How to Become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

From understanding program accreditation to preparing for job interviews, follow these key steps to begin a fulfilling career as a certified nursing assistant.


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Kenya McCullum

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Certified nursing assistants (CNAs) play an important role in the healthcare system. They support both registered nurses and practical nurses by performing duties such as dressing, bathing, and transporting patients. Anyone considering a career as a CNA has a wide range of education and training options available. This page outlines these options, as well as the various ways current CNAs can boost their salaries and advance their careers. See what it takes to become a CNA.

Should You Become a CNA? A Checklist

CNAs help patients and impact the workplace every day, which makes it a satisfying way for people who are interested in the health care field to contribute to their communities. However, despite its rewards, this career may not be a good fit for everyone. Answer the following questions to see if working as a CNA makes sense for you:

  • Do you enjoy interacting with people on a daily basis?
  • Are you able to emotionally deal with severely sick or injured patients?
  • Can you handle yourself in emergency situations?
  • Are you good at anticipating potential problems before they arise?
  • Are you good at working in a team?
  • Are you able to stand up for long periods of time?
  • Can you display patience and compassion to people who are in severe pain?
  • Do you have strong communication skills?
  • Do you have the physical strength needed to lift and transfer patients?
  • Do you have a strong attention to detail?

If you answered “yes” to these questions, a career as a certified nursing assistant may be the right choice for you. Now that you have made this determination, it’s time to consider the education path that you want to take in order to get your CNA training.


Nursing Assistants, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Explore CNA Course Options

Prospective CNA students need training programs that will prepare them to perform the job successfully. In addition, each state has its own requirements for CNAs, making it imperative that future professionals get the training they need to meet these standards and earn a state certification. For example, licensing requirements may mandate that students take coursework in nutrition, communication skills, rehabilitation, and vital signs. States may also have specific requirements for the number of classroom hours students must complete, as well as the amount of clinical training they should receive.

Where to Get Your Training

People interested in becoming a CNA have several options for where they can obtain the training they need. Read each option carefully to see which one fits your educational style, career goals, and financial needs.

Community colleges

Students who enroll in CNA programs at community colleges can generally complete their studies in about two to four months. During this time, they take courses designed to teach them the fundamental theories CNAs need to know and how they work in practice. Although these programs provide the comprehensive education hopeful CNAs need to begin their careers, as well as the opportunity to complete some of their coursework online, they do take longer than other types of programs. As a result, students who want to complete their studies quickly may want to pursue other options.


Hospitals that provide CNA training give students a convenient way to experience what the job is like on a daily basis. These programs, which can be completed in about one to two months, are often part of a health care facility’s recruitment efforts, so students who get their training in this way may not have to worry about looking for a job afterwards. Another benefit of training at a hospital is that the program is often free of charge. However, students who want to take courses online will not be able to find them in hospital-based programs.

Red Cross

The Red Cross Nurse Assistant Training Program teaches students how to provide compassionate care at health care facilities while helping students build the strong communication skills they need to be successful. This program includes a combination of small class lectures, audio and video training, and on-site clinical experiences that teach students topics like motion exercises, patient safety, infection control, and vital signs. Although this program can be completed in about one or two months, it’s not as flexible as other programs since students can only take classes during daytime hours.

Vocational schools

CNA programs at vocational schools give students the training they need in one to three months. Those who enroll in these programs learn the basics of providing the effective and safe care that patients deserve, as well as information on the communication skills CNAs need and the legal and ethical considerations that guide how professionals work. Vocational school programs are fairly flexible, so students can take some coursework online, as well as evenings.

Online or On-Campus

Depending on their needs, students may choose to enroll in CNA programs that are completely conducted on campus, or programs that are partially online. Since students are required to get hands-on training in addition to classroom work, entirely online programs are not available. However, partially online CNA programs give students the flexibility to attend classes around their schedule.

Campus programs

CNA programs that are conducted entirely on campus give students the opportunity to interact with professors and peers on a face-to-face level, which can have tremendous benefits in terms of the learning process. However, those who work and raise families may not have as much flexibility as they need in these programs since students are limited to the scheduled course times. In addition, traveling to campus on a daily basis may prove difficult for some students.

Partially online (hybrid) programs

Those who are currently working full-time and want to transition into a nursing assistant career can enroll in CNA classes online. This can be a good option because students may be able to watch lectures at times that are convenient for their schedules and complete assignments at their own pace. As a result, students get the same quality instruction as their on-campus counterparts, so they go into the clinical portion of the program with the fundamental knowledge they need. However, this may not be a good option for students who are not used to using technology or those who thrive in a more structured learning environment.


Nursing Assistant Certified, Everett Community College

Nursing Assistant & Certified Nursing Assistant, Glendale Community College

Nurse Aide Training, Community College of Philadelphia

Research Eligibility Requirements

In order to be admitted to a CNA training program, prospective students must fulfill certain prerequisites. Every state has different requirements that people need to meet before they are able to enroll in a program, so it’s imperative that they educate themselves on the specific requirements in their location. Although the standards are different from one state to the next, the following are generally what is required for admission into a CNA program.

Current immunizations

Enroll in Your Accredited CNA Program

Making the choice to become a CNA is a big step toward building a rewarding new career. After making this huge decision, it’s time for future CNAs to research schools and start submitting applications. This section is designed to help prospective students navigate their way through the application and enrollment process.

  • State Requirements & Accreditation

    When choosing a school, it’s important for students to find one that has been accredited in order to ensure that they’re getting the quality education they need to meet state guidelines. There are several key areas where states may have different standards, including the following:

    • How many classroom hours are required
    • How much clinical time is necessary
    • Cost of training
    • Examinations
    • Certification fees
  • Tuition & Associated Costs

    In addition to factors like the number of clinical and classroom hours that students are expected to complete, those who want to enroll in a CNA program are also concerned about how much they will pay to get the training they need. Although the amount that individual schools may charge differs, the following is a general idea of what CNA students can expect to pay.

    • Application fees: When applying for CNA programs, prospective students are required to pay the school’s specific application fee. Generally, applicants can expect to pay around the $50 range in order to be considered for these programs.
    • Program tuition: Schools may charge by the credit or by the semester. Per credit, students may be charged between $70 and $260, depending on if they are an in-state or out-of-state student. Schools that charge by the semester may cost around $4,500 for residents and $27,000 for non-residents.
    • Tuberculosis test and physical examination: Among the fees that students in CNA programs are expected to pay are the tests that determine if they meet the health standards expected of them. These exams can cost around $20.

Finish Classes & Clinicals

CNA programs are a combination of classroom instruction and clinical work to give students the fundamental knowledge they need to practice, as well as the hands-on experience required to apply these theories to real-world patient care. During the classroom portion of the program, which can often be completed online, students learn about medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, vital signs, mobility, and cognitive impairments. In addition, students are taught the professional communication skills CNAs are expected to have in order to interact with patients and members of their team.

During the clinical portion of CNA programs, students build on the coursework they completed in order to gain practical skills such as taking people’s vital signs, applying heat and cold to different parts of the body when appropriate, and bathing patients. In addition, students become familiar with the physical demands of the job during this time, as they get experience lifting and transferring patients.


Certified Nursing Assistant, Maine College of Health Professionals

CNA Curriculum Example, Nevada Nursing Board

Pass Your CNA Competency Exam

Through the clinical and classroom portions of a CNA program, students learn about the realities of the profession and get the competencies they need to take the examination required by their state. In order to gain a license, every state has different standards for what is expected of CNA graduates. In general, these future professionals should not have chemical dependencies, criminal convictions, and mental illness. For more information about the licensing procedure, continue reading this section.

State Requirements

After completing a CNA training program, graduates are eligible to begin the certification process in their state, which begins by taking the required competency examination. From the number of questions asked to the content of the test, there are important differences depending on where people take the CNA exam, so it’s important for them to become familiar with the format and subjects covered in their state.

CNA Competency Exam

The CNA competency exam is made up of written and clinical sections designed to test students’ understanding of the concepts and skills they learned throughout their training programs. During the written part of the test, students are given up to two hours to complete multiple choice questions, while the clinical portion of the test is made up of scenarios that students have 30 minutes to work through. The following is more information on each section of the test.

Written portion: During the written portion of the exam, students are expected to answer between 50 to 70 multiple-choice questions demonstrating knowledge on the following information:

  • Managing patient behavior
  • Role of certified nurse assistant
  • Patient observation skills
  • Safety measures
  • Bloodborne pathogens and infectious diseases
  • Legal and ethical concerns in nursing
  • The rights that clients have
  • Hygiene
  • Mental and emotional health
  • Emergency

Clinical portion: Students may be asked to bring a volunteer with them on exam day to act as the patient while the student demonstrates their hands-on mastery of the following skills:

  • Taking vital signs
  • Transferring a patient from a bed to a chair or a bed to a stretcher
  • Providing catheter care
  • Making an occupied bed
  • Dental care
  • Helping patients use a bedpan
  • Dressing patients
  • Measuring urinary output
  • Updating patient records
  • Bathing patients

Exam Prep

In order to ensure that they do well on the exam, CNA students can obtain study materials and practice tests, many of which can be found online. This can help students familiarize themselves with the type of questions they can expect to find on the test, get an idea of their strengths and weaknesses, and determine what areas they need to focus on as they study. To get the best results, students should time themselves taking practice tests.


California Nurse Competency Test, Red Cross

CNA Testing, Red Cross

CNA Practice Test

Consider Career Advancement Options

After working as a CNA for a while, professionals may elect to open up opportunities by going back to school to pursue similar careers in the health care field. The following are some examples of the education that CNAs may obtain in order to advance in their career and command higher salaries.

Associate degree

CNAs who are interested in becoming registered or licensed vocational nurses can get the training they need by enrolling in an associate degree program. These programs, which can take about two years to complete, build on the skills and knowledge that professionals already have and may include coursework in nutrition, microbiology, anatomy and physiology.

Bridge programs

Bridge programs allow CNAs to study to become registered nurses without starting their education over from scratch. Much like CNA programs, bridge programs require that students take coursework that can be completed online coupled with hands-on training. In addition, bridge programs require general education that can include classes in English composition, psychology, and algebra. CNAs who are interested in becoming medical assistants can also enroll in bridge programs.

Bachelor’s degree

In many cases, employers give preference to those who have earned bachelor’s degrees, so CNAs may want to enroll in these programs to help boost their career. Four-year programs provide a more in-depth education that allows students to get a job as a registered nurse or use the program as a springboard to higher degrees that lead to managerial positions in the field.

Prepare Your Resume & Apply for Jobs

After completing a training program and passing the state licensing exam, it’s time for new CNAs to start looking for a job. In order to be successful, job seekers should craft resumes and cover letters that highlight their education, certification, and the skills they learned during the hands-on part of their training program. The following are some sites job hunters can use to help them create cover letters and resumes.

  1. Nursing Aide and Assistant Resume Samples
  2. CNA Resume Examples: Skills for CNAs
  3. Certified Nursing Assistant Resume Objectives Resume Sample
  4. CNA Resume: Sample & Complete Guide
  5. Nursing Assistant Cover Letter Sample
  6. CNA Cover Letter

Interviewing 101

No matter how much experience CNAs may have, they need to be able to impress hiring managers in order to land a job. Interviews can be a stressful part of the job hunting process, but by preparing for the types of questions employers are likely to ask, CNAs can put their minds at ease. The following are examples of the questions that CNAs may be asked during job interviews.

  1. Describe a time where you had to deal with a demanding or difficult patient.
  2. How would you handle seeing a coworker mistreating a patient?
  3. What would you do if a patient refuses care?
  4. What do you do upon entering a patient’s room?
  5. Why did you choose to pursue the health care field?
  6. In what ways are you different from other CNAs?
  7. What would you do if you weren’t getting along with a nurse you’re working with?
  8. Describe your strengths and weaknesses.
  9. How do you feel about working in a team?
  10. Where do you see yourself in five years?