What Does a Certified Nursing Assistant Do?
If you’re looking for a fulfilling job that makes a difference, then consider becoming a certified nursing assistant (CNA).
A CNA is also called a nursing assistant, nurse’s aide or patient care assistant. The name may depend on the state you work in. As we’ll explain in more detail below, each state sets the rules for training and employment of nursing assistants.
Nursing assistants provide hands-on healthcare to patients. Their responsibilities vary, from recording vital signs to helping bathe and dress patients. In some settings, they assist residents with daily living activities. CNAs ensure the safety of patients and provide emotional and psychological support.
They typically work under the direct supervision of a nurse (LPN or RN). They typically work as part of a broader healthcare team that includes doctors, nurses and therapists. Together, they help patients reach their highest level of independence. In some environments, CNAs may have more contact with patients than any other member of the team.
Certified nursing assistants often see people at their most vulnerable. Being kind while providing dignity to a patient is crucial.
This in-demand job is an opportunity to work with patients directly and make a difference in their daily lives. If this sounds like a career you want to explore, keep reading to learn more about training and other requirements.
- Clean and bathe patients while providing privacy and dignity
- Help patients get dressed
- Turn and reposition patients to help them avoid bedsores
- Transfer patients between beds and wheelchairs and help them maintain or increase their ability to walk
- Observe, listen to and document patients’ health concerns or changes in condition and report that information to nurses
- Measure patients’ vital signs, such as blood pressure and temperature
- Serve meals and help patients eat
- Administer medications (varies by state)
- Follow infection control procedures
- Help maintain a clean and organized environment
How To Become a Certified Nursing Assistant: FAQs
What steps are required to become a CNA?
Students who want to become nursing assistants must have a high school diploma or equivalent. They will complete a state-approved certificate or diploma program that includes classroom instruction and supervised, on-the-job training.
A smart first step is to look for programs approved by your state’s nursing board and accredited by the National League for Nursing Accredited Commission (NLNAC). Without these stamps of approval, you may not be able to get financial aid or take the CNA exams that allow you to work.
Technical schools, community colleges, hospitals and nursing homes offer CNA programs. These programs may also lead to placements, where nursing assistants do additional training to get familiar with site-specific policies.
In these programs, students learn a wide variety of tasks including how to safely move patients, help patients bathe, take vital signs, how to work in different settings and how to care for common conditions.
Students must pass a state certification exam, which includes a written test and a clinical skills exam. Once nursing assistants pass the exam, they are listed on their state's registry, which is required for employment in some settings, such as nursing homes.
Rules vary by state for licensing, certification and even job title. However, even in states where certification isn’t required, it’s a smart way to prove to employers that you’ve mastered the skills needed to do the job.
CNA certification typically lasts two years and may require continuing education for renewal. Nursing assistants working on some states can also earn other credentials, such as Certified Medication Assistant (CMA), which is necessary to give medications. Additional credentials include CNA II, which allows a nursing assistant to work in a hospital.
If you want to advance in the medical field, there will be opportunities to reskill or upskill. You can build on the hands-on experience of a CNA to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN/LVN) and earn a good salary bump. From there, if you’re willing to work hard, you could become a registered nurse.
The good news is there is opportunity no matter what career level feels like the best fit for you.
Are there any other qualifications?
Some employers require a background check. Continuing education is common, but the rules vary by state.
How long does it take to become a CNA?
Most programs take from four to 12 weeks.
Where do CNAs work?
They work in hospitals, nursing homes, doctors’ offices, clinics, hospice care centers, other medical settings and private homes. This level of patient care is needed at all hours of the day. Night, weekend and holiday work is often required.
What’s the job outlook?
Job opportunities for nursing assistants and all types of nurses are growing fast. Demand for this job is strong, especially in home- and community-based settings. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts at least 5% growth for nursing assistants and orderlies from 2021 to 2031.
Being a nursing assistant also offers job flexibility. CNAs can work part-time or full-time in a variety of settings.
What skills and qualities would make someone a good fit for this job?
Successful CNAs tend to possess these traits:
- Excellent communication skills
- Physical stamina to perform routine tasks
- Possess a good understanding of medical technology
- Good problem-solving skills
- Ability to adapt and improvise