How to Become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) (2023)


July 1, 2022

How to Become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) (1)

How to Become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) (2)

By: Staff

How to Become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) (3)

How to Become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) (4)Medically reviewed by: Chaunie Brusie BSN, RN

A certified nursing assistant, or CNA, helps patients with activities of daily living and other healthcare needs under the direct supervision of a Registered Nurse (RN) or Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN). CNAs are also commonly referred to as a Nursing Assistant, Patient Care Assistant (PCA), or a Nurse’s Aid.

Some individuals will use their knowledge as a CNA to bridge the gap to further their career and become an LPN or RN. Interestingly, a large number of CNAs are already in a nursing school program and use this career as a chance to learn more about the healthcare world and gain additional real-world application and knowledge. Others become a CNA in order to determine if they want to continue to the next step in their healthcare journey. Read on to learn how to earn your CNA certification and everything you need to know about the career.

While certified nursing assistants and medical assistants (MAs) do have some similarities, such as working with patients and providing patient care, it is important not to confuse the two healthcare careers.

Both careers assist doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers with treatments, procedures, and tests. Medical assistants focus primarily on patient assessment, evaluation, and assisting doctors with patient care and treatment, whereas nursing assistants are generally more involved in direct patient care. Nursing assistants have specific job-related duties they are able to perform that are dictated by the state of employment.

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LPNs, otherwise known as a Licensed Practical Nurse, require a license and passing a state-mandated exam. CNAs on the other hand, only need to obtain a certification in order to practice. LPNs often take classes similar to RNs in order to obtain additional information about health care and the human body. Additionally, there are certain tasks and procedures that LPNs are able to perform that CNAs can not, such as inserting a peripheral intravenous catheter.

CNAs can help a unit run smoothly, especially for those nurses that have multiple medically complex patients. Responsibilities of a CNA include, but are not limited to:

  1. Turning or repositioning patients
  2. Gathering supplies for the RN or MD
  3. Obtaining vital signs per protocol
  4. Answering patient calls/bells
  5. Bathing patients
  6. Documentation of information obtained
  7. Feeding patients, measuring and recording their food and liquid intake
  8. Combing hair, shaving, caring for nails and brushing teeth
  9. Cleaning rooms and bed linens
  10. Stocking supplies
  11. Preparing rooms for admissions
  12. Helping with medical procedures
  13. Dressing wounds
  14. Assisting patients with elimination

Direct responsibilities will vary based on the location of employment and ultimately the nurses level of need. CNA duties are determined by individual states and it is up to the individual to ensure they are following state guidelines and not performing duties outside the scope of practice.

CNAs can work in an inpatient hospital setting but are more commonly found in long-term residential facilities, rehabilitation centers, and adult daycare centers. They are rarely employed in outpatient office/clinic settings. These facilities all require nursing assistants to act as a liaison between the nurse and the patient.

Per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, from 2020 to 2030, this occupation is expected to grow at a rate of 8%, which is much faster than than the average growth rate for all jobs.

Nursing assistants first and foremost must enjoy interacting with people on a daily basis in order to find enjoyment and fulfillment in this career. Other attributes should include:

  1. Flexibility
  2. Advanced communication skills
  3. Time management
  4. Compassion
  5. Reliability
  6. Physical Strength
  7. Empathy

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for certified nursing assistants in 2021 was $30,290 per year, or $14.56 per hour.

It is important to note that this does vary depending on the setting and area. CNAs working in a government setting such as a VA hospital earned the highest median pay at $37,310, while home health care services have the lowest median pay at $29,280.

Nursing assistants can work on a variety of schedules which vary greatly based on the needs of the employer. Some work a variety of shifts throughout the course of the week while others have a set schedule and earn an annual salary. Those paid on an hourly scale are able to earn overtime pay whereas salary employees would need to discuss that with the hiring committee. An individual’s earning potential is determined by the needs of the hospital and the offer contract.

Currently, the following states have the highest pay scale for certified nursing assistants according to the BLS.

Highest Paying States For CNAs

StateHourly AvgAnnual Average
New York$19.56$40,680
District of Columbia$18.94$39,390

Metropolitan areas tend to pay higher for nursing assistants. Some of the highest paying cities include:

Highest Paying Cities for CNAs

Metro AreaHourlyAnnual
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA$22.93$47,690
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA$22.84$47,500
Salinas, CA$21.26$44,210
Fairbanks, AK$21.10$43,880
Napa, CA$20.34$42,310

Nonmetropolitan and/or rural areas with the highest employment of certified nursing assistants are:

  1. Kansas nonmetropolitan area
  2. Southeast Coastal North Carolina nonmetropolitan area
  3. Piedmont North Carolina nonmetropolitan area
  4. North Northeastern Ohio non-metropolitan area (non-contiguous)

Certified nursing assistants must complete a state-approved training program. CNA programs are generally found at local community colleges, high school, vocational or technical schools, or local hospitals.

Programs do vary so it is important that interested students research programs thoroughly to find one that best suits their needs.

Most programs have similar requirements that must be completed prior to application and acceptance. The American Red Cross runs a popular CNA training program throughout the country which runs for 4-8 weeks depending on class size and location. Prerequisites include:

  1. Attendance at an orientation information session
  2. TABE (reading and math assessment) OR verification of High School diploma or GED
  3. Red Cross criminal background check prior to registration
  4. Completion of Red Cross physical form and TB test

Online CNA Programs

While the Red Cross offers in-person classes, some vocational schools and community colleges offer online CNA programs. Many programs operate clinics at local hospitals.

There are pros and cons to the online programs. While individuals may be able to obtain their certification quicker there is concern that individuals graduating from these programs are not gaining the same core knowledge and skills as their in-classroom counterparts.

Most programs average roughly 4 to 12 weeks for completion depending on the class schedule. Programs are comprised of class hours and clinical hours. Each state has a designated number of clinical hours that an individual must complete before applying for certification.

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After completion of a state-approved training program, an individual can take a competency exam. The exam consists of two parts: a multiple-choice written exam and a practical skill-based exam. Once passed, the certified nursing assistant is placed on a state registry and can begin to apply for jobs.

>> Related: Top CNA Programs


This list is based on a number of factors including:

  • Reputation
  • Tuition
  • Acceptance rate, when available

Nurse Panel

Our selection panel is made up of 3 Registered Nurses with years of experience and multiple degrees:

  • Tracy Everhart, MSN, RN, CNS
  • Tyler Faust, MSN, RN
  • Kathleen Gaines, MSN, BSN, RN, BA, CBC

There are numerous CNA programs and our panel of nurses ranked them based on factors mentioned in the methodology. Because individual nursing pathways and careers take various forms, the top 10 CNA programs are ranked in no particular order.

Top 10 Best CNA Programs

1. American Red Cross

Total Program Cost: $1,250

Online: Hybrid

Program Length: 4-8 weeks

The American Red Cross, well known for its education and certifications, also teaches students to become CNAs. The hybrid program lets students complete courses online while earning experience in person. As a nation-wide organization, the American Red Cross reaches numerous cities and states, so individuals across the country can enroll. The program takes 4-8 weeks to complete depending on how quickly the student completes courses. Also, program costs can vary from location to location.

2. Cochise College

Program Tuition: Up to $2,000

Online: No

Program Length: 12 weeks

Based in Cochise County, Arizona, Cochise College offers multiple allied health programs, including a nursing assistant certificate. Cochise College's two-course CNA program teaches skills to become a nurse assistant as well as basic CPR and First Aid skills. Graduates also become CPR and First Aid certified. Arizona residents get an in-state discount, though Cochise also extends discounts to senior citizens and charges a per-credit rate.

3. Hutchinson Community College

In-State Program Tuition: $927 Out-of-State Program Tuition: $1,066

Online: No

Program Length: 12 weeks

Created to educate nurses to work with elderly patients in long term healthcare settings, Hutchinson Community College's CNA program requires just 4.5 credits to graduates, making it among the shortest, and most affordable CNA programs available. Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, students must study on-site in Hutchinson, Kansas. While the Kansas Board of Nursing doesn't disclose outcomes for CNA programs, this short program quickly prepares nurses to gain a CNA certification.

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4. Pratt Community College

Program Tuition: $985

Online: Hybrid

Program Length: 12 weeks

Pratt Community College, another college located in Kansas, offers its CNA program in a hybrid format, allowing students to complete coursework and theory online. The program requires five credits, though students who choose to study online do not receive an in-state tuition discount. Regardless, Pratt CC's CNA program costs far less than other programs. Graduates can find positions in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and various hospitals.

5. Elizabethtown Community and Technical College

Program Tuition: $781

Online: No

Program Length: 12 weeks

Elizabethtown Community and Technical College offers the best CNA program in Kentucky, and perhaps in the region. The low-cost CNA program requires completion of just 96 hours of practice, 16 of which must be supervised clinical training. Students also have the option of completing a Medicaid Nurse Aide Certificate to boost their job prospects and potential earnings. Graduates must attend 100% of courses to graduates. Elizabethtown offers courses on weekdays, Saturdays, and in the evening.

6. Fox Valley Technical College

Program Tuition: $507.55

Online: No

Program Length: Up to 12 weeks

Located in Appleton, Wisconsin, Fox Valley Technical College's CNA program is among the cheapest routes for becoming a CNA, though the school's estimated costs do not include exam fees. The full-time program consists of daytime and evening courses, and FVTC also offers an accelerated format that takes less than 12 weeks to complete. Students cannot take courses online, but they can complete courses at six different locations in Wisconsin. Graduates can also transfer their CNA credits into an associate or bachelor's degree.

7. Elgin Community College

In-State Program Tuition: $1,019 Out-of-State Program Tuition: $2,772

Online: No

Program Length: 12 weeks

Elgin Community College offers one of the most comprehensive nurse assistant programs. The training program requires completion of seven credit hours (double what other programs require) to increase the job prospects of graduates by increasing their potential scope of practice. By the end of the program, graduates can take the nurse assistant certification exam in Illinois, though the program might meet requirements for other states as well.

8. Century College

Annual Tuition: $800

Online: No

Program Length: 12 weeks

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Century College, based in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, offers its four-credit nurse assistant certificate program in both part-time and full-time formats. Available year-round, the CNA program allows students to complete courses either for-credit or not-for-credit. Both options lead to program completion, though for-credit courses can be transferred into an associate or bachelor's degree. Regardless of which option students choose, Century College is among the most affordable institutions in the region.

9. City College of San Francisco

In-State Program Tuition: $181 Out-of-State Program Tuition: $1,004

Online: No

Program Length: 6-10 weeks

With several CNA options available, the City College of San Francisco is one of the most versatile CNA programs in California. Nurse assistant students choose to specialize in acute care or convalescent care, which take 6 and 10 weeks to complete, respectively. The convalescent care route also requires twice as many credits, meaning double the tuition cost. The City College of San Francisco is definitely more affordable for California residents who pay a fraction of what out-of-state students pay.

10. Miles Community College

In-State Program Tuition: $716.00 Out-of-State Program Tuition: $924.00

Online: Hybrid

Program Length: 10 weeks

Miles City, Montana-based Miles Community College offers one of the best (and most affordable) CNA programs in the region. Students complete 45 of the required credit hours online and 30 hours of clinical practice in-person. In total, the 75-hours program counts as four credits which students can transfer into another nursing program. Note that while Miles CC's CNA program prepares nurses for Montana certification, the costs associated with the exam are not included in the total tuition.

Becoming a certified nursing assistant does not immediately translate into other nursing degrees.

In fact, it will only provide clinical knowledge and experience, which may in turn help earn entrance into an LPN or RN program. Otherwise, becoming an LPN or RN requires acceptance into those individual programs.

Once you're accepted into an LPN or RN program however, being a CNA or having experience working as a CNA could make certain aspects easier. You'll have knowledge and experience already obtained from on-the-job training, but even with experience, it very rarely decrease time in those programs.

On the other hand, having the experience and healthcare connections could potentially assist in job placement after graduation.

For those interested in more information about becoming a CNA, professional organizations such as the National Network of Career Nursing Assistants and Nursing Association of Health Care Assistants are great resources.

Both discuss growing trends in healthcare that impact nursing assistants. Other information includes healthcare conventions targeted for this audience, access to continuing education hours, job opportunities, and contact information for local chapters.

While these associations are not only a great resource for new to practice CNAs, they also provide vital information for those who are already established in the career. By joining these professional organizations, vital connections are made to industry experts and managers which can lead to future employment opportunities.

Currently, states such as California, Florida, Texas, New York, and Pennsylvania have the highest number of employed certified nursing assistants. Growth is expected to rise in areas with warmer climate as the older population continues to retire and move to these areas. To see CNA jobs in your area hiring now, check out the job board.

Certified nursing assistants are currently in high demand and the need is projected to continue through the next decade.

This number will only increase as the baby boomer generation ages and there is an increased demand for additional long-term nursing care facilities. Nursing assistants will be needed to care for this population which is more likely to suffer from dementia and other neurologic changes.

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The BLS projects that employment for nursing assistants will grow 8% from 2020 to 2030.

  • What does certified CNA mean?

    • CNA stands for Certified Nursing Assistant.
  • What does a nursing assistant do?

    • A CNA assists with nursing duties in patient care–this can include everything from help with grooming, bathing, feeding, and activities of daily life.
  • How much do CNAs make an hour?

    • CNAs make an average of $14.56 per hour.
  • How long is CNA training?

    • You can become a CNA in as little as 4-12 weeks.
  • What state pays CNA the most?

    • Alaska, New York, California, D.C. and Oregon are the top 5 paying states in the U.S.
  • What is the difference between a CNA and an LPN?

    • A CNA is a nursing assistant while an LPN is a Licensed Practical Nurse. An LPN has more responsibilities than a CNA and will earn more as well.
  • How much does it cost to become a CNA?

    • You can take a CNA training program for under $1000.
  • How can I get my CNA faster?

    • Most CNA programs can be completed in a matter of weeks.
  • What type of CNA gets paid the most?

    • CNAs in psychiatry earn the highest wages.

If you're interested in becoming a CNA, you might also want to check out these other healthcare careers that you can start working in fast!

  • Medical Assistant
  • Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)
  • Pharmacy Technician
CNA $20,000 - $30,000 Certificate Bedside


What is the difference between a CNA and a nursing assistant? ›

CNAs support and assist nurses while medical assistants support and assist doctors. This means CNAs take on patient care tasks like showering, dressing, and eating. Medical assistants take on tasks that help doctors conduct exams, such as preparing exam rooms or administering vaccines.

Is CNA hard to pass? ›

Is the CNA Exam Hard? The exam can be hard if Nursing Assistants do not have the knowledge and skills needed to pass the exam. The written or oral section of the exam may consist of approximately 70 questions, but the exact number of questions varies by state.

Is becoming a certified nursing assistant worth it? ›

There's a growing need for CNAs and the high demand offers peace of mind for job stability. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, CNA employment rate is expected to grow by 8% from 2020-2030.

How much does a CNA make an hour? ›

Average Total Hourly Cash Compensation

The average hourly rate for Certified Nursing Assistant ranges from $15 to $18 with the average hourly pay of $17.

Why do CNAs quit? ›

Poor wages and benefits were cited as the primary reasons why CNAs have left, or are considering leaving, their jobs. The CNA staffing shortage is the most pressing challenge for CNAs right now, according to more than half of the respondents.

How much CNA get paid in Georgia? ›

How much does a Certified Nursing Assistant make in Georgia? The average Certified Nursing Assistant salary in Georgia is $33,487 as of January 26, 2023, but the range typically falls between $30,518 and $36,976.

How much are CNA paid in Georgia? ›

How much does a CNA make in Georgia? As of Jan 29, 2023, the average annual pay for the CNA jobs category in Georgia is $25,932 a year. Just in case you need a simple salary calculator, that works out to be approximately $12.47 an hour. This is the equivalent of $498/week or $2,161/month.

How long is CNA school in Georgia? ›

Each program must be a minimum of 85 hours in length. This includes classroom/laboratory plus a minimum of 24 hours of clinical experience in a nursing home. The Nurse Aide Training Program (NATP) Manual can be accessed via the website at, click on the Nurse Aide tab.

What is a CNA salary? ›

How Much Do CNAs Make? The median salary for CNAs working in the United States currently sits at $30,850. Nursing assistants in the top 10% of earners make more than $42,110, and those in the lowest 10% bring home less than $22,750.

What state pays the most for CNA? ›

Alaska is the highest-paying state for CNAs, earning $43,080 per year. Because the state has one of the highest costs of living in the country, employers need to provide a higher-than-average salary.

Can I become a CNA online? ›

Can you become a CNA online? Yes, you can become a CNA through an online program. While taking CNA classes online, you'll complete hands-on clinical training at a local site. Online CNA programs typically take 4-12 weeks.

Why do CNAs make so much money? ›

The average CRNA salary is so high because the position requires very advanced knowledge and skills. While many nursing positions only require that you have a Bachelor's degree, or even an Associate's degree, Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists need at least their Master's of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree.

Is being a CNA harder than being an RN? ›

In some ways, being an RN is a lot harder than being a CNA. You have more decisions to make and more in the way of judgement calls. In some ways, though, being a CNA can feel harder. The job may be more physical.

What are 3 duties of a certified nursing assistant? ›

Roles of a Certified Nursing Assistant
  • What Kind of Work Does a CNA Do? ...
  • The core functions of a CNA include:
  • Helping patients with daily life activities (ADLs)- ...
  • Serving food and helping patients – ...
  • Lifting and moving patients- ...
  • Recording important signs- ...
  • Maintaining a clean and sanitized environment-
Dec 24, 2020

What is the 5 skills for CNA? ›

There are 5 traits / skills a person needs to possess in order to be a successful certified nursing assistant.
  • Knowledge. It is important for you to take your classes seriously when in CNA school. ...
  • Flexibility. ...
  • Observation. ...
  • Emotional Stability. ...
  • Empathy.
Mar 24, 2018

How long is a CNA program? ›

Generally, most certified nursing assistant programs may take between four and 12 weeks. This is broken into instructional hours and clinical practice. A typical 120-hour CNA program offered over six weeks may include four weeks in class and two weeks in a clinical setting, depending on state guidelines.

What comes after CNA? ›

While some CNAs will stay in the role for many years, others may consider the position to be a stepping-stone to another career. These CNAs may become licensed practical nurses (LPNs), registered nurses (RNs), or healthcare specialists in related fields.

How old are most CNAs? ›

41 years old

Is being a CNA hard on your body? ›

Your job is physically demanding.

When you work as a CNA, you can expect your job to be extremely physically demanding. Every shift, you are required to move, lift, push and pull your patients. While this is excellent exercise, it can be highly uncomfortable and even painful on the body.

Are CNAs technically nurses? ›

CNAs are not technically nurses. Think of them as helpers who ensure patients' basic needs are met so LPNs and RNs can attend to their medical needs. They are supervised by a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or a registered nurse (RN).

What CNA jobs pay the most? ›

Hospitals. CNAs who work in hospitals have the highest average pay, at $16.18 hourly. Specialized CNAs in this setting can earn substantially more. The highest-paid specialties for CNAs include the ICU, Operating Room, Telemetry, Emergency Room, and Medicine and Surgery.

How long is a CNA license good for in Georgia? ›

You will be issued a new certification card identifying the new two-year expiration date.

Can you take the CNA test without classes in Georgia? ›

Clinical and theoretical learning and practice is required to earn CNA certification in Georgia.

Can CNA give shots in Georgia? ›

Giving injections: CNAs are not allowed to administer injections, including insulin. Tube feeding: Because the assessment for tube feeding must be performed by a nurse, CNAs cannot do this task.

How much does a nurse aide make an hour in Georgia? ›

Salaries by years of experience in Georgia
Years of experiencePer hour
1 to 2 years$13.37
3 to 5 years$14.08
6 to 9 years$14.44
More than 10 years$15.91
1 more row
Jan 27, 2023

What is a phlebotomist salary in Georgia? ›

Phlebotomists in Georgia make an average salary of $37,060 per year, ranking Georgia 43% below the national average. Georgia ranks as the 23rd highest-paying state to work in as a phlebotomist.

Where can I take my CNA exam in Georgia? ›

Your certification exam, including written and skills portion, will be administered by Credentia, who is the approved testing company for Georgia. Certification exams are offered at by The Training Center of NW Georgia, Inc. training sites or you may choose another location.

What is a LPN salary? ›

How long is nursing school? ›

Your nursing training

Approved full-time nursing degree courses last for three (or four years if taking a dual-field degree), or longer if taken on a part-time basis. Accelerated courses for graduates take two years.

What state has the lowest paying CNA? ›

Mississippi has the lowest certified nursing assistant salary of $25,164. The national average salary for certified nursing assistants is $32,597. The national hourly pay for certified nursing assistants is $15.67.

Where is the best place to start working as a CNA? ›

Hospitals: Hospital jobs are often at the top of the list for CNAs. The pay and benefits are good, and it's fun to work with a variety of health care professionals. A CNA may be paired with a single nurse or assigned to a group of patients for the shift.

What are CNA clinicals like? ›

The CNA Clinical and Its Importance

Students perform basic duties under supervision and have opportunities to observe practical applications of classroom theory. They learn general bedside care and interact with patients. You should ask a lot of questions, offer to help where needed, and take notes whenever possible.

How to be a nursing assistant? ›

Nursing assistants must complete a state-approved education program in which they learn the basic principles of nursing and complete supervised clinical practice. These programs are found in high schools, community colleges, vocational and technical schools, hospitals and nursing homes.

How much are CNA online programs? ›

About the school

Time to complete this education training is 8 hours. The cost to attend CNA online ranges from $100 to $570 depending on the qualification, with a median cost of $500. When asked how they paid for their training, most reviewers responded, "This certification program was free for everyone".

How long is the Red Cross nurse aide course? ›

15 Days

Are CNAs overworked? ›

Jobs for nursing assistants are highly demanding, and if CNAs are not careful, they can reach a point where it becomes too much to handle. Some CNAs complain of being overworked and underappreciated.

Do CNAs do more work than nurses? ›

CNA Overview

RNs have more autonomy to do their jobs compared with CNAs, who are assistants to RNs and other medical providers. CNAs have a more limited scope and work under supervision, but they alleviate the workload of others, allowing for better overall patient care.

Why are CNAs understaffed? ›

The main reasons for understaffing are: High turnover due to overstressed staff. Stress and emotional pressure for constant overtime and a constant need to keep working. A lack of available registered or certified nursing staff with adequate education and training.

What position is higher than a CNA? ›

LPNs provide a higher level of care than a CNA in most settings. They work under the supervision of registered nurses (RNs) and physicians monitoring patients, administering first aid, and updating health records. CNAs provide basic care and help patients with daily living tasks under the direction of LPNs and RNs.

What is a nursing assistant do? ›

Nursing assistants help patients with activities of daily living like eating and bathing. Nursing assistants, sometimes called nursing aides, provide basic care and help patients with activities of daily living. Orderlies transport patients and clean treatment areas.

Is nursing assistant the same as LPN? ›

An LPN is like a CNA in that they both work in most healthcare settings and homes and perform basic healthcare tasks. However, an LPN focuses on assisting nurses and physicians, and most of their work is medical. A CNA focuses on assisting patients with daily living activities, such as eating, bathing, and dressing.

Can CNAs draw blood? ›

Under normal protocol, a CNA will not draw blood. However, this does not mean that a Certified Nurse Aide will never be able to draw blood. A CNA may be able to draw blood if they obtain additional training or certification courses. This could include being a Medical Assistant or taking Phlebotomy classes, for example.

What is the most a CNA can get paid? ›

A Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA) makes an average yearly salary of $28,540, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with a reported salary range from $19,000 and goes up to $42,000 according to PayScale.

What's next after becoming a CNA? ›

While some CNAs will stay in the role for many years, others may consider the position to be a stepping-stone to another career. These CNAs may become licensed practical nurses (LPNs), registered nurses (RNs), or healthcare specialists in related fields.


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