Certified Nursing Assistant Job Description

A certified nurse assistant often serves as the primary caregiver for patients on a day-to-day basis. In many settings, the CNA provides more hands-on patient care than either the RN or LPN. CNAs help patients perform routine daily activities such as walking, eating, bathing, and using the restroom. Providing this level of direct care means that certified nursing assistants must be compassionate and empathetic, with a genuine interest in helping others. CNAs improve the basic quality of life of those suffering from chronic conditions, old age, and injuries.

CNAs must possess the technical skills that enable him or her to master the various types of software and medical equipment required in a hospital setting. They learn to use this technology and software through both formal and on-the-job training before entering the workforce.

The most valuable asset that a CNA should possess is the ability to communicate at an optimum level, so he or she can work with patients, their families, and medical staff to ensure excellent patient care. CNAs use their communication skills to build a good rapport with patients and their families and to communicate patient concerns with supervising nursing staff.

During the course of a normal workday, a CNA may dress, feed, and bathe patients. Additionally, CNAs collect information, take vital signs, transport patients, lift or turn patients who cannot move themselves, change bedsheets, answer patient calls, and examine patients for physical symptoms. CNAs report new information to RNs and LPNs as to the status of the patient’s condition, so the nurse can remain aware of the patient’s progress.

CNA Program Description - What You'll Learn

During CNA classes and training, nursing assistants learn the hard skills necessary to be successful at the job, including the fundamentals of patient care, communication, and how to supply the basic needs of patients in various types of health care facilities.

Patient Safety & Cleanliness

In classes that teach patient safety and cleanliness, prospective CNAs study a wide variety of topics, including infection control, hand-washing, transfer belt placement, how to clear an obstructed airway, infectious disease control, what to do in an emergency situation, and how to handle at-risk patients.

In addition, patient safety and cleanliness classes teach CNAs how to identify potential hazards such as poor lighting, cluttered hallways and rooms, unsafe electrical equipment, unlocked wheelchairs, and other common safety hazards. Students also learn safe body mechanics to help them avoid injury and prevent accidents when handling patients during the course of their daily tasks.

Professional Communication Skills

Communicating effectively in a hospital setting or nursing home setting differs from everyday conversation. CNAs must learn to speak slowly and clearly so residents can understand. Non-verbal communication is just as important as verbal communication, so CNAs also must learn how their actions can be interpreted by patients.

CNAs are taught to use a pleasant tone of voice and choose their words carefully when interacting with patients. Additionally, CNAs learn how to listen to residents; listening is critical to ensure proper patient care. Many patients don’t understand the hierarchy of nursing staff when they’re hospitalized, and they often will try to communicate important health information with nursing assistants since these are the individuals who attends them most frequently.

Basic Needs

Nursing assistants must meet their patients’ basic needs throughout their day-to-day interactions with them. To do so, nursing assistants are trained in how to accommodate patients’ essential needs, including the provision of food, air, rest, activity, water, and stimulation. Patients also need to feel safe, secure, loved, and accepted during a period in their lives when they are extremely vulnerable as a result of age, illness, or injury. Some patients have conditions that make it difficult for them to have their basic needs met. It is the job of the CNA to ensure that patients receive the care they need to survive and enjoy good quality of life while in the care of the nursing or medical facility.

Activities of Daily Living - Personal Care

During a normal workday, a CNA has different tasks when providing basic patient care. They give back rubs, bed baths, denture care, fingernail care, hair care, foot care and more. Bed sores are normal in residential facilities, and nursing assistants must know not only how to treat them, but also how to prevent patients from developing the sores.

Activities and Exercise

CNAs must understand basic patient body mechanics and exercise principles, as well as rehabilitation methods. They must be trained in how to assist patients during their rehabilitation activities, such as walking with a walker or cane, getting into bed, and exercising. During training, the CNA also learns how to use a mechanical lift, move a patient safely into bed, and prevent accidents during patient exercise and treatment.

Food and Fluids

CNAs ensure that their patients eat safely and receive proper nutrition during their stay in a nursing facility or hospital. Accordingly, aspiring CNAs learn how to monitor fluid and food intake. They also learn about the different types of diets and nutrients that their patients’ bodies need to sustain life, recover their health, and remain healthy. During their studies, prospective CNAs learn about the food pyramid, how dental health affects diet and overall well-being, and how to ensure that patients receive appropriate nutrition even when physical, emotional, and spiritual factors affect their food intake.


All CNAs must learn about patient digestion and elimination, how it occurs, factors that may affect digestion and elimination, and how to help patients manage their elimination challenges. In classes that cover elimination topics, aspiring CNAs learn how to assist residents with bedpan usage, catheter insertion and maintenance, and use of a urinal, toilet, and drainage bag. CNAs also learn how to measure output of waste matter, often a key indicator of health. Elimination is an especially important topic for CNAs who work with the elderly and in nursing homes, because elderly patients who struggle with incontinence often become socially isolated, which can negatively impact their quality of life. Nursing assistants must help them manage incontinence so they will continue to socialize.

Vital Signs

Taking a patient’s “vital signs” is, in layman’s terms, the measurement of the functioning of the organs that enable life. CNAs must be able to check vital signs so they can identify problems and alert nurses and other medical staff to any changes. CNAs also must observe patients over a period of time to observe patterns and developments. In classes, prospective CNAs learn the body’s normal vital statistics, how to take those statistics, and when to seek assistance. In addition, CNAs will learn how to monitor vital signs in real-life scenarios.

Special Procedures

In many health care facilities, CNAs must care for patients who have undergone special procedures such as intubation, i.e., the insertion of a tube through which the patient receives oxygen and nutrients. Future CNAs must also be taught to care for patients who have had a stoma procedure, including monitoring the patient’s intake and output. Although CNAs do not put these tubes into place, they must monitor patients who have had these procedures and report changes to their supervising nurse.

Mental Health

While in the hospital or nursing home, many patients struggle with mental health issues. As a result, CNAs must learn how to recognize the symptoms of common mental health issues such as depression, dementia, and problems caused by stress or anxiety. Clear, coherent communication, open body language, and soothing words often help patients feel calmer and more relaxed. In addition, CNAs must know how to help patients who are suffering from age-related confusion or dementia. CNAs who know how to manage these types of problems are especially valuable, and therefore, highly desirable, in nursing home facilities.

Become a Nurse Assistant that Employers and Patients Love: The Important “Soft Skills”

CNA training teaches the technical parts of the job, but a good CNA must develop certain “soft skills” that often are not taught in classes. Specifically, a good nursing assistant will possess compassion, flexibility, attention to detail, and a number of other personality traits often developed over time. Nursing assistants work hard in difficult environments, often surrounded by patients who are suffering from various ailments and injuries. CNAs can expect to encounter many challenges during their daily routines as they seek to improve their patients’ quality of life.


People who require the services of a CNA are sick or in pain, or they are no longer able to care for themselves. Treating patients with empathy and compassion helps to reduce social isolation, depression, sadness, and anger. To recover their health, patients need to feel as if they are understood, loved, and surrounded by individuals who truly care about them and their well-being.

A certified nursing assistant demonstrates compassion in many ways, through acts of kindness, gentle words, and non-verbal cues. Sometimes, the CNAs may simply take the time to listen to their patients to understand their feelings. Showing compassion comes more easily with time spent on the job, but to gain confidence and develop these skills, many entry-level certified nursing assistants are mentored by senior-level CNAs for a period of time.

Ability to Adapt

CNAs work in environments that often change rapidly and radically throughout the day. While the everyday activities in a nursing care facility may be routine-based, with many tasks performed on a regular basis, patient needs can change dramatically and without warning. A good CNA must be capable of recognizing developments in patient needs and have the ability to adapt and react quickly to new and unusual situations. While the appropriate training helps a CNA develop confidence in altering situations, no amount of education can prepare a CNA for every scenario that he or she will encounter on the job. CNAs must have common sense, flexibility, and the ability to stay alert while on the job to adapt to new situations as they arise.

Having the ability to adapt helps nursing assistants assist patients experiencing medical or psychiatric emergencies. CNAs also need to be flexible to handle a variety of different requests from supervisors and other staff members in the medical facility.

Healthcare is a rapidly evolving industry. To keep up with these changes, CNAs must have the ability to adapt to new situations daily, and, often, several times during a typical workday.

Every day is different in a health care setting. Patients are all different, and they experience problems unique to them. Additionally, technology evolves continually, and CNAs must stay current with updates and innovations. One day, a CNA may perform routine patient care, while on other days, he or she may spend the day completing paperwork. CNAs must be capable of handling a variety of responsibilities while still providing consistent, high-quality care.

Team Player

Establishing good working relationships is important. A typical health care facility requires that all staff members work as members of an interdisciplinary team. Nursing assistants who can work well with other members of the team provide better patient care, which leads to improved patient outcomes. Nursing assistants must use their communication skills, positive attitude, and cooperation abilities to work effectively with nurses and other medical staff.

Strong Communication

During a typical day, a nursing assistant speaks with patients and their families, doctors, and nurses, as well as with hospital staff and administration. In all these situations, the ability to understand and be understood is critical. CNAs must be able to comprehend and then explain, in simple layman’s terms, both basic and complex medical and health information, give clear instructions to patients, demonstrate compassion to those who are sick and injured, and interact patiently and effectively with families during situations when they often are experiencing overwhelming emotions. Mastery of both verbal and body language during these encounters is critical.

Strong Work Ethic

At any location and with any type of patient population, nursing assistants perform difficult, often physically and mentally intensive work. In a normal workday, a nursing assistant must be willing and able to move and transport patients, help patients exercise, and manage other basic tasks. CNAs also must be able to think critically, solve problems, and meet patient needs. Good nursing assistants need energy and a positive attitude to help them get through each day.

Attention to Detail

Accuracy while completing paperwork, carrying out basic tasks, and communicating vital statistics to other medical staff is extremely important. Nursing assistants must focus on critical details to avoid potentially dangerous mistakes and help ensure patient safety.


Nursing assistants often work in challenging situations. Throughout a typical workday, a certified nursing assistant takes orders from supervisors and works closely with sometimes difficult patients. A good CNA must display patience, calm, and understanding while conducting all of his or her basic tasks.

Positive Thinking

Often, nursing assistants work in challenging environments among patients in varying stages of injury or illness. CNAs who work in nursing homes spend their days in facilities where residents are often in mental and physical decline, an environment that can lead to the caregiver’s experiencing feelings of despair and stress. An ability to maintain a cheerful, positive attitude is vital in these circumstances.

A successful CNA has the ability to feel hope and optimism even when a situation seems futile or even impossible, which affects the CNA’s decisions and problem-solving skills. Nursing assistants who believe a solution to any problem is at hand will find it easier to reason through challenges and devise creative solutions.

Nursing assistants play an essential role in patient care facilities all across the country. CNAs who want to be of value to their employers must work closely with other health care professionals and patients of all ages and backgrounds to provide an optimum level of patient care. Studying to become a CNA takes hard work and perseverance, but this hard work pays off after graduation.

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