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Certified Nursing Assistant Careers

By allied health world contributing writer

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A Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) is a credentialed healthcare professional who is supervised by a registered nurse (RN) or a licensed practical nurse (LPN). By assisting RNs and LPNs with some caregiving tasks, CNAs help free up nurses to perform the more technical tasks for which nurses are trained (preparing an operating room for a surgical procedure, giving patients pharmaceuticals, reporting information to the attending physician, etc.). In some cases, certified nursing assistants may spend more face time with patients than any other healthcare professional during the patient’s stay at a hospital or other care facility.

These licensed professionals are sometimes referred to as a patient care assistant (PCA), healthcare assistant (HCA), home CNA Careershealth aide, patient care technician, nursing assistant-registered (NA/R), nurse’s aide or a state-tested nurse aid (STNA). CNAs can find work anywhere a nurse might work: hospitals, clinics, doctor’s offices, nursing homes and hospices, government agencies and in the military or in the home of a person who is ill and cannot care for them self. CNAs will almost always be under the direct supervision of a nurse or other healthcare professional and are not licensed to make medical decisions independently. In addition to having a good working knowledge of basic medical information (infection control, human physiology and anatomy, nutrition), a good CNA must have a deep sense of empathy, integrity and physical and mental stamina, as well as a desire to help other people in their time of greatest need.

Even when the end result is not “nursing” a patient back to health, a CNA can help fill the last days of a terminally ill or seriously injured person with a sense of dignity and humanity. A CNA can often be the first recipient of thankfulness from a grateful patient. In many cases, the CNA will enjoy the benefit of watching a patient return to health while under his or her attentive care.


The CNA fills an important role in the healthcare community by extending the reach of RNs. The CNA responds to patient calls in nursing homes and clinical settings, reports back on patient conditions to the nurse on call, helps clean patients and their rooms, helps move patients from one place to another in a wheelchair, helps patients prepare for their examinations by the nurse or doctor, assists bedridden patients with exercise and helps feed people who are unable to feed themselves. CNAs also record vital data about the patient’s condition (such as food consumption, pulse and temperature) on a regular basis so the nurse can record it on the patient’s medical chart and relay the results to the doctor when appropriate. In some ways, CNAs are more on the frontlines of the patient/healthcare community relationship than anybody else.

Many of the responsibilities handled by today’s CNAs were once assumed by family members—spouses, parents, children or friends—and sometimes still are. But the reality of the American economy is that many families require two working parents, the divorce rate is high and children generally move out of their parents’ home—often to another city. While many people might prefer to take care of their loved ones by themselves, they may not be physically capable of doing so, or be able to afford to take the time off work to spend with the patient (or “client” as a CNA’s charges are often referred to). Other people may be unable to tolerate the mentally and physically challenging regimen associated with caring for a bedridden or invalid person. This regimen includes not only maintaining proper hygiene and nutrition, but helping monitor the patient’s bodily functions as well as sterilizing and maintaining medical equipment and relaying medical information to the nurse in an efficient manner.

Certified nursing assistants may continue with their education and become RNs or, in some cases, assume administrative roles in the nursing facilities. The experience and education gained by working as a CNA can be parlayed into other healthcare careers, as well as higher paying nursing assistant roles. Working as a CNA is an excellent way to determine whether moving into another nursing or medical role is the ideal career path. Achieving CNA certification is much quicker and cheaper than earning a nursing license and can quickly expose a young healthcare professional to the best and the worst conditions of hospital life to help them discover whether this is the field in which to work. It is also an opportunity for potential nurses to explore a specialty area (obstetrics, oncology, surgery) that they are considering. For students already enrolled in a nursing program, working as a CNA is also a opportunity to learn real-life medical skills and earn money to pay for their education while watching professional nurses do their jobs.


For those who choose to make nursing assistant their ultimate career goal, there are a handful of state organizations that offer CNAs networking, representation, camaraderie and educational opportunities. There is, however, a national organization that represents CNAs and other paramedical workers. The National Association of Health Care Assistants was founded in 2006 and represents over 35,000 caregivers in 29 states and Washington D.C. This organization gives awards to outstanding caregivers, offers training and mentoring and advocates on issues important to CNAs and other caregivers. The NAHCA notes that more than 90 percent of the direct care that patients receive is handled by nursing assistants and that they comprise the single largest percentage of nursing home employees.

View lists of CNA Jobs here.

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