What Is a CNA?

Certified nursing assistants or CNAs are the medical workers who mainly transport patients and assist with their day-to-day living in a healthcare facility or in the patient’s home. They also do tasks that do not involve direct patient care. Basically, they are assistants and are supervised by staff such as nurses.

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CNA’s At a Glance

CNA Training LocationsOther Job Titles: Nursing Aide, Attendant, Orderly
Salary Range:
$17,000-$35,000; Median $24,000
Education/Training Required:
Post-secondary certificate; on-the-job training for those not involved with direct patient care
Desired Skills/Aptitude:
Communication skills, patience, compassion
Certification/Licensing:
Certification varies among states; Typical is the CNA
Locations with Best Opportunities:
Alaska, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts
Employment Outlook:
20% growth through 2020 (faster than average)
Opportunities for Advancement:
Typically seek new opportunities in the medical field through continued education; Most do not stay in this position long; certification as a Certified Medication Assistant (CMA)

What a CNA Does

The typical duties of a CNA are:

  • Providing assistance to nurses and doctors
  • Helping patients in a home health care environment
  • Assisting patients with daily living tasks
  • Moving patients (wheelchairs, hospital beds, between bed and chair)
  • Checking vital signs
  • Serve meals to patients
  • Listen to patients

A CNA works under the supervision of a licensed medical professional such as a nurse or doctor. This is an important distinction because CNAs are not to be confused with LPNs (Licensed Nurse Practitioners). A CNA is certified whereas an LPN is licensed and must take a state licensing examination. An LPN will have more duties than a CNA however their duties will overlap in some cases.

Another scenario where CNAs are employed is in the home healthcare business. They help patients who are shut in and unable to take care of their daily living tasks such as eating, bathing, and dressing. In this situation, the CNA is probably the person a patient sees the most and is the primary caregiver.

CNAs also need to be good listeners because oftentimes a patient will express their concerns while in a healthcare facility. The patient typically does not know the difference between a CNA and other nurse employee. The CNA needs to be able to listen and relay the concerns of the patient to the appropriate staff.

The Workplace

As indicated before, the workplace of a CNA is most often in a nursing home or other long-stay healthcare facilities to include a patient’s home. They also work in hospitals. The work can be quite strenuous as well as stressful because the CNA must perform cleaning tasks such as changing bedpans and sheets that are soiled. They may have to lift patients who are heavy thus the CNA’s risk of injury is increased. Furthermore, since these facilities are a 24 by 7 operation, there must always be one or more CNA’s present to perform these tasks at all sorts of odd hours to include holidays and weekends.

Education and Certification

Many enter the field with a high school diploma but can open the door to more opportunities in the healthcare field through continued education. Those who want to have more involvement with direct patient care (with limitations) need to obtain a post-secondary certificate through a program at a community college, trade, or vocational school. Typically these programs teach the basic fundamentals of nursing and the student benefits through supervised clinical sessions.

Once they have finished their education program, they may take a competency exam as prescribed by the state where they will work. Successful passing of the exam results in certification as a CNA. Upon achieving certification, they will most likely be placed on the registry of CNAs in the state and will need to be on that registry in order to be employed by a healthcare provider. It is best to check with your state as to specific requirements.

*Salary Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2012