The majority of CNAs, or certified nursing assistants, work in nursing homes, where they do much of the everyday patient care. For example, they help patients bathe, eat, change position and go to the toilet. Also called nursing aides, they take blood pressure and vital signs, make observations and keep records. CNAs must complete state-approved classes and pass an exam to join the state registry of nursing assistants.


Although some high schools include CNA training, classes are typically available in vocational schools, two-year colleges, technical schools, nursing homes and hospitals. Training is also available online and through the American Red Cross. The length of time required depends on the particular course provider. However, including class and clinical work, you can complete some programs in six weeks, according to the Explore Health Careers website. Day, afternoon and evening classes are available at some locations.


Potential students must often meet specific admission requirements for CNA classes. For example, some programs require a criminal background check and a physical exam, including a tuberculosis test. Many programs require applicants to meet specific fitness requirements for the job, such as the ability to stand, bend, stoop and lift a certain weight. Additional requirements may include a minimum age, such as 16 or 18, and passing a test of reading skills. Some schools require certification in cardiopulmonary resuscitation before you start the program.

Class Content

CNA classes teach the skills that you'll need in order to pass state licensing exams and work as a CNA. The class content typically covers basic nursing techniques such as taking a patient's temperature, pulse, breathing rate and blood pressure. Prospective CNAs also learn methods of helping patients with personal hygiene and exercise. They learn safe ways to lift, move and reposition patients and how to make them more comfortable. The instruction also encompasses topics such as how to keep health records and medical charts, and what to do in emergencies.

Clinical Practice

CNA students must complete supervised clinical training in hospitals or nursing homes in addition to class work, but the number of hours depends on the program and state law. For example, the six-week program at El Camino College in California requires nine hours total each week, and students devote half of that time to clinical work in nearby hospitals. At Community College of Rhode Island, students spend 32 out of 120 hours total working at nursing facilities. In accordance with state requirements, students in online CNA programs must also must complete clinical practice.


After completing class and clinical work, nursing assistants must pass a state-required exam to be put on the state nursing registry. In many states, those who pass receive the title of certified nursing assistant, but some states use different titles. According to the laws in some states, only nursing assistants on the state registry are allowed to work in nursing homes, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In some states, CNAs must complete continuing education to remain on the registry.

Outlook and Wages

The number of jobs for nursing assistants, including hospital orderlies, will increase by 20 percent between 2010 and 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is faster than the average rate of increase for all jobs. The government expects excellent prospects for CNAs because the American population is aging. The average wage of nursing assistants was $12.32 per hour or $25,620 per full-time year as of 2012, according to the BLS.