So, you’re thinking about a career as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA).

Well, that’s awesome!

You are in good company. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the nursing assistant and orderlies workforce is currently made up of 1,564,300 people in the United States.

And don’t worry, there is plenty of room for you to find a steady job. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 177,700 new nursing assistant and orderlies jobs are expected in the next few years.

Let us cover the initial steps on this exciting career path together so you can get a better understanding of what you’re getting into.

We are talking here about your career for possibly the next 10 years, at the very least, and even the rest of your life. That is exciting and nerve-racking at the same time.

Let’s get to it then.

How do you become a nursing assistant or orderly?

Nursing assistants must complete a state-approved education program and must pass their state’s competency exam. Orderlies generally have at least a high school diploma.

For more information, read How to Become a Certified Nursing Assistant.

What type of schooling does a nursing assistant or orderly need?

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

In addition, nursing assistants typically complete a brief period of on-the-job training to learn about their specific employer’s policies and procedures.

Orderlies typically have at least a high school diploma and receive a short period of on-the-job training.

What are the types of certifications and requirements needed to become a CNA or orderly?

After completing a state-approved education program, nursing assistants take a competency exam. Passing this exam allows them to use state-specific titles. In some states, a nursing assistant or aide is called a Certified Nursing Assistant, but titles vary from state to state.

Nursing assistants who have passed the competency exam are placed on a state registry. They must be on the state registry to work in a nursing home.

Some states have other requirements as well, such as continuing education and a criminal background check. Check with state boards of nursing or health for more information.

In some states, nursing assistants can earn additional credentials, such as becoming a Certified Medication Assistant (CMA). As a CMA, they can give medications.

Orderlies do not need a license; however, many jobs require a basic life support (BLS) certification, which shows they are trained to provide cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

How long does it take to become a CNA?

A CNA certification program, typically, has three main parts:

  • Contact hours – This part is usually taught by a registered nurse. It generally includes about 75 hours of classroom training. You will learn primary responsibilities of a CNA, including how to take patients’ vital signs, how to assist patients with care, how to transfer patients, the proper procedures for dispensing medication, bandage application, and communication with supervising nurses in regards to patient care, and documentation of all events related to patient care.
  • Clinical experience – This part involves working under the guidance of a licensed supervisor to practice the skills acquired during your classes in a medical setting, such as a hospital or nursing home. It can last from 16 to 40 hours.
  • CNA certification exam – The exam is done in two parts: The clinical exam shows what you have learned in the hands-on CNA training. The theoretical exam is the written portion of the exam, which tests your knowledge gained while attending CNA classes. The usual duration of the exam is between 2 to 3 hours.

Each state has specific requirements to become certified as a CNA. This table of state policies can help you get an idea of the CNA certification requirements in your state.

How much does it cost to become a CNA?

 According to, the median tuition costs for certified nursing assistants are $3,393 for in-state public colleges and $4,920 for out-of-state private colleges.

The cost of the CNA Exam depends on the state in which it is taken. On average, it is $100.

What is the CNA Exam?

Graduates of CNA training programs must pass an exam to become a licensed nursing assistant. The CNA certification exam consists of a written exam and a hands-on clinical skills assessment given on the same day. You must pass both in order to become certified as a nursing assistant. The exam can vary from state to state.

How many questions are on the CNA Exam?

While the exact format can vary from state to state, the written portion of the exam typically requires you to answer 60 multiple-choice questions. The clinical skills test usually requires you to demonstrate five duties.

What are the Categories on the CNA Exam?

The areas tested in the written portion of the CNA Exam include:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Body mechanics
  • Range of motion
  • Mental health
  • Aging process
  • Nutrition
  • Daily living activities
  • Personal care
  • Safety
  • Vital signs and testing
  • Cultural and spiritual needs
  • Client rights
  • Ethical and legal issues
  • Communication
  • Data collection
  • Role and responsibility of CNA
  • Medical terminology
  • Infection control

The responsibilities evaluated in the clinical skills test vary, but the most important ones include providing catheter care, assessing vital signs, relocating a patient from the bed to a chair, and gait belt transfer. One skill you are almost always tested on is your hand washing technique. If you don’t wash your hands for the required 20 seconds, it can result in an automatic fail.

How long does the CNA Exam typically last?

The written portion typically lasts for 90 minutes, while the clinical skills portion can last for 30 minutes. Some exams can be slightly longer, depending on the specifications in your state.

What is the passing grade needed for the CNA Exam?

Each state has its own passing score regarding the CNA exam. Some states require you to achieve 70 to 75% while others may require you to achieve 80%.

How many times can you take the CNA Exam?

Most states will allow you to retake the exam up to three times within two years of completing your CNA training. You only need to retake the section that you didn’t pass. If you fail both the written and skills sections, you will be allowed to retake both areas.