Certified Nurse Assistant Job Description
CNAs help patients with activities of daily living (ADLs). They are responsible for helping patients maintain good hygiene, follow doctor and nurse orders, dressing, feeding and grooming patients, positioning them comfortably and helping them with some exercises. CNAs also take patients’ temperature, blood pressure and pulse, respiration rate and can inquire about a patient’s level of pain. Certified nursing assistants may also help care for the bodies of patients who have died in the hospital or nursing home.
Just as licensed nurses get to choose their shift, certified nursing assistants can work day or night, or fill the heavy demand for weekend or holiday work (part- or full-time). This level of flexibility allows certified nursing assistants to take on other jobs, attend school or care for their family when not working.
Unlike many nurses and physicians, there is little administrative work in a certified nursing assistant’s work life. For those who would rather be on the front lines, employing their people skills rather than filling out forms (beyond some basic taking of notes) or working in front of computer monitors, being a CNA can be a great role.
The limitations on a CNA’s task list include not giving medication to patients or offering them medical advice (beyond basic hygiene and nutrition guidance). The CNA can, however, help a patient take their own medication if the worker has earned certification to do so. But the certified nursing assistant cannot typically measure a dosage or give a patient a shot.
Many of the roles of a CNA are indicative of the activities most people do on a daily basis and take for granted, but which maintain a sense of self-sufficiency and dignity.
Certified nursing assistants must attend to a patient’s hygiene, often in a nursing home or palliative setting. This includes changing diapers on adults, emptying, cleaning and replacing bedpans, helping patients reach and use the bathroom, cleaning the patient afterward and making note of the quality and quantity of the patient’s output. This data is critical to helping determine whether a patient’s health is on the mend or not, and doctors need this information to decide the course of future care. CNAs also help bathe the patients—Using sponges and towels when the patient is confined to a bed—and keep areas around medical equipment, like catheters, clean and sterile to prevent infection.
CNAs help patients brush their teeth and dentures. Patients may often be weak or have tubes and other equipment restricting their arm movement, or may be unable to position themselves to a position to properly spit out the toothpaste or rinse. A CNA can help this person maintain proper dental hygiene as well as make it more comfortable for the patient to receive visitors and speak to them at close range.
A CNA helps patients eat meals. Sometimes they can encourage a patient to feed themselves through simple dialog and pleasant conversation. Other times they will help the patient lift a spoon to their mouth, or may even lift the utensils or cups themselves when the patient cannot do so.
Some patients may be so weak (or unconscious) that they cannot move themselves to relieve the discomfort caused by unremitted pressure, humidity and heat caused by long-term contact with their bed. Bedsores may seem like a trivial thing, but they can be the cause of serious patient discomfort and even lead to far more grave problems, including infection and death. By moving the patient’s body frequently (every two hours or so), the certified nursing assistant helps prevent blood from pooling in the lower parts of the patient’s body and causing these ulcers. CNAs often have the help of orderlies to move the patients when the CNA is unable to do so his or herself.
Patients with needles in their arms may have a difficult time changing out of dirty clothes into clean ones. This is not only vital to maintaining their self-esteem (any person would want to look their best when visited by friends or relatives), but is important for preventing infection. It is a common task for a CNA to help dress a patient.
Hospitals and nursing homes are notorious for being places where infection can be easily spread. Even the private home of a patient unable to move around can become dangerously infectious as the air grows stagnant and proper cleaning isn’t done. In hospital or nursing home settings, there are other professionals who mop the floors, clean the bathrooms and take care of many of the bigger cleaning tasks that don’t involve direct contact with patients. But helping orderlies keep patient rooms clean is another way the certified nursing assistant maintains the dignity and health of their charges. The patient may ask the CNA to rearrange flowers or other personal objects, put clothing away in drawers or closets, or arrange chairs or tidy up a bit in anticipation of a visit.
The CNA is often the first person to respond to a patient’s call to determine what the problem may be and decide whether it is something that needs the nurse or physician’s attention. Many patient calls may be for simple tasks like fluffing a pillow and helping the patient sit more comfortably, but others may be more serious, and the nursing assistant must understand what is beyond his or her authority to handle.
Finally, and not the least importantly, certified nursing assistants measure vital signs of their patients and report the information back to the nurse or doctor. Breathing and heart rate, temperature and blood pressure, volume and consistency of stool and urine, condition of skin or any other changes to the patient’s situation may be important clues may alert the nurse or doctor to the direction of patient’s condition and help them choose the course of treatment.