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Certified Nursing Assistant Careers

Certified Nursing Assistant: Education, Schools, and Career Overview

A certified nursing assistant (CNA) is a credentialed healthcare professional, supervised by a registered nurse (RN) or a licensed practical nurse (LPN). By assisting RNs and LPNs, CNAs help free up nurses to perform the more technical tasks, such as preparing an operating room for a surgical procedure, giving patients pharmaceuticals and reporting information to the attending physician.

Nature of Work

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.

How to Become a Certified Nurse Assistant

Diploma in Certified Nurse Assistant

Candidates may only need a high school diploma to enroll in a certified nursing assistant training program. In some cases, even that may not be necessary. Being able to speak and read English is typically a requirement for this job. In some settings, speaking Spanish or another language may be required. CNA programs are available in community colleges. Some hospitals, nursing homes, hospitals and other healthcare facilities may offer their own programs, pay students while they learn, and offer the qualified graduates a position upon completion.

Nursing assistant school includes classroom study as well as hands-on practical or clinical skills. The education may focus on a wide variety of topics including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Assisting patients with activities of daily living (ADLs)
  • Tackling issues facing residents of long-term care facilities
  • Administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation to children and to adults
  • Administering basic first aid and life support to patients until relieved by a nurse or doctor
  • Taking vital signs from patients (conscious or otherwise)
  • Observing ergonomics—or safe body mechanics—of performing repetitive or stressful maneuvers (like moving or transporting a patient) to prevent injury to both the CNA and to the patient
  • Handling nutrition and feeding of patients
  • Controlling infection (including the importance and basics of hand washing, as well as more specific topics, like cleaning catheters)
  • Properly recording and reporting patient information to other healthcare professionals
  • Recognizing mental problems with patients (depression, dementia, behavioral issues whose cause may be physical in nature, etc.)
  • Caring for a patient with diabetes
  • Helping a patient perform his or her prescribed exercises
  • Observing laws and regulations regarding nursing assistants and patient rights
  • Maintaining one’s own dignity, sanity and safety while performing the above duties

Career Advancement Opportunities

Certified nursing assistants may continue with their education and become RNs or, in some cases, assume administrative roles in the nursing facilities. Opportunities for advancement could be particularly strong for those interested in working in home healthcare or community-based sites, suggests the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). CNAs who seek advanced certification, such as the certification necessary to become a Certified Medication Assistant (CMA), may also find better opportunities for advancement.

Certifications and Licensure

A career in CNA typically requires national and/or state certification or licensing. This ensures that patients, administrators and other healthcare professionals may expect the same standards of treatment and behavior throughout the region.

To become certified CNAs, candidates are typically required to:

  • Pass a criminal history check
  • Complete an accredited nursing assistant program
  • Pass the CNA examination—the written (or computer-based) as well as hands-on component. Typically both portions must be taken in the same state to ensure continuity
  • Apply to the state by filling out an application

Achieving CNA certification may be quicker and affordable than any other healthcare career. Young healthcare professionals may get opportunities early on to experience the conditions of hospital life to help them discover whether this is the field suitable for them.

Once a CNA achieves state certification and licensing, the license may be renewed every few years—typically two. This may include earning continuing education hours, which may consist of reviewing knowledge already learned, or discovering new topics, techniques or healthcare theory.

Career Outlook and Salary Information

CNAs help patients with 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.

Job opportunities for nursing assistants may be the best for those who have completed an educational program and passed the competency exam within their state, reports the BLS. Passing the state exam allows someone to be called a CNA. One factor leading to increase in job demand for CNA includes more elderly patients in need of care, including those in long-term care sites, such as nursing homes. Another factor is increasing incidence of chronic illnesses that may lead to more need for patient care.

CareerTotal EmploymentProjected Job Growth Rate
Nursing Assistants1,450,96010.9%
2018 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2016-26 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

CareerAnnual Mean WageBottom 10% Annual WageTop 10% Annual Wage
Nursing Assistants$29,580$21,290$39,560
2018 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2016-26 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

Sources

  • Nursing Assistants, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, March 2018, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes311014.htm
  • Nursing Assistants, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, February 2019, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nursing-assistants.htm

CNA Schools