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Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

Career Overview

How Long Does Becoming a CNA Take

1 to 4 Months

Average salary: CNA

1 to 4 Months


What Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) 

CNAs are primarily responsible for providing care for patients, under the supervision of a nurse. They typically assist their patients with daily routine tasks such as bathing and dressing, eating and moving patients between beds.  Depending on the state, CNAs can even administer medication. No degree requirements and a minimum age of 16-18 (Depending on the state) makes it a very accessible entry-level position. 


Annual Salary: $29,640 per year


How Long Does Becoming a CNA Take?: 1-4 months


What Do Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) Do?

Between caring for patients, assisting with daily tasks and reporting to their superiors, CNAs can expect to perform a variety of duties: 


  • Reading patients’ vital signs, like blood pressure, heart rate and temperature

  • Aiding with wound care or certain medical procedures.

  • Updating your patient’s ongoing medical record

  • Transporting, lifting or turning patients with disabilities or temporary motor issues

  • Helping patients eat while monitoring their intake

  • Keeping a clean, sanitary environment for patients. 

  • Asking patients about changes in status or symptoms, and reporting new information to superiors


How to Become a CNA?

Requirements vary depending on state. For specifics, visit your State Board of Nursing’s official website  That being said, you can expect to follow roughly the same steps no matter where you are


Get started with this quick step-by-step guide on how to become an CNA




The minimum educational prerequisite is either a high school diploma or a GED. Even at this early stage, you can start building the foundations for your career. Your chemistry, biology, chemistry, health science and mathematics classes will serve as good preparatory courses. Volunteer work in healthcare facilities will look good in your application and lets you get hands-on experience early. Since CNAs are expected to lift and transfer patients and equipment, consider investing in strength training as well.


2. Enroll in a CNA Program


Afterwards, you will need to complete your CNA training program. These can be found in healthcare facilities, trade schools, community colleges and even some high schools. To find the right program, you need to do extensive research on the schools in your area. Make sure said program is state-approved or you will not qualify for the next step.


You also have to consider the kind of schedule you want to take. Nursing programs can take one to four months, depending on the program you choose. If you have the time to commit and you want to start early, you can take on a full-time, four week course. For individuals balancing studies with work and family, there are programs that offer flexible schedules over a longer period of time. Online classes are especially good for this, since they are self-paced, flexible and relatively cost efficient. 


Finally, you want to enroll in a program with a proven track record for success. One way to ensure this is by inquiring on a school’s passing rates for the certification exam. You can also ask nurses in the area regarding the reputation of CNAs produced by the program. 


3. Fulfill Clinical Requirements


While you study, you have to complete on-site training requirements, otherwise known as “clinical studies” or “clinical work.”  Even online classes supplement their curriculum with short on-the-job training. Good schools will let students work under medical professionals like RN in order to get hands-on experience with CNA tasks. . This includes checking vitals, dressing patients and changing beddings, just to name a few. 


4. Pass the Licensing Test


When you finish your training program, you will become eligible to take the CNA licensing exam. This will test you on all the skills and knowledge you have accrued, over the course of your program. These exams are typically split into written and clinical portions. The former is usually a multiple choice affair. You will be expected to answer 90 questions in 60 minutes, though specifics may vary according to state. 


During the clinical portion, you will be tested on your ability to perform a CNA’s daily care responsibilities. This segment lasts around 30-40 minutes over five skills, though this can depend on the specific tasks being performed. These five skills come from a possible 22-23, which can be found here. Here are a few examples of what you can expect: 


  • Change bed linen while the resident remains in bed

  • Change resident’s position to a supported side-lying position

  • Dress a resident who has a weak arm

  • Feed a resident who is sitting in a chair

  • Measure and record a resident’s respirations


Once you pass, you are placed in the state registry. Congratulations! Now you can practice as a nursing assistant in your area.


CNA to RN Transition

While you work as a  CNA, you make progress towards becoming a Registered Nurse (RN). Unlike CNAs, RNs directly coordinate and implement patient care plans with their superiors. They are trusted with a myriad of medical tasks, such as diagnostic exams, administering medication, recording a patient’s clinical data and directly assisting with sensitive procedures. They also  oversee the nursing staff under them such as LPNs and CNAs. Because of these increased responsibilities, RNs can enjoy significantly higher pay. RNs with BSNs make $73,300 annually or double the annual salary of the average CNA. This is on top of opportunities to travel, added benefits and even more career flexibility. 


If that all interests you, this segment provides a step-by-step guide on transitioning from CNA to RN. 


1. Apply for an Accredited Degree Program.


The minimum educational requirements for an RN are either an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing (BSN). The latter typically takes two years to complete, while the former normally takes four. The added investment is ultimately worth it, since RNs with BSN degrees enjoy better pay, more job opportunities and chances for career advancement. In most situations, BSN is highly preferred. 


For reference, the enrollment prerequisites for both are the following: 


  • ADN

    • High school diploma or GED

    • HESI exam 

    • A minimum GPA or certain schools

    • Completed High School Chemistry and Biology

    • SAT Scores

    • Personal essay

  • BSN

    • Cumulative G.P.A of 2.75 or higher from high school or associate’s degree program 

    • Completed laboratory-based classes like Anatomy, Chemistry and Biology

    • Personal Essay

    • Proof of Volunteer Efforts


2. Choosing the Right BSN Track


There are a number of BSN programs to choose from. Each of them varies in length, format and requirements. What works best for you depends on your priorities and situation. 


  • Part Time Vs Full-time: Programs typically offer either a full-time curriculum or a part-time schedule. For those who want to study while working, part-time is preferred. If you have the time to fully commit to your studies, you can opt for a quicker full time program. Some of these programs are even online, which provides added flexibility

  • CNA to RN Bridge Programs: For CNAs, these bridge programs are the fastest and most efficient track towards becoming an RN.. Not only can you acquire your BSN in under a year, but the curriculum builds on your experiences and education as a CNA. 

  • Accelerated BSN Programs: If you have a bachelor’s degree in another discipline and you meet the GPA minimum, you can opt for an accelerated track. Whether it is online or in-person, these programs allow you to acquire your BSN in just 12 months. 


3. Pass the NCLEX-RN


Once you have completed your educational requirements, you can finally take the National Council Licensure Examination - Registered Nurse (NCLEX-RN). To ensure that RNs are prepared to safely provide medical care, they must pass this exam before they can get licensed. Applicants can call Pearson VUE to request for a preferred date and testing center. It is generally advised that you set aside at least one to two months in order to study for your exam. 


The exam uses an adaptive testing mechanism that evaluates your ability, based on how you answer questions of varying ability. It repeats this process until it is 95% sure of its evaluation. If you do very well, the test can be as short as 75 questions. After the test, you are assigned a “logit” that corresponds to your capabilities.  The NCLEX passing score, as of 2021, is a logit of 0. To get this, you need to correctly answer 50% of the medium-difficulty questions. As long as your logit is positive, you passed.


It takes approximately six weeks to get your test results. If you fail the test, you must wait 45 days before you can try again. If you pass, you can receive your license from your State Board of Nursing. Congratulations! You are now an RN! 


Opportunities for Career Advancement

CNAs have the flexibility to branch out to other nursing specializations and positions. With enough working experience and higher degree programs, they can work towards positions with higher pay, increased responsibilities and even more chances to move up the ladder. Here are just a few CNA career advancement opportunities: 



Much like CNAs, LPNs work under doctors and RNs to provide care to patients. While CNAs help patients with their regular daily functions, LPNs can administer medication, record patient data and directly assist with certain procedures. On top of added responsibilities, LPN nurses also get paid better with an average annual salary of $53,078. Compared to the RN route, LPN programs are far less expensive. When it comes to progressing your career, this route is among the more seamless transitions. 


On top of lower tuition rates, you already have the minimum educational requirements. Like CNAs, students are required to hold their GED and High School Diplomas before they can enroll in an accredited LPN program. There are also part-time, 1-2 year programs that let you pursue your studies while working full time. Self-paced online classes are also available for even more schedule flexibility. As soon as you complete your program, you become eligible for the NCLEX-PN. From there, it is just a matter of passing the test and fulfilling state specific requirements. 




The jump from CNA to RN is a considerable one. As previously mentioned, RNs are more directly involved in the medical process. They assist with the formation and implementation of care plans, carry out a diverse set of medical tasks and are responsible for overseeing nursing staff such as CNAs and LPNs. As a result, their pay is more than double that of a CNA. 

Becoming an RN is a huge investment. . Minimum education requirements are stricter and tuitions are costlier. Alternatively,CNAs can opt to become LPNs before entering their RN education. This allows you to progress professionally as you acquire your RN prerequisites. Afterwards, you can enroll in a one to four year LPN-to-RN bridge program that builds on your prior education and experiences. Once you pass the NCLEX-RN and obtain your license, you can enjoy even more opportunities to earn and advance your career.


CNA vs Medical Assistant

On the surface, CNAs and Medical Assistants have a lot in common. Both of them provide crucial care and emotional comfort to a diverse set of patients, in different age ranges and demographics. Both of them provide important aid to physicians, nurses and other healthcare professionals during the care process. Despite all these similarities, these professions actually diverge in a number of key ways. Before you choose which position to work towards, consider these major differences between CNAs and MAs.

Educational Requirements

Neither CNA or MA require an expensive postsecondary degree or 4-year training program. For that reason, both jobs serve as good entry points into the healthcare industry. MAs must go through a certificate, diploma or associates program that can last 9 months to 2 years. CNAs are required to go through state-approved training programs that only last 4 to 12 weeks. These programs blend classroom training with hands-on practice in select facilities. Following that, they need to pass a certification test before they can acquire their license. 



Since they are in charge of overseeing a patient’s daily needs and necessities, CNAs apply more hands-on direct patient care. A nursing assistant will often find themselves doing tasks such as moving patients from bed-to-bed, bathing and dressing them, assisting them with feeding if necessary. While MAs provide some direct care, such as providing medication or taking blood specimens, their shifts primarily center around clinical or administrative tasks such as scheduling appointments or updating and keeping patient records. 




MAs and CNAs also find work in different places. According to the BLS, 57% of all MAs find work in physician offices while only 15% operate in hospitals. A minority can be found in outpatient care centers and chiropractors. Meanwhile, CNAs can find work in any healthcare facility that provides care over a long term period of time. In particular, 37% of nursing assistants work in nursing care facilities while 30% percent find work in hospitals. The remaining CNAs operate from assisted living facilities for the elderly, home healthcare services and even government sectors.




The future prospects for both professions remain bright. The projected employment growth of 8% for nursing assistants is in line with the average for most occupations. This roughly translates to 192,800 job openings per year. Meanwhile, projected growth for MAs sits at an impressive 18%, which equates to 104,400 openings per year.  The BLS attributes both jobs’ high number of openings to the turnover and retirements that are expected to affect the healthcare industry at large, in the coming years. 

If you want to get started in healthcare as soon as possible and you want to provide more direct care, opt for the CNA route. If you can spend more time on studies, and are more inclined towards clinical and administrative work, become an MA. Ultimately, what you choose depends on what you are looking for. Both roles are valid and invaluable assets in the healthcare industry. 


Paying for CNA education

Few healthcare students can pay for their training out of pocket. Though CNA education is relatively affordable, it will still cost you around $1300 to $3000. If you need help covering those costs, there are a few options available for you: 


Employer-Covered CNA Training


Some hospitals provide tuition-reimbursement and full-time employment to aspiring CNAs. This allows you to complete your education while securing a job right after graduation. The only drawback is that you have to commit to the organization for a specific amount of time or face penalties. 


Student Loans


You can avail of a number of student loans offered by the government or private loaning firms. This is one of the most common and quickest ways to fund higher education. The one major drawback is interest. By the time you complete your program, you might be dealing with an interest in the range of 4-11%. Though the rates are fixed and lower than most other loans, this is still something worth considering. 


Reimbursement Programs


Because of the importance of CNAs in the healthcare industry, certain organizations may reimburse the costs for education. For example, Medicare/Medicaid facilities are legally obligated to cover the costs of their employee’s CNA training. If you are employed by a Medicare/Medicaid-covered facility prior to your program completion or within twelve months of it, they will reimburse either your entire tuition or a portion of the cost. Certain YMCA/YWCA associations may also pay off your nursing aide program. These are just a few examples of such sponsorships. 




Every year, the Federal Government provides billions of dollars of grants to students in need. If you can avail of one, you will secure financial assistance without any debt or repayment. 

Many of these grants specialize in supporting certain groups of people such as racial minorities, women or other marginalized demographics. To find grants available in your area, check your state’s Department of Labor. You can find programs applicable to you by submitting a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) at This determines your expected family contribution and the grants and scholarships you qualify for. 




Similar to grants, scholarships let institutions cover your tuition free of charge. Some are government sponsored, while others are offered by private institutions like universities. While grants focus on financial need, eligibility for a scholarship is merit-based. This usually means scoring a certain amount in the admissions test, or  maintaining a GPA above a certain threshold. 


Your school's office of financial aid can help you find grants or scholarships you can qualify for. Scholarships also appear on the FAFSA site and application. Alternatively, you can also make use of certain scholarship websites that let you search from a wide database of financial aid programs. This is more time consuming, but you can find a program that best suits your circumstances with enough time.


Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Grants Act


Formerly known as the Workforce Investment Act, this federal program offers financial assistance to out-of-school youths, adults and dislocated workers who were terminated by their previous employer and unlikely to return to their previous industry. You can learn more about the qualifications here. Eligible CNA programs receive funding from the WIOA for the sake of financial assistance. You can find eligible programs by consulting your school’s office of financial aid or searching on the WIOA website. 

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