How to Become a Certified Nursing Assistant

Certified-nursing-assistant- McKallen Medical Training

How to Become a Certified Nursing Assistant

If you are interested in a career in healthcare, becoming a certified nursing assistant (CNA) is a great field to enter. A CNA cares for and helps patients. Becoming a CNA exposes you to the hospital setting especially if you are thinking about advancing your career. There are a few steps you need to take in order to become a CNA.

What is a certified nursing assistant?

A CNA is a healthcare worker who helps patients with their basic needs or activities of daily living. These activities include:

  • Bathing
  • Eating
  • Dressing
  • Oral care
  • Grooming

A CNA is supervised under a registered nurse (RN) or licensed practical nurse (LPN). They are a vital part of the healthcare team.  

What does a certified nursing assistant do?

In addition to helping patients with their activities of daily living, CNAs also have other duties. These duties include:

  • Obtaining vital signs such as blood pressure, and temperature
  • Repositioning and transferring patients from the bed to chair, or wheelchair
  • Listening to patients and raising concerns to the RN or LPN
  • Assist the nurse or other medical team members

In nursing homes, specifically, CNAs are the patients’ main caregiver. They take care of the patients for months and sometimes years, at a time. They often develop lasting relationships with their patients. CNAs can be the first to know if there is something wrong with their patient.

Patient assessment

CNAs assess patients whenever they are performing direct patient care. When helping patients with their activities of daily living, Certified Nursing Assistants are assessing their patients. They can assess for:

  • Skin breakdown such as sores, or blisters
  • Changes in mental status such as confusion
  • Walking
  • Fine motor and gross motor skills such as holding a fork, or lifting

Personal care 

CNAs help patients with their personal care. When patients are sick they may have trouble doing things that they used to do easily. CNAs can help patients:

  • Brush their teeth
  • Comb their hair
  • Take showers
  • Get dressed
  • Cut their fingernails
  • Moisturize their body
  • Help with using the bathroom
  • Protecting them from a fall

 Maintain patient environment

Another responsibility for CNAs is maintaining the patient’s environment. CNAs make sure patients don’t hurt themselves while they are in a medical facility. They make sure:

  • There is proper lightening
  • Prevent falls 
  • Put things in easy to reach locations
  • Make sure linen is clean and beds are made

Movement and transport of patient

CNAs will have to have the ability to lift patients. They have the responsibility to:

  • Move patients from bed to chair or wheelchair
  • Lift patients up in bed
  • Transport patients to another bed or room
  • Transport patients to another floor or bring them to testing sites

Document patient information

CNAs document patients’ information either in a paper chart or an electronic medical record (EMR). CNAs are responsible for documenting real time and accurate information based on the patient’s vital signs and appearance. In addition, if the patient is expressing concerns, the CNA can either tell the RN or LPN, or document it in the chart depending on state regulations and facility. 

Assisting with medical procedures

CNAs can assist with medical procedures. They can help the doctor or nurse performing the procedure to calm the patient or hold the patient in place. Procedures include:

  • Obtaining IVs
  • Placing foley catheters
  • Placing or removing staples or stitches
  • Wound dressings

 CNAs can:

  • Gather supplies and equipment
  • Provide comfort care such as holding the patients hand
  • Providing comforting words 

Assisting Nurses

A huge responsibility of a CNA is to assist nurses with patient care. RNs and or LPNs are the direct supervisors of a CNA. They work as a team to provide the best care for their patients. They assist nurses with:

  • Taking report on patients
  • Completing duties based on severity
  • Completing tasks in their job scope while helping the nurse
  • Keeping a schedule
  • Completing tasks on time and in an organized manner

Requirements to enroll in a certified nursing assistant program in California

There are a few requirements to enroll in a CNA program in California. Individuals who want to enroll must meet certain qualifications in order to successfully enroll and graduate. In order to become certified individuals must:

  • Enroll in a state-approved CNA program is recognized by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH)
  • Complete the CNA program
  • Pass a state specific exam

Ages 16 and above

Individuals must be 16 and above in order to enroll in a CNA program in California. Some states require students to start at the age of 18. If you are 16 years old, you will need parental consent.

High school diploma or GED

Individuals must have a high school diploma or General Educational Development (GED). Individuals can also enter the field as a transfer, or second degree student. Second degree students have a degree in another field, but have decided to change that field.

Tax ID / Social security number

Individuals must have a valid Tax ID and or social security number to enroll in a CNA program. They also must have:

  •  A criminal background check
  • Physical exam
  • Tuberculosis (TB) test

How much does a CNA make?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, California is one of the highest paying states for CNAs. The average annual wage is $36,630. The hourly mean range is about $17. The median pay is $29,640

What jobs can you get with a certified nursing assistant certification?

There are plenty of job opportunities for CNAs. The job outlook for CNAs is projected to grow 8%- faster than the average for all occupations. The jobs you can get as a CNA include:

  • Patient care tech
  • Unit secretary
  • Home health aide
  • Nurse technician
  • Medical records clerk  
  • Mental health technician 

Patient care tech

CNAs can also be patient care technicians (PCT). PCTs have similar duties as a CNA; however, they are trained to do specific patient care duties. Some responsibilities include:

  • Being trained in CPR
  • Phlebotomy
  • Caring for patients on dialysis
  • Infection control

Unit secretary

Depending on which facility you work, CNAs can also be the unit secretary. They can:

  •  manage and organize the office
  • Answer the phones
  • Schedule appointments

Home health aide

CNAs can also be home health aides. Home health aides play a vital role in caring for patients in their homes. They perform similar duties as if working in the hospitals. 

Nurse technician

CNAs can be trained as nurse technicians. Nurse technicians and PCTs can be used interchangeably. Nurse technicians have the same duties as CNAs; however, they have advanced training. Nurse technicians can also:

  • Perform EKGs
  • Start IVs
  • Teach crutch walking and wheelchair management
  • Collect specimens

Medical records technician

CNAs can also prepare to become medical records technicians. As a medical records technician, individuals manage medical records. Other job descriptions include:

  • Organize patient records
  • Collecting data, analyzing and entering into the patient’s chart
  • Medical coding
  • Monitoring quality
  • Maintaining patient health information privacy

Mental health technician

CNAs can also prepare to become mental health technicians. Mental health technicians have different training and the pay may be more than a CNA in some states. Mental health technicians work with behavioral health patients also known as psychiatric patients. Other duties include:

  • Observing patients and recording their behavior
  • Monitoring patients vital signs such as blood pressure and temperature
  • Monitoring medication side effects
  •  Reporting concerns to the medical team
  • Providing support to patients
  • Help with activities of daily living 

Where do certified nursing assistant’s work?

CNAs can work in a variety of places. They can find fulfillment in any setting by providing quality patient care. CNAs can work in:

  • Hospitals
  • Long-term residential facilities
  • Nursing homes
  • Rehabilitation centers
  • Home health care and hospice


CNAs can be employed by the hospital. They have the same responsibilities as working in other facilities. Hospitals employ about 27% of CNAs. 

Long-term residential facilities

Most CNAs are employed by long-term residential facilities. Long-term residential facilities house patients for longer periods of time. Long-term residential facilities employ about 37% of CNAs. Example of long-term residential facilities include:

  • Nursing homes
  • Rehabilitation centers

Home health care and hospice

CNAs can also work in home health care and hospice facilities. Home health care is when a CNA works in the home. Hospice is for patients at the end of life. Home health care and hospice employ about 5% of CNAs. 

How long does it take to become a certified nursing assistant?

To become a CNA, cna classes can take up to 12 weeks. To become a CNA in the state of California, it takes 6-12 weeks. The amount of time depends on which school you attend. The CNA program is a mix of classroom and attending supervised clinicals. Clinic programs in California include:

  • 60 hours of classroom
  • 100 hours of clinicals

Qualities of a successful CNA

If you are compassionate and have a desire to care for the sick, becoming a CNA is a great career choice. The job can be very stressful and demanding so it is important to be self aware and really know if it is the right position for you. Other qualities of a successful CNA includes:

  • Patience
  • Flexible
  • Fit and healthy
  • Good communication skills
  • Observant 


To be a successful CNA, you have to have patience. Working in healthcare can be very stressful. Having patience can cause a hectic day to go smoothly.


You have to be flexible to be a successful CNA. There are plenty of moving parts in the hospital and things are always changing. You may also have to be flexible with your schedule. Managers may ask you to stay past your shift, or ask you to pick up an extra shift.


It’s important to be fit and healthy if you want to be successful as a CNA. Part of a CNAs job duties is to transfer and lift patients. Some patients may be heavy, and being fit will only benefit you and your patients.

It is known that being healthy plays a major role in all aspects of your life. Eating healthy foods and exercising:

  • Decreases stress
  • Improves your mood
  • Decreases the chances of developing chronic illnesses

Good communication skills

It is important to have good communication skills to become a successful CNA. In many cases, CNAs are the eyes and ears of the patient. They should be able to communicate patients’ needs clearly and effectively.


It is important to be observant. CNAs can be the first person to notice changes in patients’ health or mental status. Being observant and able to communicate clearly to the medical team is a skill that can develop with time and experience.

Start your journey to becoming a Certified Nurse Assistant course today

Becoming a CNA can be a rewarding and gratifying career choice. You are able to take care of patients and make a difference in their lives by the care you provide. Enroll in our CNA course today.