Learn About Being a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published December 10, 2019

What does a CNA do?

A CNA is a clinical professional with expertise in the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of mental health conditions. Some of the duties CNAs typically have are:

  • Assisting patients with daily living activities, such as meal delivery and application of bedpans

  • Providing help to patients and managing their personal hygiene

  • Recording and checking patient vital signs daily

  • Offering general adjunct care to patients

Average salary

Certified nursing assistants are generally paid an hourly wage as opposed to an annual salary. Their exact wage can vary widely depending on regional factors, their certifications, any areas of specialization and their chosen work environment. For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the salary link.

  • Common salary in the U.S.: $15.32 per hour

  • Some salaries range from $7.25 to $26.60 per hour.

CNA requirements

Becoming a certified nursing assistant requires that you undergo a clinical training period and pass a CNA certification exam.


CNAs require at least a high school diploma or an equivalent. Many CNAs choose to pursue an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Earning a post-secondary degree is not necessary for this role, but earning one does enable you to more easily advance your career in the nursing field.


CNAs must complete a clinical training period at an accredited nursing school to be eligible to earn the CNA certification. This training period is in place to ensure that a CNA has experience actively working within a clinical nursing setting. It also provides academic education to CNAs regarding their roles and responsibilities. Training periods vary in length, typically between four and 12 weeks, but this will vary depending on the state you’re in.


To work as a CNA in the United States, you must become certified in a certain state. While each state has a unique process for becoming certified, the credential typically requires you to attend an accredited certified nursing training program and pass the CNA certification examination. If you continue to nursing school, you may take your certifications with you into further positions in the nursing field to become a more competitive candidate and increase your earning power.


An effective CNA will need strong interpersonal skills. Some of the most important skills for a CNA to master include:

  • Charisma and communication: As a CNA, you’ll work with patients on an intimate and personal level and should feel comfortable communicating with them about a wide range of topics concerning their care. Additionally, as a CNA, you’ll act as a communication link between the patients and registered nurses.

  • Clinical knowledge: CNAs must maintain a comprehensive knowledge of their industry. A CNA must possess in-depth knowledge of current patient care techniques and clinical theories.

  • Empathy: Your patients may become nervous or anxious if they don’t know what to expect, so you should remain empathetic with each patient to more easily understand their perspectives. Your empathy can help them feel safe and understood regarding their concerns.

  • Emotional intelligence: You’ll need strong emotional intelligence to excel as a CNA. Patients may sometimes need extra assistance or demonstrate substantial behavioral changes. With developed emotional intelligence, you can more easily understand why these changes may happen and respond to them appropriately.

CNA work environment

CNAs work in general hospitals, clinics and nursing homes. Because patients in these organizations require treatment and care day and night, CNAs tend to work long shifts that can fall during any hours. CNAs may work holidays or weekends. CNAs spend most of their working day moving around their workplace between patients and running standard diagnostics and helping patients with their daily routines. CNAs typically work with the same patients for longer periods of time, but this is not always the case.

How to become a CNA

You can follow these general steps to become a CNA:

  1. Earn a high school diploma or an equivalent. Becoming a CNA requires you to first obtain either a high school diploma or GED. 

  2. Learn your state’s requirements for becoming a certified nursing assistant. Every state has specific requirements for individuals looking to become CNAs. These requirements usually involve a period of nursing training at an accredited nursing school and a CNA examination, but the requirements may be more involved depending on your state.

  3. Undergo nursing assistant training. CNAs are required to undergo nursing assistant training from an accredited nursing school. These training programs tend to last between four to 12 weeks, usually dividing time between classroom lectures and practical clinical training.

  4. Pass the CNA certification examination. You will need to pass the CNA certification exam before beginning work. The exam has a clinical portion and a written portion and may typically be retaken any number of times in the event an individual finds it to be a challenge.

  5. Advance your nursing career. After you’ve started your career as a CNA, you may want to advance in the field of nursing. As a CNA, you will be able to more easily get into professional nursing programs to help move along your position. You may choose to pursue a professional degree to become a registered nurse or a licensing practical nurse. 

CNA job description example

Caring Hearts Nursing Home in Hoboken is looking to hire a new CNA to join our staff. The perfect candidate will be dedicated to helping people through some of the most challenging health crises of their lives. You should be comfortable forming bonds with your patients and helping them with their meals, clothes and bedpans as needed. You will record vital information on each of your patients each day for nurses and physicians to have more accurate information on your patients. All applicants must be certified as a CNA within the state of New Jersey and at least two years of prior nursing experience is preferred.

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