A Brief History of CNA Careers

Although CNA careers began with a small group of women volunteers helping overworked nurses during World War I, they are among the most popular careers today.
A Brief History of CNA Careers

CNAs are important members of the healthcare teams in nursing homes, hospitals and a variety of other medical facilities all across the country. These trained professionals provide invaluable care to patients in all stages of life. But have you ever wondered how long CNAs have been in existence? In fact, as you will learn after reading the following information, nurses' aides have been around for quite a long time!

The Volunteer Nurses' Aide Service

World War I placed a large toll on nursing professionals who were overwhelmed with injured soldiers and civilians. Seeing that these nurses desperately needed help, the American Red Cross created what was known as the Volunteer Nurses' Aide Service. This program trained young women as nurses' aides to provide basic assistance to overworked nurses.

These early nurses' aides were not certified and were primarily volunteers. As such, the profession did not catch on beyond the war. However; during World War II, the Red Cross reinstated the program resulting in more than 12,000 women volunteering their services. After the war, while some nurses' aides continued to volunteer their assistance, some moved on to paying positions.

Nurses' Aides in the 70s and 80s

Just as early nurses' aides were not certified, those who worked during the 70s and 80s were not required to obtain certification either. During this time, most anyone with a high school education could apply for a nurses' aide job. If hired, applicants were required to complete on-the-job training that was typically conducted by LPNs, LVNs, RNs or nurses' aides who had accumulated years of experience.

The Omnibus Reconciliation Act

In the late 80s, there was a growing concern among government officials about the quality of care being provided to patients in nursing homes. To address this troubling issue, during the year 1987, President Reagan passed the Omnibus Reconciliation Act. Often referred to as OBRA, the Omnibus Reconciliation Act set the standards for today's CNAs.

With the passing of OBRA, the field of assistant nursing changed dramatically. While on-the-job training continued to be an acceptable method of training for nurses' aides, all CNAs were also required to obtain certification. Other standards set by the Omnibus Reconciliation Act are as follows.

  • Training and Educational Requirements
  • Testing and Certifications
  • Continuing Education
  • CNA Code of Ethics

Certified Nurses' Aides of Today

CNAs have come a long way since World War I. Originally starting as just a small group of women volunteering their services, CNAs of today enjoy a comfortable median salary of a little over $29,640 per year. Furthermore, nurses' aides are in high demand these days in nearly every corner of the country!

And to make the career even more appealing, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects that CNA positions will increase at a rate of 8% from 2019 to 2029.


Although CNA careers began with a small group of women volunteers helping overworked nurses during World War I, they are among the most popular careers today.

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