Studying Nurse Assisting

I’m interested in studying nurse assisting. What can you tell me?

Nurse assisting trains students to be entry-level healthcare providers. In nurse assisting programs, students learn to become certified nursing assistants (CNAs), who give daily care to patients who need help eating, moving, grooming and going to the bathroom. But you will not be trained as a nurse through a CNA program. If you are thinking about studying nursing assisting, you should be compassionate and nurturing since you will be giving emotional support and companionship to bedridden patients and their families. But you also need to have a strong stomach, because this job requires you to perform unpleasant tasks like cleaning bedpans and helping people bathe. Many students are attracted to nurse assisting programs because the training period takes less than a year. In addition, CNA jobs give students a chance to gain work experience before pursuing training in nursing and other healthcare professions. If you decide to study nurse assisting, keep in mind that there is little room for advancement in this position, and if you want to become a Registered Nurse or a Licensed Practical Nurse you will have to gain more education and training.

Let's hear some other perspectives

An Interview with Kim Crosby

Kim Crosby

Certified Nursing Assistant Instructor,College of DuPage

“My biggest piece of advice for certified nursing assisting students is to know that every question, no matter how small, is worth asking.”Read the Full Interview

Certified Nursing Assistant Overview

What exactly is a certified nursing assistant?

A certified nursing assistant, or CNA, provides the most basic level of care for patients in hospitals and other healthcare facilities like nursing homes. CNAs handle small or strenuous tasks that nurses and doctors do not have time to address. Some of the basic care functions that CNAs perform include transporting patients, feeding them and helping them to bathe and use the toilet. They also deliver lab samples, make beds and change bedpans. In addition, CNAs perform simple clinical procedures like measuring and recording patient’s vital signs. Finally, they listen to any health concerns that patients have and report those concerns to nursing staff. However, CNAs are not authorized to diagnose patients or to give medical advice.

Let's hear some other perspectives

An Interview with Myhanh Johnston

Myhanh Johnston

Certified Nursing Assistant,Long-Term Elderly Care Facility

“If you want to become a certified nursing assistant, make sure that you understand what the job entails. Be sure that you have the patience and compassion to deal with people when they are at their worst.”Read the Full Interview

An Interview with Mia Mayer

Mia Mayer

Certified Nursing Assistant,Evergeen Hospital, Kirkland, WA

“Many students might be tempted to skip volunteering and go straight into a certificate training program, because the requirements are so minimal, but I don’t recommend that route. It is better for people to get a feel for the job by volunteering so they can see if the work environment matches their expectations.”Read the Full Interview

Personality Quiz

How do I know if nurse assisting would be a good fit for me?

Here is a quick quiz to help you decide if you have the personality it takes to succeed as a certified nursing assistant. Rate, on a scale from 1 to 5, how well each of the following statements describes you.

I am compassionate and I like to take care of other people.

The job of a CNA can be demanding and may seem thankless. If you are going to work in this position, you must be nurturing and genuinely interested in helping other people feel better.

I follow instructions well and I do not mind taking direction from others.

Nurses and doctors directly supervise CNAs, so they do not work independently. You will be likely to succeed in this position if you are comfortable following instructions from others.

I am not squeamish in the presence of blood and other bodily substances.

CNAs regularly change bedpans and clean up accidents that can involve vomit, urine, blood and feces. A strong stomach is a valuable trait to have as a certified nursing assistant.

I am physically fit and able to lift at least 25 pounds on my own.

Nurse assisting jobs often require CNAs to lift and transport patients and medical equipment. If you cannot keep up with the physical demands of the job, you will not make a good CNA.

I am not bored by routines.

Although CNAs may encounter new situations daily, they also do the same things every day. If you strongly dislike routine work, you will not enjoy this profession.

I am observant and I tend to notice small details.

CNAs interact closely with patients and they record small changes in their condition. If you generally notice minute details, you will make a strong advocate for your patients.

I respect all people, including those who are very different from me.

Certified nursing assistants work with a diverse mix of patients. You must respect the beliefs and cultural values of your patients to treat them with equality and dignity.

I value privacy and I can keep secrets.

Healthcare providers encounter medical records and situations that must be kept confidential. If you cannot honor privacy and keep sensitive information to yourself, you should not become a CNA.

I believe in teamwork and I enjoy cooperating with others.

CNAs are part of healthcare teams that also include doctors, Licensed Practical Nurses, Registered Nurses and medical support staff. If you dislike working cooperatively, you will probably dislike working as a CNA.

I am comfortable working unconventional hours including nights, weekends and holidays.

Patients need medical care around the clock. If you are strictly interested in a 9-to-5 day job, the healthcare field is not be the right work environment for you.

Get My Score

*Note that this is not a scientific quiz. The result is simply my rough estimate of how well I believe your personality matches that of a successful certified nursing assistant.

By my assessment, a career in nurse assisting is probably not a good fit for your personality.

By my assessment, although a career in nurse assisting may not be an ideal fit for your personality, if you are willing to adapt in a few areas, you can still find success in the field. Please see the list to the right for information on the areas that you may need to work on.

By my assessment, your personality is a good fit for a career in nurse assisting. Scroll through our site to gain valuable insight into what it will take you to earn the necessary credentials.

Making the Right Choice

Is there anything else I should consider in deciding if becoming a certified nursing assistant is the right choice for me?

Limited Career Advancement

If you choose to become a certified nursing assistant, you should be aware that you will not be able to advance your career unless you get additional education and training. Becoming a CNA is a good introduction to the medical field. But you should keep in mind that as a CNA, you will work under the supervision of Registered Nurses and Licensed Practical Nurses, not independently.

Certified Nursing Assistant Professions

What certified nursing assistant professions can I choose from?

If you earn your CNA credentials, you may be able to apply your training in these professions:

Education Required:

Certificate (6 – 12 weeks)

Average Salary:


Work Environment:

Hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities

Job Description:

CNAs give basic care to patients and residents in hospitals and long-term healthcare facilities. For example, they take vital signs and help patients to eat, dress, bathe and use the toilet. They also help to transport patients, change linens and clean up bodily fluids when patients have accidents. Finally, CNAs listen to their patient’s concerns and report those to the nurses on duty.

Education Required:

High school diploma

Average Salary:


Work Environment:

Private homes

Job Description:

Home health aides provide personal care for people who are aging, chronically ill or who have physical or mental disabilities. They travel to their patient’s home and assist them with activities like bathing, dressing and light housekeeping. In some states, home health aides can administer medicine and check vital signs.

Education Required:

High school diploma

Average Salary:


Work Environment:

Hospitals, medical clinics

Job Description:

Medical assistants perform the administrative duties in medical offices, such as scheduling and confirming appointments. They also maintain the medical records of patients and work with insurance companies to submit billing claims. Finally, medical assistants make sure that examination rooms are well stocked with supplies.

Education Required:

High school diploma

Average Salary:


Work Environment:

Psychiatric hospitals, mental health facilities

Job Description:

Psychiatric aides help care for people with mental illnesses and developmental disabilities. They help patients with daily activities like eating, bathing and dressing. They also perform housekeeping duties like changing linens. Some aides help supervise group activities, transport patients and help to restrain patients if they become violent.

Job Outlook

What is the job outlook for certified nursing assistants?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics groups certified nursing assistants with all nursing aides, orderlies and medical attendants. The job outlook for these professions is very good. In 2010, there were more than 1.5 million nursing aides, orderlies and medical attendants employed in the United States. But the number of jobs available in these professions is expected to grow by 20% in the next decade, which is higher than the national average job growth projected for all occupations. Job prospects will be best for CNAs with formal training who are willing to work in long-term care facilities like nursing homes.

Profession Employment Projected Average Growth

Average Salary Growth 2006 - 2011

Profession 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011

Salary By Percentile

Profession 10th 25th 50th 75th 90th

Education Requirements

How long would it take me to become a certified nursing assistant?

It takes very little time to become a certified nursing assistant. Most CNA training programs take only 6 to 12 weeks of study to complete.

Areas of Study

What can I expect to learn while studying to become a certified nursing assistant?

Some of the knowledge and skills that you may learn in your program include:


Anatomy & Physiology

Anatomy and physiology study the parts and processes of the human body. Specifically, anatomy studies the human form and names body parts like bones, muscles and organs. Physiology studies the way that the body and its systems function. It discusses systems and processes that keep the body running, like digestion, blood circulation and breathing.

Medical Terminology

Medical terminology is the system of terms that doctors, nurses and other healthcare professions use to discuss clinical procedures. The study of medical terminology allows CNAs to accurately describe patient concerns using medical language. In addition, this special vocabulary uses many words with Latin roots, so students will learn the significance of these words.

Body Mechanics

Body mechanics will be studied so that CNAs can properly move, lift and position patients and medical equipment without causing injury to themselves or others. This subject addresses ways that people can minimize muscle strain by using proper balance and body alignment as they perform physically demanding tasks.

Mental Health Care

Mental health care is a set of guidelines that medical staff uses to assess the psychological well being of patients. There is a special emphasis on identifying mental health problems that are characteristic of the elderly, like dementia and Alzheimer’s. It also discusses how staff members can help patients who need psychiatric care and how to protect themselves from harm.

Patient Rights

Patient rights are the rights that people are granted when they are patients in healthcare facilities regarding their care, privacy and dignity. This course addresses the legal and ethical obligations that care facilities must uphold when treating patients. Students will learn about the appropriate use of restraints and how CNAs can report suspected abuse or neglect according to the law.


Restorative Care

Restorative care is the rehabilitation and overall recuperation of patients who have received medical treatment. In your CNA program, you will learn how to assess and document the daily activities, nutritional intake and mobility of your patients. You will learn techniques to encourage patients as their health progresses.

Basic Medical Procedures

CNAs are responsible for administering certain medical procedures when they are necessary. For instance, you will learn about the Heimlich maneuver, CPR and taking and recording vital signs, like temperature, blood pressure and heart rate. You will also learn how to use an Automated External Defibrillator (AED), as well as how to safely apply and remove physical restraints.

Critical Observation

Critical observation means actively searching for any changes in the overall condition of your patient. These changes may seem minor, like an increased heart rate or an altered mood. You will be trained to use your observation skills to identify significant changes in the health of your patient so that you can report these changes to the nurses on duty.

Infection Control

Infection control helps medical staff, including CNAs, to prevent the spread of infection. You will learn about different types of infection and their signs and symptoms. Your training will emphasize infection prevention techniques like frequently washing your hands, wearing masks and gloves to prevent contact with bodily fluids and properly disposing of needles.


Communication between nurse assistants, other medical staff and their patients is essential in order to provide quality healthcare. Your CNA program will provide you with the tools that you need to accurately follow directions and to report patient concerns to nurses. You will also learn how to explain medical procedures to your patients and to work with patients who may be angry, agitated or in severe pain.

Academic Degrees

What academic levels are available in the field of nurse assisting?

The only level of education that you can earn in nurse assisting is a certificate, which typically takes 6 to 12 weeks to complete. If you are interested in earning more education than a certificate, you should look into another job within healthcare.

Select the degree level you are interested in:

  • Certificate


A certificate is a short training program that teaches you a specific set of technical and career skills that trains you for a job. You can earn your CNA certificate through colleges or technical training schools.

What are the different types of certificates that I can earn in nurse assisting?

You can only earn an undergraduate certificate in nurse assisting, which means that you do not need to have a degree to enroll in this type of program. A certificate will teach you all of the basic medical skills and knowledge that you need to become certified as a nurse assistant.

How long will I have to study to earn my certificate in nurse assisting?

Nurse assisting certificates usually requires students to complete 6 to 10 credit hours. Students usually take 6 to 12 weeks to complete their CNA education.

What types of courses will I take while studying for my certificate in nurse assisting?

The exact courses that you will take vary according to the college or technical school that you enroll in. For some nurse assisting certification programs, you only need to take 1 comprehensive class about nurse assisting. That class will teach you how basic clinical skills like measuring bodily functions, infection control and patient rights. For other programs, you will take several courses, like nursing fundamentals, restorative care and basic medical procedures. In any case, you will also participate in clinical practicums, which are designed to teach you the practical skills that you will need as a CNA.

What types of jobs can I hope to secure with a certificate in nurse assisting?

If you earn a certificate in nurse assisting, you will be qualified to work as a CNA. In addition, you can perform similar work as a home health aide of psychiatric aide, although you do not need formal training to work in these positions. If you want to pursue any other jobs in the healthcare field, you will need to obtain more education and specialized training.

What should I consider when deciding on a school to earn my certificate in nurse assisting?

When you are choosing a nurse assisting school, you should make sure that it meets your state’s CNA certification standards before you enroll. Although CNA programs do not need to be formally accredited, they do need to be approved by their state’s board of nursing. Each state has slightly different standards for their CNA programs, so you should check with your state’s board of nursing to see if the program that you want to attend will qualify you to take the CNA exam in the state where you want to work.

What about getting an online certificate in nurse assisting?

Many schools claim to offer online nurse assisting certificates. However, what online nurse assisting schools really offer are classes that teach the theory of nurse assisting online. You still have to learn the practical skills that come with nurse assisting in a hands-on, clinical setting. Therefore, online nurse assisting certificates are actually blended learning programs. There is no significant drawback to enrolling in these programs, but you must make sure that they offer clinical practicums. You should not enroll in an online nurse assisting program if it does not give you a chance to learn hands-on skills.

Licensing Information

What else should I keep in mind when considering studying nurse assisting?


After you complete your CNA training program, you are eligible to become certified. In order to do so, you will have to pay a fee and pass your state’s certification exam. The exam has a written portion and a skills demonstration component to make sure that you know both the theory and practical skills of nurse assisting. You can check with your state’s board of nursing to learn more about the CNA certification process in your particular state.

Questions & Answers

For additional information on studying nurse assisting, select a category to find answers


What are some other resources that can help me learn more about studying to become a certified nursing assistant?

Bureau of Labor Statistics – Nursing Aides, Orderlies and Attendants

Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association

National Association of Health Care Assistants

National Council of State Boards of Nursing

National Network of Career Nursing Assistants