Certified Nursing Assistant: Qualifications, Job Description & Career Prospects

December 6, 2013

Article by Global Pre-Meds
Hospital doctor shadowing & global health experience programs.

See current opportunities

If you are interested in a career in nursing and you are looking for the shortest route to get there, becoming a certified nursing assistant or a CNA is a good place to start. While you will require to undergo formal training resulting in a postsecondary certificate, unlike other nursing jobs, you do not need to earn a bachelor’s degree or higher to practice as a certified nursing assistant. Once you’ve earned your CNA certification, you can at some later time, upgrade your certification as an LPN (licensed practical nurse) or an RN (registered nurse).

A student holding her baby after observing her first delivery! Job description of a CNA

Certified nursing assistants work in state, local and private hospitals and are in high demand in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. As a CNA you have to be prepared to work irregular hours including nights, weekends and holidays.  

A certified nursing assistant’s primary responsibility is to assist patients with their daily activities. While some CNAs may have additional responsibilities such as administering medication the core functions of a CNA on the job include:

As a CNA, you also serve as a conduit between nurses, doctors and patients and record and communicate all issues to medical staff. Depending on where you work, other duties could include setting up equipment at a nurse or doctor’s request and transporting patients to treatment units and operating rooms.

Studying to become a CNA

CNA training is a combination of learning basic nursing principles with hands-on supervised clinical work. This training can be acquired at vocational colleges, community colleges and technical schools as well as at a few hospitals and nursing homes. 

After you’ve graduated from your CNA program, you will need to sit for an exam proving your competency. Only after you have successfully passed this exam are you listed in the state registry as a certified nursing assistant. Different states have different criteria that you will need to meet before you can practice in that state. It is important to find out what exactly is needed to become a certified nursing assistant from the state board of nursing in that particular state.


The average annual CNA salary is $25,620 with $18,300 at the lower end and the potential to earn $35,330 for a more experienced professional.  

CNA job outlook

With an increasing aging population, CNAs are in high demand and the number of jobs is expected to increase rapidly over the next few years. Individuals who are still pursuing higher training often use this position as a way to gain further experience. As a student, you can pursue your degree while working with your CNA training in any number of medical facilities.