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How to Become a CNA and The Salary To Expect


The nursing profession is one of the fastest growing and in-demand professions in the employment market today. With the rising number of Baby Boomers aging and headed towards retirement, the demand of the medical profession will be to care for these patients at a number of levels. The CNA, or Certified Nursing Assistant, is in equal demand to most of the other nursing professions.

Is Becoming a CNA the Right Opportunity for You?

One of the most important considerations before you start looking into becoming a CNA is that it is not just a job or ordinary career. It is a profession, which means there is more to your daily routine and responsibilities than simply punching a time clock. There are ethical, legal, and moral responsibilities you will need to be aware of along with your medical training and competence. This is not a choice that should be made in haste.

So what makes a person qualified to handle the multiple responsibilities of a CNA? One of the most overlooked qualifications is that you need to be in reasonably good physical shape. This is because you are likely to spend some time physically and carefully lifting patients. The image of a nurse standing by a patient’s bedside smiling is often appropriate, but there are the times when you need to lift the patient to get them on to the bed. A significantly different quality you need to have is the ability to be kind and patient, often with difficult people. It’s not that evert patient is difficult, but you should understand that people who are sick are feeling terrible and can be in a lot of pain despite the pain medication they are given. You might want to remember to be patient with patients as a guide for conducting yourself.

Practical Reasons for Becoming a CNA

Once you decide that you have the basic personal qualifications to move forward with your decision, the next step is to look at the decision from a practical viewpoint. There are many things you can do, but that doesn’t mean everything you can do you should do. Remember, this is the beginning of entering into a profession that will require an investment in time and money over a long period of time. As you will see later, your approach should be earning your CNA as just the first step of a long and beneficial professional career. What follows is not a complete list, but there are some of the most important considerations to evaluate before continuing down the path.

1. Becoming a CNA doesn’t require a college degree

You are likely to want to go the college route later on down the road, but getting your professional feet wet in the healthcare field is something you can do simply by having a high school diploma. One thing you will want to pay attention to is that because the “C” in CNA stands for “Certified” you will need to attain a certification or license to be able to work as a CNA. Any type of criminal background is likely to create some serious problems later on, so you will want to check and see if your specific situation will prevent you from being certified.

2. The training program is very short

If you are someone who doesn’t like to sit in a classroom for four years waiting to get out and get involved, the CNA program may be just what you’re looking for. Most programs will have you trained and out the door, ready to work, in about 90 days. Another advantage is that you will not just be sitting in a desk chair taking notes. There is a clinical side to the education where you will get some hands-on experience that is essential to your practice. Once you complete the classroom work, you will need to pass a state certification exam before being able to set foot in a hospital or residential nursing home.

3. Money to attend CNA training is not an issue

To put it a different way, it is cheap. The average CNA training program will cost you about $1,200 which for many people is a couple of months of rent. There is also a cost to take the certification exam mentioned above, but the average price for that runs about $125. There will be a separate section that goes into the specifics of salary, but you can be sure that if you choose to continue down the CNA path your return on investment will be high. For many people the idea of $0 of student loan debt has great appeal.

4. You will not be stuck in a boring routine

Though there will be a specific set of skills you will take into your job, you will always be dealing with new patients and different challenges every day. You will be required to make many decisions based on the individual patient, which will keep you on your feet. Also, you will be working with professional nurses, RNs and LPNs, who you will share information with to help determine the best course of care for a patient. The many people you will interact with will challenge you to establish professional and personal relationships every single day.

First Stop at Evaluation

It is not enough to prefer any one of these considerations and ignore the others. For example, you may like the short term schooling but not constantly being on the go and continuously interacting with different people. This is not a flaw in your character or personality, but instead simply shows that not everyone is cut out to be a CNA. It’s best that you decide that now and move on rather than find yourself in a job you hate because it is impossible not to affect everyone around you. Before we move on, if you have gotten to this point and believe this is the direction you want to go, you will be happy to know that the job satisfaction of CNAs is very high. Many professional nurses have tried other lines of work but find nursing to be their number one choice even though they could make more money in another profession. If you like going home at the end of the day and feeling good about yourself and what you did, starting off as a CNA is a step in the right direction.

What are the Primary Duties of a CNA?

Of all the healthcare professionals involved in interacting with the patient, the CNA will be the person most likely to spend the most time with them. That involves some of the dirtiest and physically demanding tasks the patient requires. Maintaining the patient’s personal hygiene is a nice way of saying you will be using a lot of baby wipes or toilet paper. You may also be required to feed them and wipe up their face as well.

There will be some common medical procedures such as taking their pulse and blood pressure you will be required to do. But the majority of your time will be spent helping the patient do the everyday thing most people take for granted: moving from a chair to the bed, getting to the bathroom safely, or taking a daily bath. One thing many CNAs quickly recognize are the number of simple things people don’t give a second thought to that help us maintain our dignity as human beings.

Earlier the issue of establishing personal relationships with everyone in the medical facility was discussed. This is perhaps one of the most critical duties of a CNA thought it is often lost in the less pleasant aspects of the profession. When a CNA listens to a patient and pays close attention to their physical health, they are likely to pick up hints at medical problems that would be missed by a nurse or doctor who doesn’t spend anywhere near the time a CNA does. It is basically the practice of preventive medicine, and can make a significant difference in the patient’s care and treatment. As it is commonly heard – it is the little things that often make a big difference.

Every patient is not the same, so the care of any specific patient will depend on a number of factors. Some patients prefer to be as independent as possible and will require far less care than others. The specific medical problems that a patient has is a major indicator of how much personal care they will require. One important lesson to take away from this is that a CNA needs to enter a relationship with a new patient with as open a mind as possible to make things easier on everyone.

Second Stop at Evaluation

Right now you have a basic idea of the training, personal benefits, and many of the duties a CNA will have during their professional career. It should be clear that those moral, legal, and ethical responsibilities that were mentioned at the beginning are an integral part of being a Certified Nursing Assistant. But if we are going to be objective it is important to answer the question, “Where does a CNA go from here?” While there is tremendous job satisfaction at the end of the day, at the end of the day there are other considerations such as how much the job pays and is this something you want to do for the rest of your working life. So let’s spend some time looking first at what potentially lies ahead, then we can discuss the issue of salary – present and future.

Up the Professional Nursing Ladder

The general pecking order of professional nurses when it comes to level of responsibility is :

  • Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)
  • Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)
  • Registered Nurse (RN)

There are specialties such as Physical Therapist Assistant that can get sandwiched in between these levels, but these three are the most commonly recognized. Each level requires yet another level of schooling and certification. LPNs usually require at least 2 years of college or an Associate’s Degree, while RNs go through a full 4 years of college and earn a Bachelor’s degree. There are vocational schools for both CNAs and LPNs, but the key requirement is to successfully pass the certification level for the next level.

LPNs will do some of the “dirty” work that CNAs do on a regular basis, but far less. Their primary duties involve performing many of the basic medical care of the patient such as generally evaluating a patient’s condition, taking vital signs, and changing dressings. They also perform a low to medium level of administration support, often reporting directly to a doctor or RN about the progress of a patient’s condition. Their physical demands are likely to be much lower, while the application of what they learned in school will be higher.

RNs, or Registered Nurses, are the most highly trained and qualified of all the nursing professions. There are specialties within the RN profession such as an Emergency Room (ER) Nurse, and Surgical Assistant, but those are specialties that are earned after several years of working with doctors in the specialized field. But an important point needs to be realized here. While there are some jobs a CNA are not likely to be happy with, setting your sights on becoming a RN may simply not be practical for a number of reasons.

Just like not everyone is suited to be a CNA, even fewer people are equipped to finish the demands of an RN program. While RNs are the highest paid among the nursing professions, the first step is to get accepted to a Nursing program. And just like the CNA training, there is a certain amount of clinical practice that is included in the program – except a lot more. The program is both costly (in terms of dollars) and time, so even getting accepted is only the beginning of what lies ahead.

One of the overlooked benefits of becoming a CNA is that by working with other nursing professionals you will get a firsthand look of the various opportunities a career in Nursing offers. RNs who come directly out of college have a much deeper level of nursing but can overlook the importance of a CNA. Also, you will know what you’re getting into before spending thousands of dollars on a decision you may regret later.

Third Stop at Evaluation - CNA Salary

We have now arrived at the point when for many people the issue of money rises to the top. While the title of this article is about how much a CNA can make, after reading everything that led up to this section it should be easy to understand why salary was left for the end. Being a CNA is more than just bringing home a paycheck. The attitude you go to work with will affect your job performance, and the attitude you leave with will definitely impact your home life.

According to, the average salary a CNA can expect to make is $15.00 per hour, though the range starts at a low of $14 per hour with a high of $17 per hour. In terms of an annual salary it will be about $30,000 a year. In terms of the cost of training and taking the certification exam, you will have spent less than one month’s salary to arrive at that $30,000 figure.

But the average salary does not give a clear picture of what is possible. CNAs with more experience and a solid performance record are likely to make more. The demand for CNAs varies from region to region, so if you are willing to move to make the best of your CNA training and experience you can easily make more money. Before packing up the car and moving you will need to see if your certification is accepted in the state you are relocating to.

If you think you are in a minority of a few thousand people who hold the CNA title, you will need to rethink that idea. The Bureau of Labor reports that more than 1.5 million people hold the CNA certification, and it is expected that more than 250,000 more CNAs will be added to the roles every year between now and 2024. [] This is information that is useful for both the short and long term of your professional healthcare career. As more and more people earn their CNA certification, the number of available jobs will decrease, with the result of driving down salaries and making good paying positions harder to find. If you have decided to start a career as a CNA, the current evidence points to getting started soon.

Looking at the current CNA salary is only the beginning of the evaluation process. Pursuing the LPN track will result in an average annual increase of $12,000 a year. This is an ideal position for people who want to avoid having to go through 4 years of college and limit their student loan debt while being able to make more than $50,000 a year with several years of experience. Also, LPNs have the option of becoming an RN down the road, if they begin their professional nursing careers early enough.

Realistically, the Registered Nurse is a goal intended for people who have committed themselves in mind and soul to become a lifetime healthcare professional. Beyond the college and training, you will want to choose a specialty that you can not only spend years practicing, but one that also has future job opportunities associated with it. For example, as long as there are children being born there will be a continuous need for Pediatric Nurses. Specialty RNs can make as much as $100,000 a year or more, depending on demand and location.

The End of the Road

At this point you should have enough information from which you can make a decision about pursing either a long term or short term career as a CNA. Not much has been said about a short term career, primarily because there are many other avenues in the nursing profession you can aspire to while not losing any of the benefits of your education and experience. Plus, you can move from one level of nursing to another without investing oodles of time and money, and pace yourself as your lifestyle allows. At the beginning the money is good, but not great. But as time goes on your value increases if you are committed and diligent.

However, there is something to be said for a short term approach to the CNA life. It may be something you have decided you want to pursue, but a year later you change your mind and want to do something that does require such a commitment of your time and energy. Many people simply get burned out taking care of people day after day – and this includes RNs as well. Nurses at all levels invest a tremendous amount of time and emotional energy into fulfilling their responsibilities.

Another reason for moving on from a CNA is a change in personal lifestyle. People get married, have children, and relocate. All these and many other factors may cause someone to cheerfully leave their position and move on to something else. One benefit of being a CNA is that you can take much of what you have learned with you, so it has a lifetime value to you and others.

Finally, because of the many physical demands of a CNA it is rare when someone can fully perform their duties until that magic age of 65. This means at some point you will have to look beyond the CNA and consider what other opportunities exist in the healthcare field that match your training and world experience. Regardless of when you leave the responsibilities of a CNA, you will have a lifetime of memories to take home with you.

Bill Vix

Written by Bill Vix

Bill Vix writes blogs, articles, and website content for clients who want the facts presented in a way that is digestible to their target audience. He graduated from Clarion University of Pennsylvania in 2009 as an English major with a concentration in Professional Writing. After graduation, he pursued graduate degrees in both Library Science and Communication. With over 10 years of professional writing experience, his ultimate goal is to simply and effectively communicate useful information using the most technologically relevant methods.

Read more posts by Bill Vix

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