What is a CNA? | Certified Nurse Assistant

A CNA or certified nurse assistant is an unlicensed personnel healthcare worker who provides primary long-term patient care.

CNAs help patients with various health conditions and disabilities to ensure adequate medical attention and supervision.

It includes managing patients with physical injuries/disabilities, sickness, and mental illness and providing bedside and elderly care.

In short, CNAs provide better traditional healthcare to patients unable to care for themselves or manage specific day-to-day tasks.

CNAs (certified nurse assistants) also help other medical professionals perform their daily duties more effectively.

For instance, they work under the supervision of LPNs (licensed practical nurses), RNs (registered nurses), and physicians.

Finally, CNAs work in various healthcare settings, including hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and private clinics.

What Do CNAs Do?

CNAs work in diverse settings providing routine medical care to the elderly, sick, disabled, and injured and rehabilitating patients.

CNAs operate in most healthcare environments where patients require standard medical attention and supervision.

These healthcare workers perform numerous responsibilities and duties during a typical workday.

For instance, CNAs provide primary bedside care, including bathing, cleaning, and feeding patients unable to perform these daily tasks.

They also answer call buttons and alerts, report abnormal patient behavior, stock medical supplies, measure patient vitals, and assist with minor procedures.

Finally, CNAs assist patients with various offsite tasks, including escorting patients to doctor’s appointments.

A CNA’s scope of practice and responsibilities vary depending on the state and facilities’ regulations and rules.

As a result, some CNAs manage more duties than others and have distinct levels of supervision from licensed healthcare personnel.

CNA’s Daily Responsibilities Include:

  • Answer call buttons and alerts
  • Provide primary bedside care, including dressing, bathing, cleaning, grooming, and feeding patients.
  • Escort patients to offsite medical appointments
  • Help with lifting and moving patients and assisting them with their wheelchairs.
  • Monitor and report abnormal patient behavior/medical abnormalities
  • Handle and deliver medications
  • Document patient care, treatments, and procedures
  • Take and record patient health vitals
  • Empty and replace catheter bags
  • Assist with minor medical procedures
  • Maintain a sanitary and safe work/living environment
  • Cleaning medical equipment

CNAs allow LPNs, registered nurses, and physicians to perform advanced care and duties by managing many standard daily tasks.

They free up valuable time, so licensed staff can attend to more severe matters and focus on higher-level treatment and medical care.

CNAs are a critical part of the healthcare system.

Their caring hearts and attention to patient care make them indispensable assets for patients and medical staff.

Without CNAs, many time-consuming healthcare responsibilities fall on registered nurses and physicians daily.

Therefore, a lack of CNAs significantly reduces patient care, creates longer waiting times, and leaves some without medical supervision.

Unlike other medical professionals, CNAs do not possess a state-approved nursing license.

As a result, they work under the supervision of an LPN, registered nurse, or physician.

However, they are integral to the healthcare system and essential for any medical team.

Becoming a CNA is reasonably fast (10 – 16 weeks), and their training allows them to provide immediate patient care.

In turn, they can fill needed positions in various healthcare settings quickly.

Where do CNAs Work?

Certified nurse assistants work in various healthcare settings that provide direct patient care.

It includes hospitals, physician offices, community health centers, nursing homes, and long-term care facilities.

Some CNAs also work for travel agencies, government institutions, and home health aid agencies.

Occupational Settings:

  • Local hospitals
  • Physician offices
  • Community health centers
  • Nursing homes
  • Long-term care facilities
  • Assisted living facilities
  • Adult daycare centers

Essentially, you can find certified nurse assistants in many healthcare settings concentrating on long-term patient care.

The duties CNAs perform vary depending on their employer’s needs.

For instance, CNAs in private practices may perform more administrative duties, while those in long-term care facilities focus primarily on bedside care.

Nevertheless, most duties focus on supporting registered nurses, practitioners, and physicians by managing basic tasks. 

The Emotional/Social Aspects of CNA Care

CNAs manage many of the day-to-day tasks that patients need for adequate care.

However, they’re also highly aware they help people in a profoundly emotional way.

Because of the close relationship CNAs share with their patients, maintaining patient privacy is of the utmost importance.

Creating an emotional bond is extremely rewarding, and helping others who need long-term medical care is what CNAs do best.

It’s for individuals with lots of patience and a desire to provide a better healthcare experience through medical assistance and care.

Becoming a CNA is also excellent for inexperienced individuals interested in learning about the medical field.

As a result, it’s great for learning the ins and outs of patient care before investing lots of time and money into an ADN or BSN degree.

How to Become a CNA

Those interested in becoming certified nurse assistants must genuinely desire to help others with basic bedside care needs.

These healthcare providers assist patients with medical challenges so they can maintain a comfortable, healthy daily lifestyle.

It includes assisting young people, adults, the elderly, and physically/mentally ill patients requiring medical assistance.

You’ll be responsible for managing daily tasks and being patient when caring for people with various health conditions.

The following section explores the steps necessary to become a certified nurse assistant.

It includes earning a diploma or GED, joining a CNA program, passing the certification exam, and finding employment.

1. Earn a Diploma or GED

The first step to becoming a CNA is to earn a diploma, GED, or equivalent.

Accredited CNA programs will not accept students who have not received a formal high school education.

Aspiring CNA candidates must also be of legal age based on their state’s requirements.

Upon satisfying the state requirements, applicants may apply to join a CNA program. 

2. Join a CNA Program

CNA programs generally take 6 – 16 weeks to complete depending on the institution and state.

However, many programs last approximately 12 weeks for full-time students

The CNA course provides students with classroom coursework, lab practice, and field experience.

Individuals who take an accredited CNA program must have their Diploma, GED, or equivalent to qualify.

Students learn basic skills in patient care, medical monitoring, emergency life care, and the technical aspects of CNA work.

Finally, trained registered nurses or other licensed professionals may educate CNA students, depending on the facility.

Applicants can find CNA courses at participating colleges/universities, technical/vocational schools, or foundations like the American Red Cross.

Some CNA programs waive tuition if the student works at their facility for a specified time after becoming certified.

3. Pass the CNA Certification Exam

Once graduates finish the CNA program, they must take a state CNA certification exam.

The certification exam ensures graduates have adequate training and education to work competently in entry-level CNA jobs.

In addition to taking the exam, some states require students to achieve a specified number of work hours to become certified.

4. Pass a Background Check

The final step to working as a CNA is to complete a screening.

CNA candidates must pass a background check and drug screening before working for an employer.

The screening ensures CNA candidates are free of drug abuse and chemical dependencies that impede work performance.

They also look for criminal convictions, mental health ailments, and medical conditions that may impact patient care.

Minor violations like traffic tickers or juvenile offenses may not count as criminal convictions or impede hiring decisions.

In addition, some criminal offenses that transpired years ago may be expunged, sealed, or dismissed from records.

5. Find Employment

After satisfying all of the previous requirements and provisions, new CNAs may look for employment opportunities.

Obtaining employment as a new CNA with no prior career experience can be challenging.

Fortunately, numerous job boards, recruitment sites, and online resources exist to help certified nurse assistants find work.

CNAs may also want to consult their CNA training program leaders for potential job placements or recommendations.

As previously mentioned, some CNA programs provide free tuition for students who work for them after completing their courses.

These employment opportunities can benefit those looking to gain experience after quickly becoming certified.

Nevertheless, it’s vital to understand the employment arrangement before agreeing to a free tuition deal.

Breaking the program’s requirements may mean CNAs must repay their tuition in full.

Working as a CNA means you’ll spend lots of time providing bedside care and addressing primary care duties.

In addition to being mentally and emotionally strong, CNAs must be capable of lifting, moving, and cleaning patients daily.

Those working in this field purely for monetary reasons usually don’t last.

As a result, there’s a good chance this career is not for you if your heart is not in your work.

Career Opportunities

Due to various conditions, job growth for CNAs will increase significantly over the next decade.

For instance, CNAs will become more vital as people retire and depend on nurse assistants to help with daily responsibilities.

Moreover, hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and other settings will require CNAs to manage various bedside care tasks.

CNAs generally work 40-hour shifts providing lots of relief for other medical staff.

However, some CNAs may choose or be required to work part-time hours based on their personal needs or work situation.

Because CNAs provide bedside care daily, they work morning, evening, and night shifts.

They also work on weekends and holidays.

A certified nurse assistant’s schedule varies depending on their employer, hiring agreement, and personal availability.

Some CNAs negotiate specific work hours for personal or education-related activities.

As a result, they obtain more lenient schedules if the healthcare facility can accommodate their staffing needs.

For those thinking of entering the nursing field, becoming a certified nurse assistant is a great way to get their foot in the door.

It allows curious students to decide if this career path is correct before investing significantly in college and their profession.

Many healthcare professionals, like LPNs, registered nurses, and even nurse practitioners, start as CNAs.

That way, they can test their interest in the medical field to make an informed decision.

It’s a great way to enter healthcare without significantly sacrificing time, money, and attention.

Career Limitations

CNA is a great way to help others live better, healthier lives.

However, there are some limitations regarding career opportunities and salary.

Because CNAs have not received the same education and training as registered nurses, moving into more senior or specialized roles can be challenging.

In addition to this, numerous CNAs have difficulty increasing their salary significantly.

CNAs can earn bonuses and pay raises based on performance.

However, the inability to move into specialized or managerial roles limits their career opportunities.

With that said, CNAs are in a great position to help others in need of medical care, and it can be an advantageous field.

One of the most significant benefits of becoming a CNA is testing your assumptions on whether healthcare is proper for you.

Before working towards a registered nursing degree, you can quickly enter the healthcare field as a CNA.

As a result, you’ll gain critical experience and insights into what it’s like to provide direct medical care.

In turn, you’ll better determine whether nursing is the right career choice before making an emotional, financial, and time investment into an unknown profession.

How to Advance as a CNA

CNAs interested in employment progression must develop their skill set or consider higher education through an accredited institution.

Advanced professions include becoming a licensed practical nurse (LPN), registered nurse (RN), or advanced practice registered nurse (APRN).

Each career upgrade provides a broader scope of practice with more medical responsibilities and duties.

However, nurses earn higher salaries and have more career specializations and advancement choices in these positions.

For instance, certified registered nurse anesthetists earn one of the most significant incomes in all nursing occupations.

Some certified registered nurse anesthetists make several hundred thousand dollars per year.

Numerous registered nurses also earn over 0,000 per year using various strategies.

It’s achieved by picking specific fields, serving in high-paying states, and working particular schedules, including overtime/holiday pay.

The following list includes career advancement opportunities for CNAs seeking higher education.

Advanced Nursing Professions:

  • LPN
  • Registered nurse
  • Advanced practice registered nurse

Many CNAs and LPNs become registered nurses because there is a significant diversity of professions they can choose.

Registered nurses work in various settings, including neonatal care, emergency care, NICU units, and surgical departments.

They also work in non-bedside care jobs like research, forensics, education, legal consulting, infection control, and entrepreneurship.

There are over one hundred career specializations for registered nurses interested in particular healthcare fields.

CNAs interested in earning an ADN or BSN degree can look for colleges/universities offering accredited nursing programs.

Depending on the degree, it takes approximately 2 – 4 years to become a licensed registered nurse.

However, some institutions may offer accelerated/bridge programs to acquire a degree more quickly.

In this case, the institution uses a student’s prior education to reduce unnecessary coursework and provide specialized schooling.

Students who’ve satisfied prerequisite coursework or possess a bachelor’s in another profession can also utilize accelerated/bridge programs to become registered nurses faster.

Depending on the degree and education requirements, working in a particular specialization can take multiple years.

For instance, it only takes one year to become an LPN.

However, advanced practice registered nurse disciplines can take 7 – 8 years for students without a college degree.

Education Level Program Length
Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA) 4 – 12 Weeks
Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) 1 – 2 Years
Associates Degree in Nursing (ADN) 2 – 3 Years
Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) 2 – 4 Years (ADN to BSN program)
Masters of Science in Nursing (MSN) 2 – 7 Years, depending on the education level
Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) 2 – 10 Years, depending on the education level

The Importance of CNAs in Healthcare

CNAs are essential in healthcare and are the day-to-day caregivers of patients with long-term medical conditions.

In short, CNAs provide primary care and assistance to patients to improve their quality of life, mood, and daily care.

CNAs are also the backbone of successful registered nurses, physicians, and licensed healthcare professionals.

Notably, they reduce the workload of licensed medical staff.

They spend more time responding to emergencies, critical situations, and tasks requiring further training and expertise.

As the economy grows and people age, CNAs’ roles in managing patient care will expand.

As a result, their presence will become even more central to providing proper, quality patient care, especially to those in long-term care.

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