Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

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I. What They Do

Certified nursing assistants (CNAs) provide basic support in medical environments, performing duties such as dressing, bathing, feeding or transporting patients in need. Unlike licensed practical nurses and registered nurses (LPNs and RNs), nursing assistants are not qualified to provide direct care to patients, such as administering medication, drawing blood, or performing diagnostic tests.

To become a CNA, no college degree is required. Credentials are issued by state, so prospective nursing assistants just need to enroll in a state-sanctioned training program and then pass a state certification exam.

Daily Responsibilities

  • Recording weight, height and patient symptoms for physicians before a physical exam
  • Dressing, bathing and feeding patients
  • Helping patients with range-of-motion exercises and walking
  • Transporting patients
  • Monitoring and reporting changes in a patient vital signs, behaviors or personality to nurses

Ideal Candidates

  • Strong and able-bodied, have no trouble helping unsteady patients walk
  • Work quickly and cleanly, can maintain focus on a patient from one task to another
  • Patient and empathetic, can sense when something isn’t right or when a patient feels unsafe
  • Interested in gaining care experience in order to pursue higher education in nursing or healthcare

Work Environments

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

II. Career Outlook

The need for certified nursing assistants in nursing homes, hospitals, and long-term care is growing quickly because the size and average age of the U.S. patient population is set to rise over the next decade.

Job Growth

Projected Job Growth between 2012-22: 21% (faster than the 19% growth for RNs and the 11% average for all positions)

Projected Job Growth for Nursing Assistants, 2012-2022

Metro Areas with Highest Number of CNAs Employed
Metro Area Number of CNAs Employed
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics. Accessed May 2014.
New York-White Plains-Wayne, NY-NJ Metropolitan Division 58,220
Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, IL Metropolitan Division 34,380
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, CA Metropolitan Division 31,030
Philadelphia, PA Metropolitan Division 25,940
St. Louis, MO-IL 18,290
Industries Employing the Highest Number of CNAs
Industry Number of CNAs
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics. Accessed May 2014.
Skilled Nursing Facilities 622,850
General and Surgical Hospitals 349,650
Continuing Care and Assisted Living Facilities 158,360
Home Health Care Services 67,950
Employment Services 34,160

CNA Salary

BLS data shows that annual pay for nursing assistants has been increasing between 2007-2012 without interruption.

Average Annual CNA Salaries Since 2007
Year Average Annual Salary
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, Annual Occupation Profiles. Accessed May 2014.
2007 $23,920
2009 $24,980
2011 $25,420
2013 $26,020

States with the Highest Average Salaries for CNAs in 2013

III. How to Become One

In order to become a CNA, students must enroll in a state-endorsed training program – details are provided on each state’s board of nursing website. CNA training ranges from three to eight weeks, according to the American Red Cross.

Education Requirements

Prospective nursing assistants must have a high school diploma to begin their CNA training.

While graduating from college is not necessary to become a CNA, nursing assistance is a popular choice for students who are currently enrolled nursing school or are considering pursuing a nursing degree in the future. And if you already hold an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, your education will make you a more competitive applicant and will likely earn you a higher CNA starting salary.

Degree-holders are also better positioned to pursue certification as a registered nurse, learn more about earning your RN credential here.

Certification and Licensing Requirements

Once candidates have completed the CNA program required in the state they want to practice in, they will have to pass a state certification exam to receive their professional credential.

Generally, nursing assistants are not expected to have previous work experience before they become certified. State-endorsed education programs will often expose students to clinical training, which takes place outside of the classroom and gives participants hands-on experience.

Visit our state pages to learn more about opportunities and salaries for CNAs in your area and to contact your state’s board of nursing to learn more about CNA credentialing processes.