Certified nursing assistants (CNAs) help patients with daily living activities in a variety of health care settings. Usually working under the supervision of a registered nurse, CNAs help maintain the safety, hygiene, nutrition, exercise and psychological comfort of patients in their care.

Nursing assistants are an essential part of the health care team. In many health care facilities, they are the principal caregivers who often have more direct contact with patients throughout the day than other staff members. Many certified nursing assistants consider the close relationships they develop with patients over time to be the real joy of their career path.

A Day in the Life of a Certified Nursing Assistant

A CNA works with patients who are injured, sick or suffering from chronic conditions like dementia. In large facilities, there are many patients and residents to see and, consequently, a certified nursing assistant remains busy all day long even if they work as a team of nursing aides under a nurse supervisor.

Their patients may face a variety of health concerns, but a CNA is there to reassure the patient and help them work through challenges that can appear daunting and feel overwhelming.

Certified nursing assistants start their day on the go, whether their shift begins early in the morning or late at night. Here are some of the typical duties they perform:

  • Helping patients get in and out of bed, or re-positioning patients in bed
  • Assisting with personal hygiene such as bathing, brushing teeth, denture care and nail care
  • Aiding patients when using the toilet, getting dressed and moving around their rooms
  • Changing the undergarments of patients who are incontinent
  • Serving meals and helping to feed patients
  • Listening to patients and informing the nursing staff of developing health concerns
  • Recording vital signs such as blood pressure and temperature

At the end of the day, the relationships that CNAs develop with patients can make their career truly special, particularly for patients who express their gratitude and appreciation.

Important Characteristics for Certified Nursing Assistants

People who are interested in certified nursing assistant careers should be compassionate, patient and caring. These attributes are valuable since CNAs help provide constant care for the sick, elderly or injured. This is particularly true when CNAs are employed in a long-term care facility or nursing home.

Perseverance and physical stamina are important qualities, too, especially for some of the more repetitive tasks of the job such as cleaning a room, moving patients or putting away items after a meal. However, these types of tasks also can bring joy to CNAs who enjoy chatting with patients while they work. After all, there is almost always a story that a patient wants to tell. Communication and listening skills are essential parts of the job and can make all the difference when it comes to a patient feeling that their needs and interests are being respected. Those skills also help to ensure that accurate information is relayed to other team members about each patient's condition.

Typical Steps for Becoming a Certified Nursing Assistant

Several steps need to be taken to become a certified nursing assistant, like completing a CNA training program and working toward CNA certification. The details provided below outline the steps helpful to becoming a CNA:

  1. Complete an education program. A college diploma or certificate is typically needed to become a certified nursing assistant, although CNA training may be available in a high-school setting in some cases. Students should look for CNA classes and programs that are approved by a state so that they are later eligible to take the state's competency exam. Program requirements can vary from state to state and programs can have different names, such as the titles listed below:
    • Certified Nursing Assistant Program
    • Nurse Assistant Program
    • Nursing Assistant, Certified Program
  2. Pass a state's CNA exam. Once students have completed a state-approved program, they should be ready to take the state's competency exam. This exam can include questions about infection control, nutrition, personal care and other topics, while incorporating questions of knowledge and practical skills. Passing a state's CNA exam typically leads to the title of Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) or even Certified Nursing Aide, but the exact wording may vary from state to state.
  3. Look for a job. Once a candidate has passed the CNA exam, his or her name should appear on the state's CNA registry. Organizations looking to hire a CNA need to first verify a candidate's name on the state's registry before hiring them. Jobs may be available in many different settings such as long-term-care facilities, nursing homes, home health agencies and hospitals.
  4. Continue their education. A CNA may like working in health care or assisting patients in a variety of ways and there are many opportunities for continuing toward advancement. Those who wish to take their CNA career to higher levels of responsibilities can pursue additional education to become a licensed vocational nurse (LVN) or registered nurse (RN).


  • Certified Nursing Assistant, Brookhaven College, Accessed September 2017, https://www.brookhavencollege.edu/cd/dcc/health/nursing/cna/pages/default.aspx
  • Certified Nursing Assistant Program, Truckee Meadows Community College, Accessed September 2017, http://www.tmcc.edu/certified-nursing-assistant/
  • Nursing Assistant, Certified Application Instructions, Bellevue College, Accessed September 2017, https://www.bellevuecollege.edu/nursing/nac/apply/
  • Nursing Assistants, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016-17 Occupational Outlook Handbook, Accessed September 2017, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/Healthcare/Nursing-assistants.htm#tab-6

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) Skills

Below are the skills needed to be certified nursing assistant (cna) according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 7 being highest).

Skill NameImportanceCompetence
Service Orientation43.5
Active Listening3.623
Social Perceptiveness3.623.12

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) Abilities

Below are the abilities needed to be certified nursing assistant (cna) according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 7 being highest).

Ability NameImportanceCompetence
Oral Comprehension3.883.62
Problem Sensitivity3.753.38
Near Vision3.623.25
Oral Expression3.623.62
Speech Recognition3.623.25

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) Knowledge

Below are the knowledge areas needed to be certified nursing assistant (cna) according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 7 being highest).

Knowledge AreaImportanceCompetence
Customer and Personal Service3.984.77
English Language3.783.39
Medicine and Dentistry3.313.23
Public Safety and Security3.242.56

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) Work activities

Below are the work activities involved in being certified nursing assistant (cna) according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest).

Work ActivityImportanceCompetence
Assisting and Caring for Others4.764.43
Communicating with Supervisors, Peers, or Subordinates4.413.93
Identifying Objects, Actions, and Events4.345.23
Establishing and Maintaining Interpersonal Relationships4.284.32
Getting Information4.243.39

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) Work styles

Below are the work styles involved in being certified nursing assistant (cna) according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest).

Work StyleImportance
Concern for Others4.7
Stress Tolerance4.63
Self Control4.61

Metro Areas Sorted by Total Employment for
Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

Listed below are the 10 largest metro areas based on the total number of people employed in Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) jobs , as of 2019

Metro AreaTotal EmploymentAnnual Mean Salary
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim41,150$34,800
Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach22,130$27,260
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington21,530$29,610
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell16,920$30,400
Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land16,030$28,400
Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater14,180$28,770

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Source : 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2018-28 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov; O*NET® 24.3 Database, O*NET OnLine, National Center for O*NET Development, Employment & Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, onetonline.org