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Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

We asked 130,783 job seekers about their Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA). This is what they told us:

  • 53% of job seekers said "help my career progression" was the biggest reason for earning their Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)
  • 82% said earning their Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) helped them make more money
  • 92% said earning their Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) helped them get a job
  • 96% said they would recommend a family member or friend earn their Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

Certified Nursing Assistant Requirements, Reviews and More

According to the US Code of Federal Regulations, a certified nursing assistant (CNA) is any individual that performs nursing or nursing-related services for residents in a hospital or facility.1 Also known as nurse aides, CNAs often work in long-term care or skilled nursing facilities. They usually perform tasks such as repositioning patients to prevent bed sores, assisting MDs and RNs, taking vital signs, assisting patients with personal hygiene tasks, cleaning and disinfecting resident rooms and assisting with basic medical procedures.

As part of the Nursing Home Reform Act passed in 1987, nurse aides must meet a set of training and evaluation standards, and they must be added to the Nurse Aide Registry in their state in order to work with residents in long-term care facilities. The Nurse Aide Registry contains a list of all certified nurse aides that have successfully completed training and passed an exam. It also lists any complaints against individual nurse aides.

The federal guidelines apply to all 50 states, but some states have additional requirements, and the paths to certification can vary by state. Each state enforces these regulations, so it is important to make sure you are certified in the state that you will work in as a CNA. Some states have reciprocity agreements, which means you may be able to transfer your certification if you move to another state. In most cases, there is no cost to the individual for training and assessment. The facility where the individual is employed, or has been offered employment, will generally provide the training and testing free of charge. Community colleges and technical schools also offer training, usually paid for by the student. In some cases, once the individual is hired at a facility, they will be reimbursed for their training and certification expenses.

What are the different types of certifications?


A CNA assists registered nurses or medical doctors in long-term care facilities with basic tasks. To obtain a nursing assistant certification, an individual must complete a training program that consists of at least 75 hours of training and pass a two-part exam consisting of a written or oral section and a skills demonstration.2 The oral portion is offered in English or Spanish. In many cases, individuals seeking certification earn it through their place of employment, as most long-term care facilities offer this training as part of the hiring process. There is no cost to the trainee. However, some individuals choose to take training on their own through a community college or technical school. They must pay for this on their own, but they are sometimes reimbursed once they have an offer of employment. Upon demonstrating competence by completing the required training and passing the exam, candidates are placed on their state Nurse Aide Registry.3

CNA Instructor

CNA instructors are usually registered nurses who have been approved by their state to train and supervise nursing assistants. In most cases, an individual simply submits an application to the state along with supporting documentation. Most CNA instructors must have at least two years of experience as a registered nurse, with at least one of those years working in a long-term care facility. CNA instructors must also have experience teaching adults or show proof of completion of a course on adult education. If there is a fee attached to approval of a CNA instructor, the candidate’s employer usually provides payment. 

Similar certifications:

There are a few other job positions and certifications which are often confused with CNAs. While they are similar, they often have different training and certification requirements.  


A caregiver generally cares for the elderly or disabled but has no formal training or certification.

Home Health Aide (HHA)

A home health aide provides home-based care to the elderly, chronically ill or disabled. In most states, there is a training and certification requirement for HHAs, similar to CNAs. The main difference is that most CNAs provide care in long-term care facilities instead of in-home environments. 

Patient Care Aide (PCA)

Patient care aides are caregivers who assist patients with feeding, hygiene and mobility. In general, they receive on-the-job training and are often not certified.

How do you become a certified nursing assistant?

Step 1. Evaluate your certification options

Determine which path to certification is most appropriate based on your background and education. If you have no training, you will need to go through training. If you already have a medical certification or experience, you may be able to skip training.

Since most employers provide training free of charge, you may decide to seek employment first. Federal law prohibits most nurse aides from paying for training and certification, so many employers must carry that cost. If an individual decides to obtain training independently, they will be reimbursed once they are hired in a facility.

If you choose to go directly to a training program, you can find courses at local community colleges and technical schools. Some high schools offer training programs for their enrolled students. This option will usually require payment up-front.

Step 2. Complete training and prepare for examination

Training not only teaches the necessary skills for a CNA, it also prepares the assistant for examination. Training consists of a combination of classroom learning and hands-on clinical learning. Areas focused on include basic patient care, observation of patients, human physiology and anatomy, safety protocols and patient rights.

Step 3. Pass a criminal background check

Most states require applicants to pass a criminal background check before they can register for an exam. The background check usually requires the applicant to be fingerprinted. Most states are specifically looking to learn whether or not the candidate has been involved in crimes against the elderly or disabled. Some states also require a TB test and proof of vaccinations.

Step 4: Take the exam

After you’ve completed training, you should be ready to take your state-approved nurse aide exam. Most states offer the NATIONAL NURSE AIDE ASSESSMENT PROGRAM (NNAAP) or a similar exam for nursing assistant certification.4 The exam consists of two parts: an oral or written knowledge test and a skills test. The candidate has the choice of completing the knowledge test orally or in written form, depending on how they feel most comfortable. The test is available in English and Spanish in most states. Study materials are available on the NNAAP website.

Step 5: Have your name added to the Nurse Aide Registry

Once you successfully pass the exam, your name will be placed on your state Nurse Aide Registry. In most cases, your employer will take care of the paperwork to do this, but it is important to check and make sure your name appears correctly on the registry.

State Requirements


1. “Electronic Code of Federal Regulations”. Retrieved on February 6, 2020.
2. “42 CFR § 483.152 - Requirements for approval of a nurse aide training and competency evaluation program”. Legal Information Institute. Retrieved February 6, 2020.
3. “Nurse Aide Registries”. NCSBN. Retrieved on January 2, 2020.
4. “NNAAP Exam”. NCSBN. Retrieved on January 2, 2020.

Editorial content last updated: February 2020

What are people saying about getting a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)?

Did this certification help you make more money?

Based on 130,738 responses

82% said earning their Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) helped them make more money

Did this certification help you get a job?

Based on 130,740 responses

92% said earning their Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) helped them get a job

Would you recommend this certification?

Based on 130,740 responses

96% said they would recommend a family member or friend earn their Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

Why did you decide to earn your Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)?

Based on 130,783 responses

Required for my current job


Make more money


Changing careers


Get an edge over other candidates


Help my career progression




What was your job title after earning this certification?

Based on 99,702 responses

Nursing Assistant View jobs


Home Health Aide View jobs


Nurse's Aide View jobs


Patient Care Technician View jobs


Caregiver View jobs


What do people wish they knew before earning their Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)?

89,715 people answered

“What types of scholarships are available”

Jan. 18, 2021

“How fast it is to finish the course.”

Jan. 17, 2021

“How fast it is to finish the course.”

Jan. 17, 2021

“How fast it is to finish the course.”

Jan. 17, 2021

“How fast it is to finish the course.”

Jan. 17, 2021

What advice would you give to someone interested in earning their Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)?

96,833 people answered

“Find someone to do this course with”

Jan. 18, 2021

“Always treat your residents as you would want to be treated or treat them as you would want them to treat your mother or grandmother or other relative”

Jan. 17, 2021

“Always treat your residents as you would want to be treated or treat them as you would want them to treat your mother or grandmother or other relative”

Jan. 17, 2021

“It is great achievement and requires studying hard and staying focused.”

Jan. 17, 2021

“If you not a caring people person that wants to work in a medical field where you come in contact with many different things its not the job for you”

Jan. 17, 2021