CNA Certification guide

What is a CNA? History, Job Description & Career Guide

Mary Rumbaoa
Mar 21, 2023
CNA training demonstration at Uncharted Territory Solutions

Are you considering becoming a CNA and want to know what it entails?  If your answer is yes, keep reading. In this blog, you will learn about what a CNA is and the history of this profession.

What is a CNA?

A certified nursing assistant (CNA) is an entry-level position in the healthcare field. Under the supervision of licensed nurse staff, they perform essential tasks in providing patient care. Getting your CNA certification is one of the best ways to get a head start in the medical field. As your knowledge and experience grow, many opportunities will come your way. 

History of the CNA profession

Volunteer Nurses Aide Service

During World War I, there were a large number of wounded soldiers and civilians. Many overworked nurses needed help then, which is why the  American Red Cross created the Volunteer Nurses' Aide Service program.  To train young women as nurses’ aides to provide basic help to nurses at the time.  

At the time, the nursing assistants were volunteers and uncertified. As World War II devastated the world once more, the Red Cross resurrected the program,  resulting in over 12,000 volunteers serving as nurse aides. After the war, some stayed as nurse aides and continued volunteering, and some moved on to paying jobs. 

The Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (OBRA)

In the late 1980s, there was an increase in concern among government officials about the standard of care given to patients in nursing homes. In 1987, President Ronald Reagan signed the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act to address this problem.

This act requires nurse aides to have at least 75 hours of classroom instruction. They must also complete practical experience before working in a skilled nursing facility.

It also established the following requirements for nurse assistants, which are still in use today:

  1. Training and Educational Requirements
  2. Testing and Certifications
  3. Continuing Education
  4. CNA Code of Ethics

OBRA also includes the Federal Nursing Home Reform Act. This ensures health care quality in nursing homes funded by Medicare or Medicaid. According to the Act. Skilled nursing facilities must provide quality care so that each resident can “attain and maintain her highest practicable physical, mental, and psychosocial well-being.”

During World War I, nurse aides assisted nurses in treating wounded soldiers by providing basic medical assistance and care. Patients were treated behind enemy lines at field hospitals or clearing houses. Photo credit:

What does a CNA do? 

CNAs play a vital role in healthcare as they provide care and support to patients, aiding them in their daily activities. They perform various duties, such as taking vital signs and helping patients with bathing, dressing, and grooming.

CNAs become the patient's companions and friends of their patients and ensure they are in good health and cared for. A CNA may perform some of these responsibilities throughout their shift:

  • Make patient beds
  • Help the patient with toileting
  • Bathing patients
  • Taking the patient vital signs
  • Assist patients with eating

Where do certified nursing assistants work?

Employers hire CNAs to support patients or clients who need help with activities of daily living and personal care. CNAs have many options regarding where they can work; this includes hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and so on. They can even work in private homes or care for patients in hospice settings. For a deeper dive into this topic, please read our detail post titled: Where does a CNA work?

Table shows the top-paying states for Nursing Assistants:

Annual mean wage


Hospitals; state, local, and private

$35, 870 

Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities)


Continuing care retirement communities, and assisted living facilities for the elderly


Home healthcare services


Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

How Do I Become a CNA, and How Long Does it Take?

To become a CNA,  you must complete a state-approved training program and pass a certification exam.  CNA training requirements may differ by state but generally include a high school diploma or GED to register for the class. We've written state specific guides that will walk you through the process in detail here: Texas CNA certification, Florida CNA certification, and Arizona CNA certification.

CNA training length varies by state and program, usually lasting 4 to 12 weeks or longer. After completing the training, you need to pass a certification exam, which includes a written test and skills assessment.

How Much Do CNAs Make?

CNA salary can vary based on their experience, location, and employer. According to the BLS, the median annual salary for nursing assistants, including CNAs, was $31,310 as of May 2021. However, salary ranges widely, with the lowest 10% earning less than $23,000 per year and the highest 10% earning more than $42,000 per year.

CNAs with specialized training or experience in areas like hospice care or dementia care have the opportunity to earn higher salaries.

Table below shows the top-paying work settings where CNAs work:

Hourly mean wage
Annual mean wage



 New York






 District of Columbia






Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

What comes after CNA?

As a CNA, there are many career opportunities available to you. You can further your education and training to be certified as a certified medical assistant (CMA) or certified personal care tech (CPCT) for more specialized roles. You can also become a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or a registered nurse (RN) for higher salaries and more responsibilities. 

Becoming a CNA can be incredibly rewarding. You'll provide high-quality care to those in need and transform their lives. The job can indeed be challenging, but the sense of fulfillment from helping others makes it one of the best jobs in the world. So, if you're considering becoming a CNA, go for it! Your service will make a real difference. 

If you feel ready to jumpstart your career as a nursing assistant, visit our CNA classes near me page to find suitable program for you.

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Written by
Mary Rumbaoa

Mary Joy Rumbaoa is a student support representative at Dreambound and an author. She has assisted hundreds of students in locating a suitable trade school where they can complete their training as CNAs and Phlebotomists, allowing them to obtain licenses to work in the medical field.

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