What is a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant)?

CNA stands for certified nursing assistant or certified nursing aide. The official tile used does not impact what the job entails; which title is used depends on your location.

Nursing Assistant Job description

A nursing assistant can is a healthcare profession in which nursing assistants work, under the supervision of a nurse, to aide with patient care and direct healthcare needs. Certified nursing assistants are in high demand in the US, so now is a great time to invest in a CNA career.

Where do certified nursing assistants work?

A CNA can work in a wide range of places regardless of experience, but note that some employers may prefer more senior certified nursing assistants. The most common places you would work at as a CNA are:

  • assisted living facilities
  • nursing facilities
  • local hospitals
  • aide agencies

However, you may also have the opportunity to work in areas such as:

  • long-term residential facilities
  • rehabilitation centers
  • clinical facilities
  • adult day care centers
  • prisons
  • schools
  • children’s hospitals
  • group homes
  • Doctor’s offices

Also, it is worth noting that your salary may not only be dependent on your skills and experience, but also on what area you work in.

How to Become a Certified Nursing Assistant?

What skills are required?

  1. Attention to detail
  2. Verbal and written communication
  3. Consistency
  4. Interpersonal
  5. Record-keeping
  6. Knowledge of medical terminology
  7. Understanding of common disorders
  8. Proper hygiene
  9. patient care and safety
  10. patient advocacy and support
  11. confidentiality

The actual CNA program itself only takes 4-12 weeks to complete in most cases and up to 6 months in others. However, there are steps that you need to take to get to the stage of applying for the CNA program.

1. Earn your High School Diploma

As for most careers, you need to begin by obtaining your high school diploma or GED qualifications. The high school diploma should only take 4 years to complete, while the GED can take up to 4 years but potentially less.

2. Complete CNA training

After you have completed your high school diploma/GED, you should complete any form of state-approved CNA training. This can be in an online format, hospital-based, at a community college, or red cross. As previously mentioned, the training program takes 4-12 weeks to complete, but in some circumstances can take up to 6 months to complete. This should be taken into consideration when choosing a training facility.

Is the training difficult?

The training courses are designed to teach you as much about different forms of patient care and health as possible and so are known to be pretty intensive and fast-paced; however, with focus and determination, the course is manageable.

What providers offer the CNA training program?

  • American Red Cross
  • blended learning: digital and classroom
  • dynamic content
  • high-quality video content
  • expert segments
  • story-based interactive sections
  • Instructor-led: 100% classroom
  • engaging lectures
  • informative videos
  • multimedia
  • discussion
  • textbook
  • $1850 for the blended learning option*

*only option offered for September 1st 2021 start

Other providers can vary per state – potential applicants should thoroughly research training programs in their area for further details

Complete clinical requirements

During your training, you will get the opportunity to put your education to use. Your clinical placement will allow you to have an insight into what a certified nursing assistant job is really like. You will learn new CNA duties and take a look at the responsibilities a health professional has. You will be in a position in which you can shadow nurses who will show you how to perform basic tasks and procedures.

Don’t worry if this is something that you are nervous about, helping patients so soon into your training may sound intimidating but you will have a nurse to report to and plenty of resources to search through from your facility should you need them.

3. Pass the certification exams

Taking and passing the CNA certification is a mandatory requirement, your career cannot begin until you have the certification. A nursing assistant certification will not only allow for general consistency across the medical field but will make employing certified nursing assistants easier.

Section one

The first part of the exam is a written/multiple-choice format exam containing 60-100 questions. This competency exam will cover basic topics studied during your program modules.

To pass the test you usually need to achieve a score of 80%. However, some states only require 70-75% to pass.

Section two

The skills test is the second part of the exam. In this test, you will be given 30 minutes to perform and demonstrate several different skills and critical duties. The test can cover 3-5 examples of medical practices that CNAs are required to know.

The topics are chosen by the test designators from a list of 30 skills that a certified nursing assistant should be able to perform from memory. These are all skills that you would’ve leant whilst training for your degree.

Most students worry about the skills test as there is no way of knowing what skills and procedures you will be tested on. The only certainty is that the one skill everyone is required to demonstrate is hand washing. Missing out a step when performing this would result in failure of the entire test.

To make sure that you are as prepared as you can be, it is recommended that you study each skill until you are sure you can perform it on patients/residents. These skills include:

  • handwashing
  • measuring blood pressure
  • measuring and reading pulse
  • measuring body temp
  • measuring and recording respiration
  • measuring output from urinary bag
  • indirect care
  • ambulation with a gait belt
  • mouth care
  • with dentures
  • for an unconscious patient
  • feeding meals
  • toileting with a bedpan
  • foot care
  • hand and nail care
  • changing patient’s position in bed
  • transferring a residents to wheelchairs
  • changing an occupied bed
  • catheter care
  • perineal care (male and female)
  • partial bed bath
  • applying elastic support stockings
  • dressing a resident with a weak arm
  • body positions
  • supine
  • prone
  • lateral
  • Sim’s and Fowler’s
  • motion exercises
  • shoulder
  • elbow
  • wrist
  • hip
  • knee
  • ankle

For more information and state specific information, if it advisable that you find out which examination board your training facility uses as the specifics of the test can vary depending on state.

Is a Career as a Nursing Assistant a Worthwhile Career?

Job growth rate

Certified nursing assistants are growing higher in demand every year; by 2028 there will be a 9% increase in the number of CNAs needed in the US.

Being a certified nursing assistant is one of the best careers to invest in and unlike other jobs – you can be absolutely certain that you will have job security.

Salary

Certified nursing assistants can look forward to a great starting salary of $22,010, depending on location and also the specific CNA job description.

The average salary for a cna is $28,540, falling within a range of between $23,330 and $32,220, with the top 10% earning over $38,000 and the lowest 10% earning less that $20,680. Again, there are factors that can influence salary (location, sector, skill).

Salary is expected to continue to follow its current trend of increasing with the increase in national cost of living – an expected increase of 10.97% within the next five years.

Career progression

The CNA job can be used as an entry-level position in order to progress to jobs with greater responsibilities and higher salaries. The two most popular careers CNAs progress to are licensed practical nurse (LPN) and registered nurse (RN); these careers differ slightly to the CNA job description

Becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse or Registered Nurse

To become an LPN, a CNA would need to complete an LPN certification or diploma course, which are offered by private vocational schools and community colleges. The programs are full time and take a year to complete, so this should be considered before applying.

Certification

Upon completion of their LPN course, the graduate would then need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN). Those who would like to become RNs would need to complete the NCLEX-RN as well as a degree.

What are the Day to Day Duties of a Certified Nursing Assistant?

Shift times

As a full-time CNA, you will work an average of 32-40 hours a week. It should be noted that each individual facility offers different hourly options, and if you choose to work part-time, your hours will be fewer.

Common shift times are from 7am to 3pm, 3pm-11pm, and 11pm to 7am, with availability to work on the weekends.

When joining a health care facility it may be possible to negotiate your hours to fit around other commitments, such as childcare, so be sure to bring that up during your interview or application.

The work day

During your shifts working in care facilities such as nursing homes, a hospital, and other medical assistance settings, you will be required to carry out many tasks alone or assist within a team of senior nurses and other nursing assistants etc. You may be involved in personal, physical, direct care such as bathing residents, ensuring a sterile environment, serving meals etc.

Responsibilities can vary depending on your role and seniority, but the main duties carried out will be those learnt in your previous education (there are also many resources outlining the basic daily duties you will carry out in healthcare as a CNA).

More examples of duties and activities of daily living care that you may be required to carry out as a health professional include:

  • Turning or moving patients in bed or from bed to a different location
  • Gathering medical supplies such as specialist equipment and ice packs and making sure they are sterile
  • Bathing residents
  • Grooming patients by brushing their hair, teeth, shaving them, etc.
  • Feeding patients and documenting their food and liquid intake
  • Checking vital signs such as blood pressure and heart rate
  • Answering patient calls
  • Documenting personal information
  • Assist in cleaning rooms and bed linens
  • Stocking supplies
  • Assisting with some medical care procedures
  • Safety procedures are eliminating non-sterile environments
  • Transporting patients within the facility and between facilities
  • dressing and monitoring wounds
  • physical exams