What is a CNA?

By Jordan Fabel •  Updated: September 23, 2021  •  8 min read  •  Health
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A CNA is a certified nursing assistant. This type of career is found within the medical industry. As a CNA, the main function you will have is providing support for nurses and other medical professionals.

If you decide to become a CNA, you will be supervised by a Registered Nurse (RN) or a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN). You may be called a nurse’s aide, nursing assistant, or patient care assistant. All of these titles are used to describe a CNA.

When you want to consider a career as a CNA, you will want to understand the job duties. Let’s look at the job duties you will have within this career, along with how to become a CNA.

What is a CNA?

Job Duties of a CNA

The main duties of a CNA revolve around assisting others in the healthcare industry. You will likely provide basic care for patients. It’s common for CNAs to help with hygiene-related tasks including helping patients get dressed and with eating.

CNAs will work directly with patients, often those with limited mobility. It’s common to spend time repositioning patients. You may need to transfer patients from one location to another, such as from a wheelchair to a bed. It may also be necessary for a CNA to take vital signs.

While it’s not common, in some states. CNAs can dispense medication to patients.

CNA vs RNA: The Differences

You might be considering a career in nursing, but you’re not sure if you should become a CNA or an RNA. These are both options in the nursing field, but they are quite different.

As a CNA, you will assist patients and healthcare workers in hospitals, nursing homes, mental health facilities, and other healthcare facilities. You will have job duties that include assisting registered nurses with tasks, such as recording vitals, stocking supplies, cleaning rooms, and more.

If you become an RNA, you will be an advanced version of a CNA. This type of position will require special training and knowledge in rehabilitative techniques. As an RNA, you will help to prepare patients for procedures and treatments. You will also help with teaching them how to perform motion exercises.

CNAs often work in hospitals, while RNAs tend to work in rehabilitation centers. Both can work in multiple healthcare settings, however. Typically, you will become a CNA first, and then go on to complete an RNA training program. As an RNA, you may earn a slightly higher amount per hour than a CNA.

How to Become a CNA in 4 Steps

Step #1 – Finish High School

You will need to complete high school or get your GED to become a CNA. This is required to go into the CNA training you will need to complete.

Step #2 – Complete a CNA Training Program

Your state requirements will determine the type of program you need to complete. It will be a vocational program and it should be approved by the state you plan to work in. Usually, this program is offered by a community college, technical school, or even by your high school. You will likely need to complete classroom work, along with clinical training and practical rotations. There will also be a written and clinical exam you will have to pass, in most states.

It’s common for the training program to last up to a year. Some will only last 4 to 12 weeks, however. It will depend on the program and your state requirements.

Step #3 – Complete On-The-Job Training

You will likely need to complete on-the-job training once you’re hired. This training will likely last a week or more and you will be paid for it.

Step #4 – Specialize with Certifications

You don’t have to specialize as a CNA, but if you do, you will likely earn a higher wage. There are many different specializations you can choose from. Some will include working in different areas of a hospital or in specific areas of healthcare.

Some of the common specialties or other careers CNAs go on to enjoy include:

It’s very common for CNAs to go on to work as an LPN or RN. Both of these careers pay a higher wage and require more training.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a CNA

How much can I make as a CNA?

If you decide to pursue a career as a CNA, you will likely make about $16 per hour, according to Indeed.com. Many CNAs work overtime and may earn as much as $4,500 in overtime pay annually.

The more experience you gain as a CNA, the higher your hourly wage will come. Those with more than 10 years of experience will likely make closer to $18.50 per hour. Some top employers will pay more than $20 per hour for CNAs.

Your location will also determine how much you make. Philadelphia, Chicago, Indianapolis, Louisville, and Colorado Springs all pay above the national average. If you work in one of these locations, you’ll likely make a higher average pay per hour.

The specialty you go into and the certifications you earn can also help you make more. A specialty in nuclear medicine will pay a much higher wage and so will an ACLS certification. Many other specialties and certifications can help you make a higher wage as a CNA, as well.

What type of benefits do I get as a CNA?

It’s rather common for a CNA to receive a benefits package from their employer. This package often includes health insurance, paid time off, and a flexible schedule. You may also receive dental insurance, vision insurance, disability insurance, tuition reimbursement, and even mileage reimbursement.

Will I earn more if I work for a hospital?

As a CNA, if you work for a hospital, you will likely earn the highest average wage. Those that specialize and have the ability to work in specific areas of the hospital can earn even more. Some of the highest-paid CNAs work in these areas of the hospital:

If you work in these areas, you will likely earn more than other CNAs.

Are CNAs in high demand right now?

Yes, this career is a growing one with more jobs coming available. It’s in demand with an expected increase of about 9% over the next ten years. This is higher than the average of all occupations.

How long will it take me to become a CNA?

Depending on the program you choose, you will likely need 4 to 12 weeks to complete your CNA program. Each program is different and states may have different requirements. Likely, you will need to complete at least 75 hours of clinical training and classroom work before you can become a CNA.

Where will I work as a CNA?

CNAs often work in long-term care facilities and hospitals. You may work in a nursing home or in a specific area of the hospital. Many CNAs will spend most of their days on their feet. You will need the stamina to work in this type of position as it can be very physically demanding.

What type of hours do CNAs work?

As a CNA, you will likely work full-time hours. It’s common to work a standard daytime shift, while others may work evenings or weekends. Working evenings and weekends may be required or it might allow you to earn a higher wage.

A 40-hour workweek is common. However, many CNAs will also work overtime, especially around the holidays.

How much will it cost me to train to become a CNA?

The average cost you will pay for a CNA program is about $1,300. However, this cost will vary from one program to another. It will depend on the requirements of your state, as well.

What happens if I fail the CNA exam?

If you fail the exam, you will be able to retake the exam up to three times within two years. However, you will likely only need to retake the sections you failed, instead of the entire test.

Can I become a Registered Nurse if I become a CNA?

Yes, and this is a rather common move for CNAs. It’s common for a CNA to enter into a CNA-to-RN bridge program to become a registered nurse. These programs are offered at some community colleges and you might be able to do some of the work online.

There are many ways a CNA can advance to a career in nursing. Becoming a registered nurse is just one of the common paths you can take, after becoming a CNA.

If you want to get started in a career in nursing, becoming a CNA is a great option. This type of position is an entry-level job that does require some education and training. However, it won’t require a college degree. You can work as a CNA while completing training and education to advance your career, as well.

For those looking to help others, becoming a CNA might be the perfect career. If you’ve thought about going into nursing, this is a good place to start.

Jordan Fabel

Jordan Fabel

Covering different 'paths' that people's lives can take. Creative, foster parent, ticket dismissal, you get the idea. Exploring the requirements, certifications, exams, and obviously, approved courses along each path.