How to Become a CNA

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Written by Kathleen Walder Content Writer, IntelyCare
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Reviewed by Diana Campion, MSN, APRN, ANP-C Content Writer, IntelyCare
African-American nurse with her hand on the shoulder of a senior patient.

Working as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) is a great job for anyone who wants to get into healthcare and start working directly with patients relatively quickly. And if you find you love the atmosphere, it’s a great stepping stone to other healthcare jobs. Are you wondering how to become a CNA and what is a CNA certification? Let’s look at what a CNA does, the education and skills you need, and what salary you can expect.

What Is a CNA?

As a CNA, you could be considered the “boots on the ground” of healthcare settings including hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, and assisted living communities. (Note that a CNA is sometimes referred to as a licensed nursing assistant, or LNA.) Registered nurses (RNs) supervise your responsibilities and oversee overall patient care, but you are often the first person a patient or resident sees every morning. Throughout the day, you have frequent contact with patients. Residents often see CNAs as friends. It’s a deep, caring relationship that can be very fulfilling.

Being a CNA is an excellent way to get your foot in the door of healthcare. Should you choose, you can then further your career as a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or RN.

What Do Certified Nursing Assistants Do?

When you’re a CNA, your responsibility is to provide basic care and help patients with their daily activities. Typical CNA duties include basic hygiene like helping patients bathe and dress, serving them meals and assisting with eating, helping them move from a bed to a wheelchair, and repositioning them in bed. You can take additional training to become a certified medication aide, which allows you to dispense medicine to patients and residents.

Some CNA duties overlap with those of an LPN. You’ll often be the first point of communication between patients and other medical staff. As you take a patient’s blood pressure, temperature, and other vital signs, you’ll be talking with them, recording any health concerns so that you can report them to your nurse supervisor.

For more insights, check out this sample CNA job description.

How Long Does It Take to Become a CNA?

You can complete training to learn how to become a CNA, get your certification, and start working as a CNA in as little as four to six weeks, depending on where you take classes.

  • Programs are available at community colleges, vocational schools, and within some hospitals.
  • You can find virtual schools that teach you how to become a CNA online.
  • Some state-approved training programs are available in high schools, enabling you to graduate and enter a job.

What Skills and Education Are Needed?

You can start training to be a CNA with your high school diploma or equivalent. A college degree is not necessary. During your training, you will learn the basics of patient care and medical skills like taking vital signs. You’ll also learn best practices and ethics when working with patients. Your schooling may include hands-on training where you work with an RN to observe the work you’ll do on the job. Typical CNA classes include:

  • Basic patient care
  • Infection control
  • Nutrition
  • Anatomy
  • Communications and documentation
  • Safety and emergency procedures
  • Patient rights

Beyond what you learn in CNA courses, you must have the right set of inherent skills to succeed at the job. These include:

  • Being a team player
  • Careful attention to detail
  • Dependability and accountability
  • Patience and compassion
  • Physical fitness
  • Willingness to engage in tasks like bathing and lifting patients
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Knowledge of medical terminology

Every state has a separate list of requirements to become a CNA. Be sure to check to see what you need in your state of residence. Note that in Maryland, a CNA can complete additional certification to become a geriatric nursing assistant (GNA). Have a look at the available GNA jobs on IntelyCare.

What Is a CNA Certification?

After you learn how to become a CNA in your classroom training, you will need to be certified by the state before you can start working as a CNA. Your certification ensures you have the skills and knowledge to work with patients.

As mentioned, each state sets its requirements for certification, but they all require proof you have completed an approved training program and passed an exam. Some states use the National Nurse Aide Assessment Program (NNAAP) exam. Exams can include written, oral, or demonstration portions where you show that you know how to perform specific tasks.

Some state exams include one, two, or all three of these exam modules. You’ll find exam centers throughout the U.S. that have study materials. Depending on where you live, you may need to renew your certification every year or more.

How Much Does a CNA Make?

The median CNA salary is $30,310 per year or $14.52 per hour. Your pay will likely be based on your experience, type of facility, and geographical location. The metropolitan areas that employ the most CNAs are:

For more insight into what kind of money you can make, check out all the CNA jobs on IntelyCare.

You’ve Chosen Your Career, Now Choose Your Schedule

When you were learning how to become a CNA, you might not have considered when and where you’d work. Looking for more freedom to create your schedule? Talk to IntelyCare to find out how you can make that happen.