How to Become a Certified Nursing Assistant
The Definitive Career Guide

Avg. Salary

Education Duration
0-6 Months

Job Outlook

People who love caring for others will find great success when working as a Certified Nursing Assistant.

This rewarding career allows you to work with patients in a hospital, doctor’s office, or clinic to provide exceptional care under the guidance of a registered nurse.

Working as a Certified Nursing Assistant is an entry-level role that will give you hands-on experience when you are ready to take the next step in your medical career.

Job Description

As a Certified Nursing Assistant, you’ll be expected to understand basic medical terms and help patients with their vitals, medicines, and any other common needs.


You’ll be on the clock in hospitals and clinics giving patients their necessary screenings as well as other important duties like:

  • Cleaning rooms
  • Fixing and cleaning bed sheets
  • Dressing wounds
  • Helping patients with baths
  • Stocking supplies
  • Combing patients’ hair
  • Feeding and recording food intake
  • Answering patient phone calls
  • Gathering supplies for nurses
  • Taking temperature, blood pressure, and other vitals


Typically, a Certified Nursing Assistant makes about $37,838 per year in the United States.

This means that the average Certified Nursing Assistant brings home $727 per week and has an hourly wage of $18 for full-time workers.

Those who live in larger populations may make more than that on average.

Expect to make less when just beginning your career, closer to $19,175, which is an hourly wage of $9 in some places.

When you have gained as much experience as possible and have years in the field, a Certified Nursing Assistant can make over $47,065 in some areas.

Expect your hourly wage to be close to $22, bringing home about $905 each week.

  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

Annually National Average Salary: $33,250


Average Annual Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
District of Columbia$39,390
New Hampshire$36,070
New Jersey$35,830
New Mexico$31,620
New York$40,680
North Carolina$29,410
North Dakota$36,070
Rhode Island$35,610
South Carolina$29,260
South Dakota$29,660
West Virginia$29,560
Puerto Rico$19,070
Virgin Islands$35,270

Annual Average Salary: Top 5 States

The top earning state in the field is Alaska, where the average salary is $43,080.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

Alaska - $43,080
New York - $40,680
California - $39,760
District of Columbia - $39,390
Oregon - $38,830
* Salary information based on May 2021 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Nursing Assistants, OCC Code 31-1131, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

How to Become: Step-by-Step

Step 1 Graduate High School

Every great Certified Nursing Assistant has either a high school diploma or a GED.

Both can be earned while still a teenager, but some people who do not have a high school diploma in their adult years can gain access to a GED.

A GED is the equivalent of a high school diploma and takes anywhere from six months to several years to complete, depending on how much time you want to put into it.

While in high school, you may want to consider taking classes that are relevant to working as a Certified Nursing Assistant.

These classes may include chemistry, biology, health education, and physics.

Once you graduate from high school or earn a GED, you will be eligible to enter a Certified Nursing Assistant program.

Step 2 Find a Program

The next step on your journey to your new career as a Certified Nursing Assistant is to find a solid and accredited education program.

Some programs to become a Certified Nursing Assistant will take about four weeks to finish, while others can take as much as fifteen.

Depending on how much time you want to spend learning, your choice of program is completely up to you.

There are Certified Nursing Assistant programs online and in person throughout community colleges and universities near you.

Most classes start every eight weeks, so when you are ready to begin, sign up on the school’s website.

Then, you can begin taking your classes as well as start clinical training to gain insightful hands-on knowledge.

Step 3 Complete the State Exam

Once you complete the program for becoming a Nursing Assistant, you’ll need to become certified.

This is important as it shows that you are up to date in all areas of your career.

The exam varies state by state but is called the Certified Nursing Aide or Assistant Competency Evaluation.

Prometric issues the exam throughout the United States, and you can find an authorized testing facility in your state by asking your program officials or contacting the Prometric website.

There are two parts of the exam, knowledge and clinical skills.

The knowledge part of the exam has 60 questions that are multiple choice.

You will take this on a computer and you will have about 90 minutes to complete this portion of the exam.

For the clinical skills portion, you will demonstrate the skills you have learned to an administrator.

Typically, you will be tested on five skills out of a possible twenty.

You will be allowed three attempts to pass the exam, and once you do you are considered a Certified Nursing Assistant.

Step 4 Gain Experience

The best way to gain experience as a Certified Nursing Assistant is to work an externship or internship while you are in school.

It is also possible to shadow senior Certified Nursing Assistants and even volunteer at hospitals or clinics to gain valuable hands-on knowledge.

While working on any of these experiences, expect to complete basic job responsibilities like taking vitals, completing patient information through the computer, and helping patients with their daily tasks.

You can gain experience while still in school so that once you graduate and finish the exam, you are ready to head out for your first day as a true Certified Nursing Assistant.

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Through your local community college, university, or even online school, you should be able to find a Certified Nursing Assistant program that takes anywhere from four to fifteen weeks to complete.

Within that time frame, you’ll need to learn some valuable skills to become a well-trained Certified Nursing Assistant.

Classes start every eight weeks for most programs, so no matter what time of year you want to begin, you can get ready quickly.

Most programs cost anywhere from $1,200 to over $4,000, depending on where you go and the length of the program.

To be considered for this program, you will need to have a background check, drug screening, and basic math and computer understanding.

Courses will vary based on the state in which you live, but most education looks like Health Assessment, Mental Health, Trends, and Issues, as well as traditional math and science courses.

Not only will you have classroom time in a Certified Nursing Assistant program, but you will learn through clinical assessment as well.

This is a hands-on way to learn how to do the responsibilities of a Certified Nursing Assistant.

Expect to learn how to turn patients into a bed, make beds, administer medication, and take vitals.

All of this will be done with other Certified Nursing Assistant students and professors, however, there may be opportunities for internships or volunteer work.

Some people decide that they want an Associate’s or bachelor’s degree when learning to work as a Certified Nursing Assistant.

This can be done at a community college or university as well and takes anywhere from two to four years to complete.

Earning a degree is a great way to set yourself up for success as a nurse or other medical field position all while working as a Certified Nursing Assistant.

Video About The Career

Licensing & Certification

Before you can begin your career as a Certified Nursing Assistant, you will certainly need to become certified.

Certification happens after you take the exam available in your state.

This exam is known as the Certified Nursing Aide or Assistant Competency Evaluation.

Depending on where you live, there will be exam centers around your state, or you can speak with your school to better assist you with this information.

All exams are provided by Prometric, a nationwide testing facility.

Exams are given in two parts, in the first half, you will need to answer 60 multiple-choice questions.

You will have about 90 minutes to complete this part of the exam, and there will be an associate there to help you if you get stuck.

Some of the categories that you can expect on this exam include:

  • Nutrition
  • Data collection
  • Daily living activities
  • CNA roles
  • Safety

After you finish the written part of the exam on the computer, you will be moved to a clinical testing section.

This area will have you providing physical hands-on knowledge to a dummy or volunteer patient.

Some of the activities that you will do may include hand washing, applying topical ointments, administering medication, and brushing hair or teeth.

You will be asked to complete five activities out of a total of twenty.

Once you complete the exam, you will be given a pass/fail evaluation.

Those who fail can retake the exam three times before they must wait a year.

If you pass, you will be considered a Certified Nursing Assistant and can begin looking for a job opening.

You will need to register with the Nurse Aide Registry in your state.

Bring a state ID or driver’s license to the exam when you are ready to complete your test and expect it to take a couple of hours to finish.

Average Training Program Duration: 0-6 Months

Job Outlook

As a Certified Nursing Assistant, you should expect to see a growth in this career of about four percent over the next ten years, which is average compared to other careers in this field.

Certified Nursing Assistants are gaining promotions or becoming registered nurses, providing more opportunities for those just beginning their careers.

New hospitals and doctor’s offices are opening each year, providing more chances for Certified Nursing Assistants to begin their expected occupation.

It is likely that over the next decade, you will have more than 27,000 opportunities to find a position as a Certified Nursing Assistant in the United States.

Employment Growth Projection: 4%


That's a higher than average projected growth of 56,500

Should You Become a CNA?

Overall Satisfaction: Medium

Overall Satisfaction

Certified Nursing Assistants enjoy working with patients and helping them with their daily tasks.

This can be a stressful career with hours and responsibilities, but many Certified Nursing Assistants consider it to be satisfying to enrich the lives of others.

Those who work as a Certified Nursing Assistant find that the schooling is quite easy and it is possible to gain promotions and raises fairly quickly in this field.

All in all, it is a great career to begin but not a long-lasting opportunity as many other medical careers are more rewarding.

Average Salary: Medium

Average Salary

When just beginning this career, expect your salary to be on the lower side, about $19,000 each year.

With time and experience, the average Certified Nursing Assistant will make about $37,838 throughout the United States.

After many years of hands-on knowledge, the top Certified Nursing Assistants make over $47,000 each year.

There are plenty of ways to gain access to higher-paying careers as a Certified Nursing Assistant, from moving to larger hospitals and gaining promotions within the medical field.

Job Growth Outlook: Medium

Job Growth Outlook

The growth outlook for a Certified Nursing Assistant is average in the United States, at about four percent over the next ten years.

Many Certified Nursing Assistants are gaining promotions and finding new career opportunities each year, which provides openings for new Certified Nursing Assistants to come in.

There are chances to find other careers after working as a Certified Nursing Assistant for several years, and with these opportunities, new Certified Nursing Assistants are welcomed with over 27,000 new options each year.

Education Duration: 0-6 Months

Education Duration

It doesn’t take long at all to become a Certified Nursing Assistant, in fact, most programs typically take anywhere from four to fifteen weeks.

Within that time, students will learn in a classroom as well as in clinical settings to learn hands-on education.

Once you pass your exams, it is possible to become a Certified Nursing Assistant in as little as four months.

Since working as a Certified Nursing Assistant is an entry-level job, you won’t need much training to begin.

Personal Skills Needed

Personal Skills Needed

Working as a Certified Nursing Assistant can be challenging at times, and it does take a special person to complete the daily tasks of this career.

To find success as a Certified Nursing Assistant, you’ll want to have these personal skills:

  • Empathy
  • Communication
  • Attention to detail
  • Dependability
  • Time management
  • Understanding of medications
  • Wound dressing
  • Emotional Stability
  • Physical fitness
  • Patience
  • Stamina
  • Good work ethic
  • Flexibility

As a Certified Nursing Assistant, you’ll be working with people who are sick and may have just heard bad news, so having an open heart and strong mind will get you far in this career.

Frequently Asked Questions


How long do you have to go to school to become a Certified Nursing Assistant?

To work as a Certified Nursing Assistant, you will need to have at least taken on an accredited program through a community college or university.

Programs vary in length, oftentimes you will find that they are between four and fifteen weeks long.

Depending on where you learn and how often the classes meet, your program may be longer or shorter.

It is possible to earn an associate’s degree as a Certified Nursing Assistant, but it is typically unnecessary for a starter career in the medical field.


How much money does a Certified Nursing Assistant make a year?

The average Certified Nursing Assistant will make about $37,838 per year, which is about $18 an hour.

This is typical when you have a year or more of experience in the field.

Just beginning your career, you should expect a salary closer to $19,000 which is about $9 an hour.

Then you can work your way up to a larger salary like $47,000 per year, taking home about $22 per hour.


What kind of education do you need to be a Certified Nursing Assistant?

Consider enrolling in an accredited Certified Nursing Assistant program when you are looking to join this career.

Oftentimes, you will find these at community colleges and universities, where you will earn a certificate of completion.

There are options to complete an Associate’s or bachelor’s degree to join this career, but most of the time all you need is to complete a four to fifteen-week program.

These types of programs provide both classroom and clinical time, which will give you hands-on training while still in school.


Are Certified Nursing Assistant in high demand?

Yes, the career is in high demand due to it being an entry-level position.

Those who take on the career of a Certified Nursing Assistant typically have aspirations to move up in the medical field.

That is why you will find a growth of about four percent in this career in the next ten years.

People will be obtaining promotions and finding new careers, opening doors for junior Certified Nursing Assistants to join.


What skills do you need to have to be a Certified Nursing Assistant?

First and foremost, you need to be an empathetic person with compassion to do well in this career.

As a Certified Nursing Assistant, you will spend a lot of time with patients who may not have the ability to do a lot for themselves.

You will need to be physically fit, patient, and able to administer medication as a Certified Nursing Assistant.

It is also necessary to have communication skills, computer knowledge, and time management skills in this career.

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