Although nurses usually don’t receive the same compensation and prestige as doctors, their jobs can be equally if not more rewarding. The National Network of Career Nursing Assistants estimates that more than 4.5 million nursing assistants provide care each day and they have also found that the profession is growing rapidly. Doctors may be the patient’s primary caregiver, but it’s the nurse who interacts directly with the patient, providing as much as 80-90 percent of the direct care received by patients in long-term care facilities. Without the expertise, training, and detailed knowledge of the nurse, it would be very difficult for doctors to effectively do their jobs.

Many registered nurses (RNs) got their start as certified nursing assistants (CNAs) thanks to the relatively non-existent barriers to entry and the less demanding training program that allows individuals to get their feet wet in the nursing field and get a strong foundation of knowledge before determining their next steps. The role and responsibilities of a certified nursing assistant are hardly glamorous, but they are important, and handling some of the basic custodial tasks while working with registered nurses and doctors may help you learn a lot about the industry and what it takes to become a registered nurse.

Understanding the Role of a CNA

Click on one of the links below for more information:

What is a CNA?
CNA Job Description
Where Can CNAs Work?
CNA Classes- Getting Certified

What is a CNA?

Nursing assistants are often considered the go-between for patients and registered nurses who can’t possibly stay up to date on every patient in their care. In fact, CNAs typically work under the direct supervision of registered nurses (RNs). They report to RNs with the concerns and conditions of patients.

Although some nursing professionals see becoming a CNA as a stepping stone to a more lucrative or prestigious medical career, nursing assistants do not always want to leave the work they are doing. Nursing assistants gain valuable knowledge and experience on the job that can’t be replicated and definitely prepares them for a career in any part of the medical field but many nursing assistants choose to stay in the profession for a long time. A 1997-98 study funded by the National Insitute on Aging found that 28 percent of nursing assistants stayed five or more years in the position and that 12.6 percent of nursing assistants stay between 10 and 55 years in the position.

One might think that relatively low pay and menial responsibilities would be the main reasons why nursing assistants are so keen to look for other opportunities, but a 2011 study conducted on behalf of the Gerontological Society of America found that turnover in the profession was usually a result of either people who already wanted to leave the profession or those who were turned off by the absence of health insurance for nursing assistants. This at least shows that while nursing assistants may not have the most glamorous positions, they are usually quite happy at their jobs.

CNA Job Description

CNAs are some of the most important members of the healthcare staff. They have a number of different duties, which can vary depending on where they work. Below is a list of some of the more common CNA duties and responsibilities.

  • Monitor Patients-It is often the CNAs duties to monitor patients and clients and record their findings. This includes measuring and recording vital signs, like blood pressure and heart rates. CNAs are also responsible for keeping track of patients or clients intake and output, and alerting doctors and other registered nurses of problems.
  • Personal Hygiene-CNAs often help patients and clients that are unable to attend to their own personal hygiene as well. This often includes helping patients with tasks such as bathing, dressing, brushing their hair, and brushing their teeth.
  • Housekeeping-Patients in hospitals or nursing homes are typically never required or expected to keep their rooms clean and orderly. This is usually because many often find it difficult to move around, let alone clean. In most cases, this responsibility falls upon CNAs, who help keep patient rooms and linens neat and clean.
  • Dietary Needs– CNA plays an integral role in helping many patients eat. They may simply be required to bring meal trays to some patients, while they may be required to help other patients eat. When a patient is done eating, some CNAs are also required to record how much patients eat and how often they eat.
  • Transportation-Since many patients find it difficult to get around, CNAs are often required to help them. Depending on the severity of a patient’s illness or injury, this may involve everything from simply escorting them to pushing them in a wheelchair.
  • Exercise and Massage-Bedridden patients are at risk of developing such things as muscle atrophy and embolisms. Because of this, CNAs are often responsible for helping a patient move and exercise on a regular basis. At times, they might also be called upon to give patients therapeutic massages as well.
  • Wound Care and Prevention– Some patients – such as those who have had surgery – must also have dressings and bandages changed from time to time. Along with this task, CNAs must also periodically check for and try to prevent bedsores in bedridden patients.

Where Can CNAs Work?

CNAs can work in a variety of environments, but data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the majority of nursing assistants are working in nursing care facilities, hospitals, or assisted living facilities for the elderly. Other places they work include clinics, private doctor’s offices, and urgent care centers. Some CNAs also work as home health aides, assisting patients in their own homes.

CNA Classes- Getting Certified

Becoming certified as a CNA is not as difficult as you may think, and it does not take much time.

First, you will need to attend CNA classes which are offered by the Red Cross, at community colleges and vocational schools, or at medical care facilities such as hospitals. Keep in mind, though, that while these facilities may offer free training for CNAs, they may also require that you work there for a certain amount of time.

The training class usually lasts between four and six weeks and requires at least 160 hours of combined theory/lab work and supervised clinical training at an actual facility with the majority of the training coming at the actual facility. The goal is to prepare students to provide quality care to residents in nursing homes and also prepare them for state competency exams.

Once you’ve completed your CNA training, you will then be required to pass a CNA certification examination. This exam consists of two parts – a written part and a practical part. The written exam will be conducted in a group and usually consists of a number of multiple choice questions that you will have 90 minutes to answer. The clinical skills exam is taken one at a time with the test observer. You will likely be given four randomly selected clinical skills to demonstrate and you will have 30 minutes to complete this section of the exam.

You must pass both parts of this exam to earn your certification. Once you’ve earned your certification, you are free to pursue employment as a CNA.

Additional Resources For Nurse Assistants

  1. Labor and Employment Data
  2. Job Openings and Job Banks