Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) Careers

Provide basic, hands-on healthcare to patients

What Do CNAs Do?

Nursing assistant positions are first rung career ladder roles that prepare you to enter the healthcare field quickly and get your bearings in the fast-paced environment of hospital and healthcare facility life.

As a nursing assistant, you’ll provide basic care for patients in hospitals, or elderly people who reside in residential nursing homes. In most cases, you’ll be supervised by registered nurses or licensed practical nurses on your ward. In some situations, you may be the primary caregiver and develop close relationships with your patients—even helping dispense medication—though this may depend upon the state regulations in which you work.

Let’s take a look at some of the duties you’ll perform on a day-to-day basis:

Daily Responsibilities


  • Take patients vital signs, such as blood pressure, weight and pulse, and document on their chart
  • Bathe and clothe patients
  • Help with bathroom functions
  • Help lift and reposition patients and turn them in their beds, or transfer them from bed to wheelchair when they need to be transported to other floors, an ambulance or doctor’s appointment
  • Help patients with exercise when in a nursing facility or hospital, such as walking and stretching
  • Be a conduit between patient health concerns and the on-duty nursing staff
  • Serve meals and help patients who need assistance eating, and monitor dietary restrictions or food allergies
  • Record food and liquids intake and report changes to senior staff

Ideal Candidates

CNA-image-personalityAs a nursing assistant you’ll need to be physically strong, patient and adaptable because you’ll be caring for all types of people—male and female, young and old—who are dealing with illness and changes in their lives that alter their temperaments and physical well-being.

Ideal candidates should work well with a team, take direction and have no issues with being in close proximity to people who are ill.

Some other desirable traits and skills include the following:

  • Good communication skills:
    Much of your work will be getting information from—and relaying that information to—people, so you’ll need to know how to communicate well and accurately.
  • Compassion and empathy:
    You’ll be working with the injured and ill on a daily basis, and you’ll see and hear about pain and agony in some cases. Being empathic and a good listener will help you tremendously on the job.
  • Patience
  • Physical strength and endurance
  • Stress tolerance:
    You may see some things that are difficult, so you’ll need to be able to stay calm in stressful situations.
  • Dependability:
    You’ll have many responsibilities and obligations on the job, and many people will rely upon you.

Work Environment

Depending upon where you work, your hours may include weekends and nights, so you’ll need to be open to a non-traditional schedule. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says most nursing assistants work in the following types of facilities:



Nursing, hospice and long-term care facilities

Ambulatory healthcare facilities

such as outpatient dialysis clinics, surgical centers and hospital outpatient areas


Retirement communities

Home healthcare services

Government agencies

Career Outlook

Job Growth for CNAs

Certified Nursing Assistants will enjoy a healthy job growth over the next decade, as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts an 11 percent projected growth in the field through 2026. When you consider the average job growth for all careers is 7 percent, this is a much faster than average rate for employment.

Projected growth




All careers


Part of this stems from the increase in the elderly population, as the baby-boomer generation ages, and healthcare facilities will require caregivers to meet the demand. However, most facilities will look for nursing assistants who complete a state approved education program and pass a competency exam.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the top five states for employment of CNAs include the following:

California, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, New York
California, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, New York

Metropolitan areas with the highest employment level of CNAs include the following:

New York City – Jersey City – White Plains

New York – New Jersey

Chicago – Naperville – Arlington Heights


Los Angeles – Long Beach – Glendale




Houston – The Woodlands – Sugar Land


Salaries for CNAs

There is opportunity for nursing assistants when it comes to salary. While entry-level pay averages around $26,590 annually, salary fluctuates by the type of facility you work in. For example, hospitals pay more than nursing care facilities. A hospital-based nursing assistant earns $28,540 compared to the $25,670 that nursing care facility assistants earn. The highest 10 percent in the field overall earned over $37,900 annually.

The highest paying states for CNAs are as follows:

State Annual Mean Salary
Alaska $37,520
New York $34,300
Nevada $33,650
Washington, DC $33,380
California $32,770

Cities and metropolitan areas that pay best for qualified CNAs are as follows:

State Annual Mean Salary
San Francisco, CA $45,410
Fairfax, AK $41,940
Nassau County, NY $38,740
Sacramento, CA $37,600
Stockton, CA $37,470


Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2018-19 edition.

How to Become

Education Requirements

In order to become a nursing assistant, you’ll need to complete an education program where you’ll learn the principles of nursing and complete a set course of clinically-based supervised work. Some students want to enter the field quickly and pursue the basic training by earning a non-degree certificate or diploma, while others have the long-term in mind and are already thinking ahead about how to progress in their nursing career path, so you might consider earning an associate’s degree in nursing.

State approved non-certificate or diploma programs take approximately 75 – 85 hours of classroom instruction and clinical training to complete. Other CNA programs may take between 4 and 12 weeks to complete.

An associate’s degree in nursing will take approximately two years to complete and will help you move into registered nurse or licensed practical nurse roles.

Whichever type of student you are—non-degree certificate or two-year associate’s degree—you’ll study some of the same nursing basics.

Your curriculum will include coursework in the following subjects:

  • CPR training
  • First Aid for healthcare providers
  • Nutrition
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Personal care basics
  • Body mechanics
  • Infection control
  • Emergency procedures
  • Communication and interpersonal skills
  • Community health studies
  • State regulations

Whichever type of student you are—non-degree certificate or two-year associate’s degree—you’ll study some of the same nursing basics.

Your curriculum will include coursework in the following subjects:


  • CPR training
  • First Aid for healthcare providers
  • Nutrition
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Personal care basics
  • Body mechanics
  • Infection control
  • Emergency procedures
  • Communication and interpersonal skills
  • Community health studies
  • State regulations

Additionally, you should be able to find CNA courses online, which can help you keep working in your current job while you get your diploma, certification or associate’s degree. Online courses offer flexible start dates so you can begin your studies at your leisure.

Certification Requirements

Getting certified is the best way to make a success of your nursing assistant career. Certification ensures you have the knowledge needed to perform the duties of the job and also tells your employer you’re equipped to perform them well. Certification is mandatory in most states and comes with a few requirements, but your classroom and clinical training are one of them, so you’ll already have met some criteria upon satisfactory program completion. You will also need to do the following:

  • Pass a competency exam
  • Make full disclosure in writing about your physical and mental status, or any felony convictions
  • Complete an HIV/AIDS training course

Note that passing the CNA exam in one state may not make you able to work in another state. You may be required to either retake the competency exam or apply for certification endorsement. You will need to meet that state’s work experience and training requirements as well.

The Certification Exam

The CNA certification exam is administered at designated test centers throughout each state. Exam content may differ slightly, but, for the most part, this two-part test will consist of a written multiple choice section and a hands-on manual skills test, which will be evaluated by a registered nurse and include you performing a number of skills you’ll use in the field.

Both parts of the exam will be administered on the same day and you’ll have two hours to complete the written section, and 25 – 45 minutes to complete the manual skills test.

Getting Started


If you’re ready to begin your training, take the first step toward finding the right program that offers a schedule that meets your needs, and is taught by quality professors and professionals in the field. We can help you get there.