Become a CNA in California Graphic

3 Easy Steps to Becoming a CNA in California

A certified nursing assistant (CNA) is a health care professional who provides assistance to a registered nurse (RN) or a licensed practical nurse (LPN). A CNA has several responsibilities, including helping patients bathe, dress, and perform basic daily activities.

To work as a certified nursing assistant in California, an individual must complete a state-approved nurse assistant training program that includes at least 100 hours of supervised clinical training and 60 hours of classroom instruction. 

Upon completion of your training program, you’ll need to take the CNA certification test and pass a criminal background check. You must also be at least 16 years old.

​The Professional Certification Branch (PCB), Aide and Technician Certification Section (ATCS) of the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) is responsible for processing and confirming certifications. Becoming a certified nursing assistant in the state of California can be as easy as following these three steps:

1. Fulfill Training Requirements

The individual seeking certification must have at least 60 hours of classroom training. An additional 100 hours of supervised clinical training is also required. The training must take place at a state-approved health care facility or school. If flexibility is needed, seek out programs that offer classroom training in an online format.  

An exception is if you can show you have received equivalent training in another health care related field or setting. For example, if you have received on-the-job health care training, you may be able to use those hours to count towards certification. 

Partial training as a registered nurse, licensed practical nurse, or licensed psychiatric technician, and some military training may also count towards a nursing assistant certification. For partial or military training to count towards certification, you must have received recent pay in the health care field.


Most programs are approximately 12 weeks in length. Depending on where you choose to attend, you may need to complete an interview. Providing proof of current immunizations, negative TB tests, and current CPR certification are also common requests. 


You should expect to pay between $500 and $1800 for a Certified Nursing Assistant training program. Additional costs include classroom fees, uniforms, and textbooks.

The California Department of Public Health website has a listing of approved CNA programs. The majority of these programs are located at local community colleges, trade schools, or the American Red Cross.

2. Pass the Certification Test

California is one of the 25 states that partners with the National Nurse Aide Assessment Program (NNAAP) to certify nurses. The certification test has two components. A written exam and a clinical skills exam. 

The state of California requires that within two years of completing your training program, you must apply and pass both exams. Failure to do so will result in the need for retraining. Applicants can attempt the test three times within that two-year period.

Pearson VUE administers the test at various locations throughout the state. Testing sites and test schedules are available on the Pearson VUE website.

Bring your completed Certified Nurse Assistant Initial Application and photo identification with you to your scheduled testing time. Consider wearing scrubs and non-skid shoes when it is time to take the clinical skills portion of your exam.

To prepare for your CNA certification test, you might want to take a free practice exam.


Testing fees may fluctuate but currently, the cost is $100. This fee covers both the written and the clinical skills component.  After completion of the exam, the California Department of Public Health will notify you of your results within 30 days.

3. Undergo a Criminal Background Check

Certified nursing assistant candidates must pass a criminal background check. The check is performed using the Live Scan fingerprinting process. You are responsible for contacting Live Scan to schedule an appointment.

With the exception of minor traffic violations, all offenses will be taken into consideration. Some convictions will automatically disqualify an applicant. If you are disqualified but can obtain an official Certificate of Rehabilitation, your application may be reconsidered.

Once all steps are successfully completed, the California Department of Public Health will issue the candidate an official certificate.

Next Steps After Certification

Certified nursing assistants are eligible for positions in various healthcare facilities.

Hospitals are the most common employer of nursing assistants, but CNAs are also commonly employed at specialty health care facilities such as cancer centers, children’s hospitals, rehabilitation facilities.

Some certified nursing assistants work in environments outside of health care facilities. Assisted living centers and nursing homes commonly hire nursing assistants. Some nursing assistants work as home health aides, providing care in a patient’s home.

The state of California requires you to renew your CNA license every two years. Within two years, you must complete 48-hours of in-service training and provide proof of at least one day of paid service in order to maintain an active status.

Earnings Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that California has the highest CNA employment, with over 100,000 CNAs currently employed. California CNA wages can start at $40,000 per year and average at $17 per hour, which is among the top 5% in the nation.

A nursing assistant may earn more if they already have significant experience working in a health care environment. For example, a nursing assistant with several years of experience volunteering at a local hospital could possibly earn more than a CNA with no previous health care work experience.                                                

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