How to Become a Certified Nursing Assistant: Salary, Job Description

Nurse assists doctorCertified Nurse Assistants (CNAs) provide personal care to patients of all ages in a wide variety of settings, including hospitals, rehabilitation centers, doctor offices, long-term care and in patient’s homes. Personal care includes helping patients perform activities of daily living. Certified Nurse Assistants are sometimes referred to as nursing care attendants, nursing aides and nursing attendants. CNAs enjoy a large selection of career options.


Table of Contents
How to Become a Certified Nurse Assistant
Education Requirements
Certified Nurse Assistant Job Description
Sample Job Description
Certified Nursing Assistants on YouTube
Career Options
National Salary Snapshot
Certified Nurse Assistant Certification
Cost of Certification
Career Path
Professional Organizations
Related Careers

Nurse Salary and Employment Data

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Source: BLS Wage Data by Area and Occupation. * or ** indicate insignificant or unavailable data.

Minimum Education Required None
Board Examinations needed State certification
Average Annual Salary $23,420
# of Jobs (2012) 1,534,400
Job Outlook (2012 to 2022) 21% growth

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

How to become a Certified Nurse Assistant

The education and experience required to become a certified nurse assistant include:

  • Completion of a state-approved education program
  • Passing a state competency exam
  • Placement on the state registry
  • On-the-job training

Education requirements

In most state-approved Certified Nursing Assistant programs, students learn basic principles of nursing. Most classes include supervised clinical work. Many high schools, community colleges, vocational and technical schools, hospitals and nursing homes offer CNA programs.

After completing the program, graduates take a competency exam. Passing this exam allows graduates to use state-specific titles, specifically certified nurse assistant.

In some states, CNAs may earn extra credentials to become a Certified Medication Assistant (CMA), a certification that allows them to administer certain medications.

Job description

Certified nurse assistants help provide basic care for patients in hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, and even in private homes. Some CNAs work in doctor offices and outpatient clinics.

Basic care includes bathing and shampooing, mouth and skin care, dressing, feeding, bowel and bladder care, taking vital signs and assisting with range-of-motion exercises and other therapies. Certified nurse assistants transfer patients from beds to chairs, turn and position bedridden patients regularly and help patients walk. CNAs also observe, document, and report changes in patient status to the nurse. Some certified nurse assistants perform post-mortem care.

Certified nurse assistants should possess certain character qualities. Good communication skills help CNAs gather relevant medical information from patients, such as symptoms and family history, and convey them to the rest of the medical team. CNAs should be compassionate, as they provide care for the sick, frail and elderly. Taking care of this population requires patience, as performing routine tasks can be stressful as can the emotional toll of providing end-of-life care.  Working as a certified nurse assistant also requires physical stamina, as CNAs are usually on their feet, lifting and moving patients all day.

Because patients require care at all hours, CNAs may work days, evenings or nights, and shifts may fall on weekdays, weekends and holidays.

In most settings, Certified Nurse Assistants report directly to nurses, although CNAs may report to physicians when working in doctor’s offices.

Sample job description

Sample job descriptions and qualifications are sourced from various job board websites, like these:,

  • Provides care to patients under the direction of a registered nurse or physician
  • Helps patients with activities of daily living
  • Takes vital signs
  • Applies the knowledge and skill necessary to provide appropriate interactions with staff, patients, and families of all ages



  • High school degree or equivalent
  • Current certification as a nursing assistant
  • Current basic life support (BLS).

CNAs on YouTube

Career options

Typical workplaces for certified nurse assistants include:

  • Nursing homes
  • Assisted living facilities
  • Hospice
  • Hospitals
  • Community-based long-term care
  • Correctional institutions
  • Other long-term care settings

Certified nurse assistants may also work take on independent contracts to provide care in patient’s homes.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were about 1.5 million CNA jobs in the United States in 2012. Today, the projected employment outlook for certified nurse assistants is excellent, with CNA jobs expected to grow 17 percent from 2012 to 2022, which is faster than average for all occupations. An aging population is the main reason for this tremendous growth, resulting in an increase in the number of patients suffering from arthritis, dementia and other chronic diseases that interfere with a patient’s ability to perform activities of daily living.

Many job openings occur when CNAs get advanced degrees in nursing or other medical professions. Additionally, the physical and emotional demands of the job cause many CNAs to leave the profession, thereby creating job openings.

The median wage for certified nurse assistants was $24,420 in 2012. The lowest 10 percent of CNA earners garnered less than $18,300 while the top ten percent earned more than $35,330.

About 42 percent of CNAs work in nursing care facilities and 26 percent work in hospitals. Approximately 14 percent of certified nurse assistants work in residential care facilities, 4 percent provide home health care and another 4 percent work for the government.

National salary snapshot

Indeed lists the certified nursing assistant’s average salary as $42,000, while SimplyHired posts the annual pay at $37,000.

Certification information

Every U.S. state issues its own test for certification to work as a certified nurse assistant. Each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia maintains its own registry of certified nursing assistants and has its own guidelines for recertification.

Cost of certification

Credential: CNA

Fees for Non-Members:

Initial Exam: Varies by state

Recertification: Varies by state

Fees for Members:

Initial Exam: Varies by state

Recertification: Varies by state

Typical career path

The typical career path to becoming a certified nursing assistant is to:

  • Graduate high school or earn an equivalent degree
  • Completion of a state-approved training program
  • Earn certification through the state

Professional organizations

National Association of Health Care Assistants:
National Network of Career Nursing Assistants:

Relevant publications


Related careers

Home Health Aide – Assists elderly and disabled people in their homes

Personal Care Assistant – helps patients and residents with activities of daily living