What is a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) exactly?

A Certified Nursing Assistant or CNA is a type of nursing professional that assists the patients with activities of daily living (ADLs) and other healthcare needs under the direct supervision of a registered nurse (RN) or licensed practice nurse (LPN). Usually, the CNAs are referred to as Nursing Assistants, Nurse Aides, Patient Care Assistants (PCAs), etc. 

Some people often use their knowledge and skills as a CNA to fill the gap to further their career and become an LPN or RN. Interestingly many CNAs enroll themselves in nursing school programs and use this career as a source to dive deeper into the healthcare world. Also, this helps them learn new skills and competencies to contribute to the healthcare community. 

While Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) and Medical Assistants have a few similar responsibilities, such as providing patient care, it is important to avoid confusion between the two healthcare fields. 

Both of them assist doctors, nurses, and other health professionals with procedures, treatments, and medical tests. Medical assistants primarily concentrate on patient assessment, evaluation, and assisting the doctors with patient care and treatment. In contrast, nursing assistants work to provide direct care to the patients. Furthermore, certified nursing assistants have job-specific duties that are dictated by the state of employment. 

LPNs, otherwise require to pass a state-mandated exam and to obtain a working license. CNAs only require a certification to practice. LPNs also take classes just like RNs to get additional knowledge about health care and the human body. This is why there are certain tasks that LPNs can do but CNAs cannot. 

What does a Certified Nursing Assistant Do?

Many research studies have proved that CNAs are the backbone of a healthcare system. Moreover, they work in relieving a whole lot of burden from caregivers and clinical staff members. They act as a support for their patients as well. Responsibilities of a CNA include, but are not limited to; 

  • Positioning or turning the patients
  • Obtaining vital signs
  • Answering patient’s calls/bells
  • Providing bathing and hygiene care
  • Documentation of patients’ information
  • Feeding patients, measuring and recording their food & liquid intake and output
  • Combing hair, shaving, caring for nails, and brushing teeth
  • Cleaning rooms and bed linens
  • Dressing wounds
  • Assisting in toileting and elimination
  • Assisting in Range of Motion exercises (if prescribed)

Note that CNAs’ responsibilities may slightly differ depending on the settings in which they work. Likewise, their duties are also determined by the state guidelines to avoid any mishaps to themselves and their patients.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2018, there were approximately 1,564,200 people employed as certified nursing assistants. Also, nursing care facilities and nursing homes employed the greatest number of nursing assistants (38%) while only 4% currently work for the government. Not only that but this COVID 19 pandemic has also increased their demand in clinical, community, and in-home care services. 

How long does it take to become a certified nursing assistant?

To become a certified nursing assistant (CNA), you must complete a state-approved training program. These programs are generally found at high schools, community colleges, hospitals, and vocational/technical institutes. 

Some institutes offer online CNA training programs as well. Along with that, they also provide clinical placement opportunities at different hospitals and clinics. 

Most CNA training programs take 6-12 weeks of completion, depending on the course schedule. Equally important is the fact that most programs comprise clinical hours and class hours. Even each state has a specified number of clinical hours that an individual must complete before applying for certification.

After completing the state-approved training program, you can take the competency exam. Note that the exam consists of two parts-a multiple choice-based written exams and a practical skill-based exam. Once passed, the certified nursing assistant is placed on a state registry and can start to apply for jobs.

What are the qualities of a good CNA?

To find enjoyment and fulfillment in their work, CNAs should enjoy interacting with their patients daily. They should keep in mind that their work is meaningful and can bring a significant change in their patient’s lives. Other attributes include;

  • Flexibility
  • Advanced communication skills
  • Time management
  • Compassion
  • Reliability
  • Physical Strength
  • Empathy


What is the salary and job outlook for CNAs?

CNAs make a median annual salary of $29,640 as per the data provided by BLS, and the field is projected to grow at a faster pace (than average) over the next decade. Likewise, completing additional credentials provides them with the ability to grow in their career. 

CNAs can further advance their careers and become RN or LPN. The path from CNA to RN requires earning either a diploma, associate degree, or bachelor’s degree.

Note that RNs and LPNs need to pass NCLEX-RN and NCLEX-PN examinations, respectively, to earn their state license.

From where can I learn more about becoming a CNA?

If you are interested in more updates regarding becoming a CNA, professional organizations such as the National Network of Career Nursing Assistants and Nursing Association of Health Care Assistants are great resources.

Both of them provide a great deal of information about growing trends in healthcare that impact nursing assistants. In addition to that, they also help in knowing about healthcare conventions targeted for this audience, access to continuing education hours, job opportunities, and contact information for local chapters.

These associations not only act as a great resource for new to practice CNAs but also assist those who are already established in their careers. By joining these organization, you can get the opportunity to build networks and connections that may help you find amazing future employment opportunities, 


The Bottom Line

Certified nursing assistants are currently in high demand, and their need is predicted to continue till the next decade. 

This number will increase because the baby boomer generation ages, and there is an increased demand for additional long-term nursing care facilities like home healthcare, etc. Also, Certified Nursing Assistants will be needed to care for this population, which is more likely to suffer from dementia and other neurologic changes.

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