse Aide Certificate to boost their job prospects and potential earnings. Graduates must attend 100% of courses to graduates. Elizabethtown offers courses on weekdays, Saturdays, and in the evening.

6. Fox Valley Technical College

Program Tuition: $507.55

Online: No

Program Length: Up to 12 weeks

Located in Appleton, Wisconsin, Fox Valley Technical College's CNA program is among the cheapest routes for becoming a CNA, though the school's estimated costs do not include exam fees. The full-time program consists of daytime and evening courses, and FVTC also offers an accelerated format that takes less than 12 weeks to complete.

Students cannot take courses online but can complete courses at six different locations in Wisconsin. Graduates can also transfer their CNA credits into an associate's or bachelor's degree.

7. Elgin Community College

In-State Program Tuition: $1,019 Out-of-State Program Tuition: $2,772

Online: No

Program Length: 12 weeks

Elgin Community College offers one of the most comprehensive nurse assistant programs. The training program requires the completion of seven credit hours (double what other programs require) to increase graduates' job prospects by increasing their potential scope of practice. By the end of the program, graduates can take the nurse assistant certification exam in Illinois, though the program might also meet requirements for other states.

8. Century College

Annual Tuition: $800

Online: No

Program Length: 12 weeks

Century College, based in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, offers its four-credit nurse assistant certificate program in both part-time and full-time formats. Available year-round, the CNA program allows students to complete courses either for credit or not for credit.

Both options lead to program completion, though for-credit courses can be transferred into an associate's or bachelor's degree. Regardless of which option students choose, Century College is among the most affordable institutions in the region.

9. City College of San Francisco

In-State Program Tuition: $181 Out-of-State Program Tuition: $1,004

Online: No

Program Length: 6-10 weeks

With several CNA options available, the City College of San Francisco is one of California's most versatile CNA programs. Nurse assistant students choose to specialize in acute care or convalescent care, which take 6 and 10 weeks to complete, respectively.

The convalescent care route also requires twice as many credits, meaning double the tuition cost. The City College of San Francisco is definitely more affordable for California residents who pay a fraction of what out-of-state students pay.

10. Miles Community College

In-State Program Tuition: $716.00 Out-of-State Program Tuition: $924.00

Online: Hybrid

Program Length: 10 weeks

Miles City, Montana-based Miles Community College offers one of the region's best (and most affordable) CNA programs. Students complete 45 of the required credit hours online and 30 hours of clinical practice in person. The 75-hour program counts as four credits that students can transfer into another nursing program.

Note that while Miles CC's CNA program prepares nurses for Montana certification, the costs associated with the exam are not included in the total tuition.

Online CNA Programs

While the Red Cross offers in-person classes, some vocational schools and community colleges offer online CNA programs. Many programs operate clinics at local hospitals.

There are pros and cons to the online programs. While individuals may be able to obtain their CNA certification quicker there is concern that individuals graduating from these programs are not gaining the same core knowledge and skills as their in-classroom counterparts.

>> Related: Top CNA Programs

How Do CNAs Transition to Other Nursing Positions?

Becoming a certified nursing assistant will not immediately prepare you for other nursing occupations.

However, the base of knowledge and experience earned as a CNA can help you gain entry into LPN or RN programs. But earning these nursing certifications will require completing separate continuing education programs.

Remember that your CNA experience and education won't likely translate to shortened LPN or RN training. But it could translate to less stress and confusion as you navigate nursing school courses. It can also help your career outlook because you'll already have a professional network when you graduate.

CNA Resources

Professional organizations such as the National Network of Career Nursing Assistants and the Nursing Association of Health Care Assistants are great resources for information about becoming a CNA. These resources offer:

  • Discussions on growing healthcare trends impacting CNAs
  • Healthcare conventions for nursing assistants
  • Access to education hours
  • Job boards and opportunities
  • Contact information for local chapters

These associations are more than just a great resource for new CNAs. They also provide vital information for those who are already established in their career. By joining these professional organizations, you can make vital connections with industry experts and managers, leading to future career growth opportunities.

CNA Career Outlook

Certified nursing assistants are currently in high demand, and the need is projected to continue through the next decade.TheUS Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts CNA career growth to grow by 5% between 2021 and 2031.

This number will only increase as the baby boomer generation ages, and there is an increased demand for additional long-term nursing care facilities. Nursing assistants will be needed to care for this population which is more likely to suffer from dementia and other neurologic changes.

If you're interested in becoming a CNA, you might also want to check out these other healthcare careers you can start working in quickly!

  • Medical Assistant
  • Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)
  • Pharmacy Technician


  • What does certified CNA mean?

    • CNA stands for Certified Nursing Assistant.
  • What does a nursing assistant do?

    • A CNA assists with nursing duties in patient care–this can include everything from help with grooming, bathing, feeding, and activities of daily life.
  • How much do CNAs make an hour?

    • CNAs make an average of $14.56 per hour.
  • How long is CNA training?

    • You can become a CNA in as little as 4-12 weeks.
  • What state pays CNAs the most?

    • Alaska, D.C., California, New York, and Oregon are the top 5 paying states in the U.S.
  • What is the difference between a CNA and an LPN?

    • A CNA is a nursing assistant, while an LPN is a Licensed Practical Nurse. An LPN has more responsibilities and earns more than a CNA.
  • How much does it cost to become a CNA?

    • You can complete nursing assistant training for under $1000.
  • How can I get my CNA faster?

    • Most CNA programs can be completed in a matter of weeks.
  • What type of CNA gets paid the most?

    • CNAs working at junior colleges earn the highest wages.

CNA $20,000 - $30,000 Certificate Bedside

How to Become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) (2024)


How to Become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)? ›

Earn your high school diploma or GED; Complete a state-approved CNA training program (offered online or at hospitals, vocational schools, community colleges, The Red Cross and technical schools); Complete in-person clinical training; and, Pass a state-approved competency exam to get listed on your state's CNA registry.

What's the fastest you can become a CNA? ›

Students can generally expect to complete their training and be ready to take their state certification exam to become a licensed or certified nurse assistant (CNA) within 4 to 8 weeks of beginning their training.

Why should we hire you as a CNA answers? ›

Focus on good organization skills, reliability, attention to detail, quick thinking skills, communication skills, a strong work ethic, and how well you get along with others: “My main strength is my ability to communicate with people from all walks of life.

How many questions are on the CNA test in NY? ›

The CNA exam will consist of two parts: a written portion (also known as a knowledge exam) and a clinical skills test. The written test is intended to measure a candidate's mastery of nursing assistant knowledge and skills. The test consists of 60 multiple choice questions, with 90 minutes to complete them.

What do most CNA make an hour? ›

Cna Salary in California
Annual SalaryHourly Wage
Top Earners$54,978$26
75th Percentile$46,700$22
25th Percentile$33,700$16

What CNA gets paid the most? ›

High Paying CNA Jobs
  • Nurse Aide Evaluator. Salary range: $106,000-$106,000 per year. ...
  • Nursing Attendant. Salary range: $37,000-$45,500 per year. ...
  • Cna Ltc. Salary range: $36,000-$45,000 per year. ...
  • Hospital CNA. ...
  • Geriatric Nursing Assistant. ...
  • Nursing Technician. ...
  • Nursing Assistant. ...
  • Nursing Unit Clerk.

What are some weaknesses as a CNA? ›

Examples of common nursing weaknesses our experts say they hear include:
  • Paying too much attention to detail.
  • Wanting to do everything at once.
  • Spending too long on paperwork.
  • Having a lack of clinical experience (for new grads)

What type of questions are asked at a CNA interview? ›

Here are some general questions you may encounter during a CNA job interview: Tell me about yourself . Where do you see yourself in five years? What do you believe are your professional strengths?

How do you introduce yourself as a CNA? ›

“I have almost 5 years of experience as a CNA. Before I finished my degree, I also volunteered at the local nursing home to help elderly patients through things like taking showers and brushing their teeth. I look forward to expanding my knowledge and demonstrating my passion for patient care as a member of your team.”

What is the passing score for the CNA written exam in NY? ›

The written exam questions are based on the New York state-approved test plan. You must score 70% or higher to pass the written exam. Content topics include: Role of the Nurse Aide.

How much is the NYS CNA exam? ›

The CNA state exam in New York
Clinical Skills and Written exams (first-time tester)$115
Clinical Skills and Oral exams (first-time tester)$135
Clinical Skills Retest$68
Written Retest$57
Oral Retest$67
3 more rows
Jul 6, 2023

How can I get my CNA license for free in NY? ›

New York City Red Cross offers access to a national CNA program sponsored by the American Red Cross. Goodwill New York City provides an 11-week CNA certificate program with low-cost tuition for students in need. Jobs Corps New York City has two local offices. They offer a completely free CNA program in New York City.

Why should we hire you? ›

“I should be hired for this role because of my relevant skills, experience, and passion for the industry. I've researched the company and can add value to its growth. My positive attitude, work ethics, and long-term goals align with the job requirements, making me a committed and valuable asset to the company.”

What do you say in Tell me about yourself? ›

Your answer to the "tell me about yourself" question should describe your current situation, your past job experience, the reason you're a good fit for the role, and how you align with the company values. Tell the interviewer about your current position and a recent big accomplishment or positive feedback you received.

How do you win a nursing interview? ›

Apply your communication skills to respond to nursing interview questions. Incorporate vital nursing characteristics into your responses. These may include reflecting on your ability to prioritize patient care, being an effective part of a team, and adapting to stressful situations.

What is the shortest time to become a CNA? ›

While the answer isn't exactly cut and dry, most CNA certification programs take between four and 12 weeks to complete. Some might take longer, though, even up to six months or more.

How do I get my CNA license in Oregon? ›

The first step in becoming a CNA is to complete a state-approved training program and pass your state's certification exam. There are two levels of CNA certification in Oregon, the entry-level CNA I which requires a training program and certification exam, and CNA II for experienced CNAs to gain additional skills.

How do I get my CNA license in PA? ›

CNA Requirements in Pennsylvania
  1. Be at least 16 years old.
  2. Be in good physical health.
  3. Up-to-date immunization records.
  4. Have a high-school diploma or GED.
  5. Pass a criminal background check and register fingerprints.
  6. Graduate from a Certified Nursing Assistant School in Pennsylvania.
  7. Pass the State Exam.
  8. Become a Certified CNA.

Which CNA shift is the hardest? ›

Adapting to the night shift can be one of the biggest challenges for a CNA. Many of the duties remain the same as during the day shift, yet fatigue can make the tasks seem harder. The human brain tells us to slow down and sleep when it's dark.

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