Certified Nursing Assistants: Job Info & Career Requirements

Find out what job duties a certified nursing assistant performs. Learn about education requirements, certification, salary, and employment outlook to make the right career decision.

Career Definition for a Certified Nursing Assistant

Certified nursing assistants (CNAs) aid nurses in providing patients with basic care. CNAs often spend more face-to-face time with patients than would any other member of a health care team. Certified nursing assistants are often employed in nursing homes, extended care facilities, hospitals, and sometimes in patients' own homes. Their duties include taking vital signs; assisting patients who need help eating, bathing and dressing; repositioning bedridden patients; changing bed linens; noting the amount of food and liquid consumed and urine output; interacting with patients' family members; monitoring patients; and keeping a record of care given.

Required Education High school diploma or equivalent
Necessary Skills Teamwork, communication, taking direction, multitasking, organization
Median Salary (2017) $27,520 for nursing assistants
Job Outlook (2016-2026) 11% for nursing assistants

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

To start a certified nursing assistants career, you'll generally need a high school diploma or GED equivalent. The requirements to become a CNA vary by state, but most state requirements include a certain number of hours of training or supervised clinical work and passing a competency exam. Many technical schools and community colleges offer one- or two-month training programs to prepare for state certified nursing examinations.

Required Skills

CNAs work as part of a team of medical caregivers under the direction of doctors and nurses; as such, it's important to be able to take direction and function well as part of a team. Certified nursing assistants typically have multiple patients and tasks to handle at one time; it's important for CNAs to be able to prioritize their duties and effectively multitask.

Economic and Employment Outlook

Employment in the nursing assistant and orderly field is expected to grow 11% from 2016-2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov). The median annual salary for nursing assistants, which includes certified nursing assistants, was reported as $27,520 by the BLS in May 2017.

Alternative Careers

Some skills necessary to become a certified nursing assistant will help you prepare for jobs in other areas.

Medical Assistant

While CNAs work in the homes of patients or at an inpatient facility, medical assistants perform administrative tasks and basic medical procedures at a clinic or doctor's office. In addition to clerical record keeping, they also take vital signs, administer medicine and prepare specimen samples for the lab. Education beyond high school is not required, but some employers prefer those who have completed a certificate, diploma or degree program at a career school or community college. Many medical assistants also pursue professional certification to gain a competitive advantage. The BLS projected a 29% increase in job opportunities for medical assistants between 2016 and 2026 and estimated the median salary to be $32,480 in 2017.

Registered Nurse

For those who may want more complex nursing responsibilities, a career in registered nursing is another possibility. Not only do nurses provide hands-on patient care, but they also coordinate treatment plans, operate medical equipment, assist with the diagnosis of diseases and provide patient education. To enter the field, individuals must complete a nursing diploma, associate or bachelor's degree. All states also require licensure that includes passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). In May of 2017, the BLS reported that registered nurses received a median annual wage of $70,000. They also predicted a 15% growth in employment during the 2016-2026 decade.


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