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CNA Career Guide

How to Become a CNA

A CNA, or certified nursing assistant, is an important position in any hospital setting. CNAs have many responsibilities that make them an integral part of the patient process in healthcare. One of their most important roles is helping nurses and doctors better serve clients and patients in a variety of healthcare settings. While being a CNA may be considered an entry-level position, it is a great stepping-stone to other healthcare professions and a fantastic way to build your healthcare career. Being a CNA can help prepare you for nursing or healthcare management work in many ways and is a fantastic place to start your career. 

CNA requirements will vary depending on where you live, but the general process is the same. This career path is a smart choice for a student who loves being adaptable and can work through complex situations to achieve success. Keep reading to learn more about CNA duties, how you can become one, and how you can use your nursing assistant experience to propel you into other health care professions. 

clinical director talking to a medical doctor

What Is a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)?

Certified nursing assistants are a crucial part of the healthcare setting as they groom patients, move equipment, make calls, clean rooms, stock supplies, and more. These healthcare professionals are also responsible for feeding patients, monitoring their condition, documenting notes, and assisting with procedures. This is just the tip of the iceberg, though. CNAs have many roles in hospitals and clinics, so it’s important to be adaptable and flexible if you choose to pursue this profession. This is an excellent choice for professionals who enjoy a lot of variety in their day-to-day work.

What Does a CNA Do?

CNA jobs include many different daily duties. A certified nursing assistant helps patients with direct healthcare needs, often under the supervision of a nurse. Certified nursing assistants may also be called a nursing assistant, a nurse’s aide, or a patient care assistant. CNAs work directly with patients and nurses, helping with the many physical and complex tasks of patient care. A CNA job description usually includes the following:

  • Caring for wounds and injuries
  • Moving patients within and outside of the center
  • Following safety procedures
  • Assisting with medical operations and procedures
  • Stocking, cleaning, and organizing rooms
  • Documenting information, calls, and messages
  • Checking vitals like blood pressure and pulse
  • Feeding patients and recording diets
  • Grooming and bathing patients
  • Gathering medical equipment and supplies
  • Turning, moving, and interacting with patients
  • Checking patient vital signs

What Education Does a CNA Need?

CNAs have fairly limited healthcare duties partly because the educational requirements to become a certified nursing assistant are not as rigorous as those of other medical professionals. Nursing assistants hold an entry-level position in a hospital or care facility, so their education and certification requirements tend to be less intensive than for other health professionals, such as nurses. In fact, many people become a CNA to try their hand at healthcare before moving into nursing or another healthcare profession.

CNA educational requirements vary by state, but often include a state-approved training program. This can be offered at a high school, community college, vocational school, or even at a hospital. These CNA classes are typically four to eight weeks long and detail how to care for patients, teaching students basic medical skills and important ethical and moral concepts. There may also be in-person or hands-on skill elements to help students prepare to work with patients. 

CNA certification.

Again, different states will have unique requirements for the nursing assistant certification process. You’ll want to closely familiarize yourself with the state-level requirements where you want to work. Requirements often include a written or oral exam as well as a demonstration exam in which students show their ability to perform certain tasks. This licensing is critical, as it will be required for students to apply and be accepted for certain jobs. This licensing also ensures that you have the knowledge and skills to work with real patients.

CNA certification exam.

The NNAAP or National Nurse Aide Assessment Program examination is required in many states for licensure as a CNA. This exam contains two parts: a written exam and an oral exam, which must both be passed to become licensed. Your CNA program will help you find the NNAAP examination center in your area, find study resources, and more.

If you are currently a CNA or are interested in becoming one, it is a great way to start a healthcare career. After you have worked as a CNA and know the direction you want for your career, consider advancing your education to move into another career such as nursing, healthcare management, or patient advocacy.

Best Degrees for a CNA

Nursing (Prelicensure) – B.S.

A one-of-a-kind nursing program that prepares you to be an RN...

A one-of-a-kind nursing program that prepares you...

A one-of-a-kind nursing program that prepares you to be an RN and a baccalaureate-prepared nurse:

  • Locations: offered in FL, IN, TX, MO, and UT only.
  • Tuition: $6,430 for the first term, $7,616 for the remaining 4 terms. Each term is six-months. Prelicensure students can not accelerate and the program takes 2.5 years to complete.

WGU offers the prelicensure program in areas where we have partnerships with healthcare employers to provide practice sites and clinical coaches to help teach you and inspire you on your path to becoming a nurse.

If you don't live in one of our prelicensure states or don't qualify to apply, consider getting our Bachelor's Degree in Health Services Coordination instead. This degree allows you to work inside the healthcare industry, while also working directly with patients who need help.

Healthcare Management – B.S. Business Administration

You can become a healthcare industry leader:...

You can become a healthcare industry leader:...

You can become a healthcare industry leader:

Compare with B.S. Health Information Management

  • Time: 73% of graduates finish within 30 months.
  • Tuition: $3,575 per 6-month term.

Sample careers and jobs this business degree will prepare you for:

  • Health information manager
  • Community service manager
  • Clinical manager
  • Medical records manager
  • Social service manager

The online courses in this career-focused business degree program will prepare you with management-level skills and an up-to-date understanding of our healthcare delivery system.

Nursing (RN-to-BSN Online) – B.S.

An online BSN degree program for registered nurses (RNs) seeking...

An online BSN degree program for registered...

An online BSN degree program for registered nurses (RNs) seeking the added theoretical depth, employability, and respect that a bachelor's degree brings:

  • Time: 66% of graduates finish within 18 months.
  • Tuition: $3,998 per 6-month term, plus a Health Professions Student Fee of $350.
  • Transfers: On average, students transfer 81 credits.

With over 35,000 BSN alumni, this is one of WGU's most popular online degree programs. View our RN to BSN degree guide.

If you don't currently have an RN and don't qualify for your nursing prelicensure program, consider getting our Bachelor's Degree in Health Services Coordination instead. This degree allows you to work inside the healthcare industry in a unique way.

Health and Human Services – B.S.

An online health degree program for students who are committed...

An online health degree program for students who...

An online health degree program for students who are committed to making a difference for patients in a variety of ways.

  • Time: 95% of students finish similar programs faster than the traditional 4 years.
  • Tuition and fees: $3,650 per 6-month term, plus a one-time Health Professions Student Fee of $350.

Sample careers and jobs this degree will prepare you for:

  • Care coordinator
  • Patient advocate
  • Health services coordinator
  • Patient educator
  • Community health educator

This degree allows you to work inside the healthcare industry, while also directly working with patients who need help.

Next Start Date

Start the 1st of any month—as soon as you complete enrollment!

Apply Today

Our Online University Degree Programs Start on the First of Every Month, All Year Long

No need to wait for spring or fall semester. It's back-to-school time at WGU year-round. Get started by talking to an Enrollment Counselor today, and you'll be on your way to realizing your dream of a bachelor's or master's degree—sooner than you might think!

Learn about online college admissions at WGU.

male clinical director talking to a female doctor

What Skills Does a CNA Need?

  • Attention to Detail: CNAs need a keen attention to detail in their daily work. They work with patient data, charts, and sensitive forms with relevant health information. It’s essential that CNAs record, interpret, and communicate this information accurately.
  • Communication Skills: When it comes to patient health, excellent communication skills are essential. CNAs need to be able to give clear and concise instructions to patients and their families. Effective communication skills also come in handy while building rapport with patients. 
  • Medical Knowledge: CNAs act as the bridge between a patient and their nurses and doctors. It’s important that they’re educated in medical terminology so they can accurately provide information to patients and help the doctor administer effective care.
  • Strong Stomach: The work of a CNA is as fulfilling as it is unpredictable. For that reason, CNAs must have a strong stomach. On any given day, they’ll encounter unsavory odors and grisly sights, and it’s important that they avoid having a strong reaction and that they prioritize keeping the patient comfortable and calm. Learn more about how to build a strong stomach.
  • Compassionate Attitude: A compassionate attitude is a necessary skill for CNAs. Patients and their families are often struggling with difficult emotions as a biproduct of their physical ailments, so approaching them with kindness and compassion is essential for providing solace during stressful situations. 
  • Flexible Abilities: When you’re a CNA, no two days are the same. Because this job role has such a wide variety of responsibilities, professionals must be flexible and ready for anything.
  • Optimistic Ethic: When patients are dealing with illness and potentially stressful medical results, it’s the role of the CNA to stay positive and provide emotional support to the patients and their families. Keeping them calm makes the jobs of medical staff easier and helps the healing process. 
  • Technical Expertise: CNAs are responsible for performing numerous basic medical tasks to support the medical staff in hospitals and other healthcare facilities, which is why it’s important that they possess a set of technical skills. Some of these include positioning patients, transferring patients, assisting patients in walking when needed, making an occupied bed, performing passive range of motion exercises, giving bed baths and other grooming measures, changing bed pans, feeding patients, taking blood pressure, and more. 

For those who start out as a CNA and really enjoy working with patients, their work as a CNA will help them gain practical skills and experience, preparing them to become a nurse. Working as a CNA will help professionals gain experience working with patients and performing some medical procedures. There are even online nursing programs that can help current CNAs begin working toward their RN licensure and BSN degree while they work. This can lead to a rewarding career in nursing, and eventually roles in nursing management and leadership. 

Additionally, some CNAs may find that they love working in a healthcare setting but don’t enjoy direct patient care. Getting hands on experience is a great way to find out if you like working with patients. If you find it’s not for you, there are other healthcare professions like health information management or health services coordination that could be a better fit.

How Much Does a CNA Make?


On average, CNAs earn an hourly wage of $14.56. This translates to an average annual nursing assistant salary of $30,290. This is an entry-level position and is often ideal for those just starting out working or those considering a future in nursing. The location where you work will play a large role in how much money you earn.

What Is the Projected Job Growth?


According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job demand in the field of nursing assistants and orderlies is expected to increase by 8% from 2020 to 2030. While becoming a CNA is an excellent job opportunity in and of itself, for many, a CNA role is a step toward a career as a registered nurse or another type of medical professional. Those interested in a healthcare career may start out as a CNA to make sure they enjoy patient care, and to start learning how to interact with patients. 

In 2018, there were roughly 1.5 million CNAs in the United States. Nursing care facilities employed the largest number of certified nursing assistants at 38%. Depending on where you live, there may be different facilities hiring CNAs to help take on care tasks for patients.

Where Does a CNA Work?


CNAs can be found in all kinds of healthcare settings, including:


-Long-term residential facilities

-Nursing homes

-Rehabilitation centers

-Adult daycare centers

-Clinical facilities

-Residential care facilities  

-Urgent care centers 

-Mental health care community centers 

-Specialist facilities 

-Assisted living centers

-Surgery centers

-Home health care

Interested in Becoming a CNA?

If you’re interested in nursing or healthcare, then getting started by working as a CNA can be a great option.

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