Certified Nursing Assistant
What is a Certified Nursing Assistant?
A Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) is a paraprofessional role specifically trained to provide basic patient care as directed by a Registered Nurse (RN) or Licensed Practical/ Vocational Nurse (LPN/LVN). This care is provided based on a patient care plan developed by the RN in collaboration with the patient and other caregivers. These caregivers are often called aides or attendants, but a CNA has additional certification beyond on-the-job training.
Quick Facts about Certified Nursing Assistants:
- 2015 Median Pay
- Number of Jobs in 2014
- Job Prospects from 2014-2024
- Much faster than average
- Projected Employment in 2024
- Projected Employment Change from 2014-2024
- Areas of Growth
- All areas of healthcare; particularly geriatric
Figure 1: Accessed online from Bureau of Labor Statistics July 2016
What does a Certified Nursing Assistant do?
The Certified Nursing Assistant provides direct, hands-on patient care and is often the person who has the most intimate contact with the patient. Depending on the facility-specific job description and the training of the individual, a Certified Nursing Assistant will do some or all of the following:
- Bathe and groom the patient;
- Turn and move the patient as indicated by the plan of care;
- Dress the patient;
- Provide other personal hygiene for the patient;
- Change linens;
- Take vital signs (blood pressure, pulse, respiratory rate and temperature);
- Work with licensed professionals to assist during medical treatments and procedures;
- Observe the patient to report changes in the patient’s condition to nursing staff.
Where do Certified Nursing Assistants work?
The Certified Nursing Assistant can work in almost any area of health care. The only limitation is that, because the CNA is a role that is dependent on others with more training and expertise, there must be a licensed healthcare provider directing the care and supervising the CNA. In general, however, CNAs can be found throughout healthcare:
- Acute care hospitals;
- Skilled and long-term nursing facilities;
- Retirement communities;
- Assisted living facilities;
- Specialty hospitals;
- Home Health agencies;
- Insurance companies
- Physicians’ offices;
- Surgery centers;
- Clinics and outpatient services.
What qualities should a Certified Nursing Assistant have to be successful?
The work of the Certified Nursing Assistant is with people during most of the 8 or 12 hour shift. Therefore, it is critical that the CNA be a compassionate and caring person. You must have excellent communication skills since you will be talking to patients, families, and other members of the healthcare team throughout your shift. The CNA must be observant and able to see small changes in patients before they become big problems. As a CNA, you must be willing to learn new skills.
The Certified Nursing Assistant must be an extremely hard worker able to spend most of an eight hour shift on your feet and moving! Since this role is the one that provides most of the direct patient care for a large number of patients, you must be very comfortable lifting and moving heavy patients. The CNA is in almost constant physical contact with other people, so you must be willing to gently touch people – sometimes in the most intimate ways such as when bathing a patient.
Finally, the Certified Nursing Assistant must be extremely patient. Many of the tasks the CNA does can cause pain if not done slowly and patiently. Since the CNA works primarily with the elderly or sick, you must remember that getting a job done well does not always mean getting it done quickly! Since the Certified Nursing Assistant spends the most time with the patient of any of the healthcare team, it is often the CNA that the patient and family remember.
How much can I expect to earn as a Nursing Assistant?
Since the Certified Nursing Assistant role is an entry-level position in healthcare requiring the least amount of training, the salary for a CNA will not be as high as for other roles. However, the CNA can expect to earn a reasonable salary. As of May 2015, the median annual wage was $25,710 with a range from $19,400 to $37,300. Of course, wages vary widely by state, cost of living, and need. In May 2015, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics showed the following as average wages for a nursing assistant by state:
Figure 2: Accessed online from Bureau of Labor Statistics July 2016
What are the job prospects for a Certified Nursing Assistant?
The need for Certified Nursing Assistants continues to be very high and will grow by 17% through 2024. Job prospects for the CNA are excellent over the next 10 years as baby boomers age, begin to develop health issues requiring personal assistance, and begin to leave the work force. As professional healthcare personnel (nurses and physicians) are pulled away from the bedside, more Certified Nursing Assistants will be needed to provide the direct care to a growing aging population.
In May 2015, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) showed the following as employment of CNAs by state:
Figure 3: Accessed online from Bureau of Labor Statistics July 2016
How can I become a Certified Nursing Assistant?
All nursing assistants must have at least a high school or general equivalency diploma. Every nursing assistant must also complete a state-approved program that varies in length but is typically 75 to 80 hours long. The location of these programs varies by locale; however, they are often found in high schools, hospitals, nursing homes, vocational schools, technical schools or community colleges.
After you complete a program that is approved by the state, you will also be required to take a competency exam. In many states, passing this exam will allow the nursing assistant to use the title Certified Nursing Assistant. The State Board of Nursing in each state may have additional requirements for certification including a criminal background check or continuing education.
Following state certification, a hiring facility may also require additional training in the facility and competency testing prior to hiring and each year after hiring. Depending on the state and healthcare type, CNAs may also be required to earn continuing education hours each year to maintain current competency.