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Certified nursing assistants (CNAs) are responsible for some of their patientsâ€™ most intimate personal care needs. While doctors and registered nurses (RNs) tackle the higher-level and more critical elements of patient care, such as diagnosing and treating patients, CNAs are often the primary caregivers for patients who need basic assistance in meeting their daily care needs.
If you are interested in helping others on a personal level in a healthcare setting, and you donâ€™t want to spend years earning a nursing degree, becoming a CNA may help you reach your goals. In this guide, we explore how to become a CNA, including common responsibilities, work environments and qualifications for these professionals.
What Does a Certified Nursing Assistant Do?
CNAs provide care to patients and assist them with their daily activities. These professionals may work in hospitals, residential care facilities or other healthcare settings. They work under the supervision of licensed nursing staff.
While job duties may vary, typical responsibilities for CNAs may include:
- Assisting patients with bathing, dressing, grooming or using the restroom
- Monitoring vital signs, such as blood pressure and heart rate
- Serving meals and assisting patients with eating
- Turning or repositioning patients who may be confined to bed
- Transporting patients or transferring them to and from their wheelchairs and beds
- Recording information and reporting to nursing staff
- Answering patient calls
- Stocking supplies
- Caring for wounds
- Assisting with medical procedures
Where Do CNAs Work?
CNAs work in virtually any setting where patients need medical care, whether in hospitals, medical facilities or patientsâ€™ homes. These professionals work under the supervision of licensed nurses or doctors to help patients manage their temporary or long-term medical needs. Below we discuss the typical work environments for CNAs.
Skilled Nursing Care Facilities
CNAs who work in nursing care facilities help residential patients with personal care and daily living activities, such as bathing, grooming and eating. They also monitor vital signs and help patients with their mobility. CNAs in these settings may also provide residential patients with companionship and assistance with social activities.
CNAs working in skilled nursing care facilities earn a median annual salary of $35,480, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Home Healthcare Services
CNAs who work in home healthcare services allow patients to remain in their homes while receiving care. This care may include bathing, eating, grooming and using the restroom, along with monitoring vital signs and providing mobility assistance.
CNAs who provide home healthcare services may work with patients of any age, including seniors and those who are living with disabilities. These professionals earn a median annual salary of $31,280, according to the BLS.
CNAs who work in hospitals perform a variety of tasks related to assisting RNs with patient care. This may include monitoring vital statistics, repositioning patients and transferring patients between their wheelchairs and beds.
CNAs working in hospitals earn a median annual salary of $36,480, as reported by the BLS.
Assisted Living Facilities
CNAs who work in assisted living facilities help patients with basic personal care and daily living activities, such as bathing, grooming and eating. In some situations, these CNAs work with patients who are more independent and may only need help with monitoring their medical conditions, mobility assistance or light housekeeping.
The BLS reports that CNAs working in assisted living facilities earn a median annual salary of $34,600.
Government Facilities and Agencies
CNAs who work in the government sector provide personal care services and assistance with daily living activities to patients in government facilities and agencies, such as Virginia hospitals and federal correctional facilities.
These CNAs earned a median annual salary of $37,310, according to the BLS.
Steps to Becoming a CNA
Completing a CNA training program prepares graduates to work as certified nursing assistants. Each state sets different requirements for CNA training programs, so specifics may vary according to where you live. Even so, some basic requirements are common among most CNA programs.
Earn a High School Diploma or Equivalent
While many nursing careers require college degrees, such as an associate in nursing or a BSN degree, you donâ€™t need a college degree to become a CNA. In most cases, prospective CNAs need a high school diploma, a GEDÂ® diploma or its equivalent to enroll in a CNA training program.
Complete Nursing Assistant Training
You can complete your CNA training at a trade school, community college, medical facility or another training organization in your community, such as the Red Cross. Make sure to research programs carefully to make sure they are approved by your stateâ€™s board of nursing.
CNA training covers essential skills and knowledge by focusing on theory, laboratory practice and clinical experience. Later in this article, we discuss what you can expect from a CNA training program.
Pass a CNA Certification Examination to Become Certified
After you have finished your CNA training, you must pass an examination to become certified. Each state sets its own CNA test requirements through its state board of nursing. In most cases, however, you should expect a written or oral portion, plus a clinical skills portion in which you demonstrate your skills as a CNA.
The National Nurse Aide Assessment Program offers a standardized CNA test in 18 jurisdictions. Check with your stateâ€™s nursing board for more information about certification examinations.
Common Elements of CNA Training Programs
Every CNA program is different, but the following are common elements of most CNA training programs.
Theory and Lab Training
This element of CNA training teaches the essential skills needed to properly care for patients. These include how to bathe, feed and position patients and monitor their vital signs. The lab portion of CNA training provides hands-on experience by allowing students to practice these skills.
The clinical element of CNA training allows learners to work directly under the supervision of instructors who are licensed RNs. This part of the training allows students to apply the knowledge gained in their program by providing patients with care.
Salary and Job Outlook for CNAs
CNAs earn a median annual salary of $35,760, as reported by the BLS. You should be aware, though, that nursing assistantsâ€™ salaries vary depending on work setting and location.
In hospitals, for example, the median annual salary is $36,480. In home healthcare settings, itâ€™s $31,280. The highest-paid CNAs are in Alaska, where the average annual salary is $44,420. In Oregon, for comparison, CNAs make $42,960 per year on average.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About CNAs
CNAs assist nurses by monitoring patientsâ€™ vital signs and helping them with basic personal care. CNAs also provide assistance with patientsâ€™ daily living activities, such as bathing and grooming.
Is a CNA the same as a nurse?
No, the two professions are different. CNAs work as assistants in nursing settings under the supervision of nurses and other medical providers. They care for patientsâ€™ personal needs to help reduce nursesâ€™ workloads. Nurses face more stringent licensing requirements than CNAs, such as needing a degree.
CNA training programs should provide the knowledge and skills necessary to pass the CNA exam. This test should not be difficult, but if you are concerned about taking the exam, there are practice exams available online that you can use to better prepare yourself to take the exam.
How Long Does it Take to Become a CNA?
The time required to complete a CNA training program varies. These programs typically take anywhere from three weeks to three months to complete.