How to Become a Certified Caregiver: Step-By-Step


Certified Care Manager, Aging Life Care Professional, and National Master Guardian Emeritus

If you are thinking about becoming a certified caregiver, you will be entering one of the fastest-growing occupations in the country. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 9% increase for certified nursing assistants and personal care aides (personal care aides do not have certification requirements.)

Jump ahead to these sections:

  1. Understand the Reasons People Want to Become Certified Caregivers
  2. Know The People Skills You Will Need
  3. Acknowledge The Drawbacks of a Caregiving Job
  4. Get Started
  5. Check Out Places You Can Work and What You Can Do
  6. Learn How to Interview Agencies and Companies
  7. Become a Self Advocate

We have the perfect storm of increasing care needs and a rapidly aging population. Add to that a changing healthcare environment that includes everything from assisted living communities, to rehab facilities, home health, home care, continuing retirement communities, outpatient clinics, and hospitals.

1. Understand the Reasons People Want to Become Certified Caregivers

The reasons people want to become caregivers are as varied as the individuals themselves. The job market is very strong for certified caregivers, so finding a job in the area you want should be relatively easy with commitment and a desire to give to your community. Some of the reasons you may want to become caregiver are the following:

  • You like helping people. Being a certified caregiver is a people job. You will be helping people with tasks like bathing, dressing, transferring, activities, and companionship. The people you serve will have different backgrounds and experiences. Learning about people is one of the rewards of the job.
  • You like variety. There are few jobs that have the variety that caregiving does. One client may have dementia, whereas another one has a clear mind, but significant medical problems. Other clients may need care for a short period of time while they recover from an accident or illness. 
  • You want flexibility. Most certified caregiving jobs allow for a flexible schedule. This means you can work your schedule around your other home and life responsibilities.
  • Extra income after retirement. Becoming a certified caregiver after retirement is not unusual. Some older, but healthy individuals gravitate to a profession that taps into their desire to provide compassionate care to others. The flexibility of the profession can mean extra income for part-time work.
  • A stepping stone. Many people become certified caregivers because they plan on becoming nurses. Working as a certified nursing assistant is an asset when applying to nursing school. For people already in nursing school, working as a part-time certified caregiver can offer flexibility, experience, and along needed income. 

2. Know the People Skills You Will Need

Being a certified caregiver means being able to rely upon a complex set of people skills. You will be dealing not only with the client that you serve, but family members as well. Some skills to keep in mind:

  • Empathy. The ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand how they feel.
  • Compassion. Being able to feel what the other person must be going through.
  • Conflict management. Yes, conflicts do happen with families and you may find yourself right in the middle of it. Sometimes an aging person may refuse help. It may not be your job to solve conflicts, but you may need to manage your emotions and work to adjust to the situation the best you can.
  • Responding to emergencies. Whatever company you work for will have emergency response systems in place. Your job will be to follow those protocols in a calm and focused way. Knowing how and what to do during an emergency is a life long skill.
  • A desire to learn more. Caregiving requires several skill sets. For example, if you may find yourself taking care of someone with dementia, you find it helpful to learn out more about the disease so you can be better prepared to help. You may want to read some books on caregiving to give you a wider perspective.

3. Acknowledge the Drawbacks of a Caregiving Job

Becoming and working as a certified caregiver is not without its drawbacks. The first one is wages. Before you jump into the field, have a good idea of what pay you can expect. Pay varies according to the state where you live. Look here for state by state average hourly pay for caregivers. 

You will have to travel in your own car to see clients unless you are working in assisted living or skilled nursing. In some cases, the mileage may be reimbursed but travel time might not be. 

Some caregiver duties may be physically challenging. Certain clients may need help transferring, walking, or getting to the bathroom. If you have several clients like this the work can be exhausting. 

Although many agencies work with caregivers to give them the shifts they want, be prepared to be asked to work hours that may not fit your schedule. As with many jobs, you don’t get to choose your clients, so be prepared to work with difficult and complicated clients and patients. 

4. How to Get Started

The first step to getting started on becoming a certified caregiver is to understand the terms that apply depending on the state where you live. Some interchangeable terms are: Certified Nurse Aides, Certified Nursing Assistants, or State Registered Nurse Aides.

Review what is required by your state. Every state is different and the testing reflects what an aide is allowed to do per state requirements. Some states allow for many medical tasks, and others are very restrictive. For example, some states allow a certified caregiver to administer medications, and others only allow a caregiver to give reminders.

Find a testing location in your state.  Some testing and training sites are located at nursing schools, through agencies that want to hire you, the Red Cross, CNA training centers, or even online. 

Requirements may include but are not limited to the following: criminal background check and a written examination. Before you are hired by an agency, they may also require a drug test. The certified nursing examination may include knowledge of the following skills.

  • Catheter care 
  • Blood pressure checks 
  • Range of motion 
  • Transfers 
  • Oral care
  • Perineal care
  • Pulse and respirations
  • Safety protocols

You may also be required to practice some of these skills in front of an evaluator.

Then, you'll have to wait for your certificate to be mailed to you and then apply for jobs.

5. Check Out Places You Can Work and What You Can Do

Here is where things get a little complicated. If you are going into this field thinking that you can use a variety of clinical skills, check the state you live in first. Every state is different in terms of what you will be allowed to do with your clients or patients.

The best place to view your state’s requirements is through the AARP Long Term Services and Supports State Scorecard. This resource will give you an idea of what tasks are legally allowed.

Certified caregivers work in a variety of settings. Some choose home care agencies. Others prefer assisted living or nursing home settings. Others prefer to work with home health care companies. Each setting has its advantages and disadvantages, and pay may vary as well.

6. Learn How to Interview Agencies and Companies

Once you have your certificate verifying you are a certified caregiver, you will have many options to choose from. Be prepared to ask questions that will help you decide which company or setting might be best for you. Some questions to consider:

  • “What will my schedule look like and is there flexibility?”
  • “Will I be paid for mileage and/or travel time?”
  • “What kind of ongoing training can I expect?”
  • “Are there benefits with this job? Specifically, health insurance, paid time off, sick leave and family leave?”
  • “What kind of pay raises can I expect and when?”
  • “How physical will the job be?”

7. Become a Self Advocate

In all honesty, certified nursing assistants are generally well regarded for the hard work they put into their jobs. However, in these fast-paced environments, you may sometimes feel like a pawn in a chess game where you are moved around from client to client. 

Remember this: a good caregiver should be a well-respected member of the healthcare team. If you feel you are not getting the hours, pay, or clients that you deserve, communicate that in a clear and professional manner.

If you are dissatisfied with the manner in which you are treated, think about looking for another agency or company. Your chances of being hired by someone better are high.

A Caregiver for the Ages

If you are thinking about becoming a certified caregiver, know that your skills and compassion are in high demand and likely to grow. Although the aging population is in great need, other populations require the skills of caregivers as well. This includes children, the disabled, and people with intellectual disabilities.

Find your passion and be a part of a valued and important profession.


  1. “Workforce Data Center.” Professional Healthcare Institute.
  2. “Starting Out: A Nursing Assistant and Nurse Aide Overview.” Nursing Licensure.
  3. “The Long-Term Services and Supports State Scorecard, One Year In: Keep ‘Picking Up the Pace.’ AARP. 
  4. “Occupational Outlook Handbook.” United States Bureau of Labor Statistics.  

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