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Certified Nursing Assistant Career Overview

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A career as a certified nursing assistant offers an opportunity to contribute to life-saving efforts, improve your knowledge of the healthcare environment, grow as an allied healthcare professional, and move on to more advanced roles in the field.

But every incredible journey starts with a first step. In this case, the first step to becoming a certified nursing assistant and everything that comes after is to get yourself acquainted with what the field entails in the first place.

Below, we take a deep dive into the world of certified nursing assistants, examining every crucial aspect of the profession, including duties, responsibilities, work environment, potential salary, career projection, and how to become one.

Who is a Certified Nursing Assistant?

Certified nursing assistants carry out their duties under the supervision of registered nurses. It is their job to help nurses care for patients, so they are often referred to as nurse aids or patient care assistants (PCAs).

Individuals who become CNAs often do so with one of two pathways in mind. The first is to use the role as a propeller in other advanced healthcare roles, building upon their education and certification. In the end, it becomes easier to be LPNs or registered nurses.

The second pathway is to use their time as certified nursing assistants to test the waters of the healthcare environment. Through time spent in this role, they can make a more informed decision about whether to continue their journey as an allied healthcare professional.

CNA Duties & Responsibilities

Certified nursing assistants play a crucial role in any healthcare environment they find themselves in. Among their more common duties and responsibilities are:

  • Helping with patient mobility is assisting patients who need help turning or moving safely without aggravating their conditions further.
  • Making sure medical supplies are available when needed.
  • Bathing and performing grooming actions such as brushing teeth, hair, shaving, etc.
  • Monitoring patient vitals such as heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Documenting important information, answering calls, cleaning rooms, and stocking supplies.
  • Responsible for making sure patients follow specific safety procedures.
  • They are transporting patients within the hospital or medical environment.

Work Environment

Certified Nursing Assistants are found primarily in hospitals and healthcare facilities. The most common settings are nursing homes or adult care facilities.

Data showed in 2017, for example, that of all the 1,564,200 certified nursing assistants in the country, about 38 percent worked in care facilities. You will often find them in rehabilitation centers as well, along with long-term residential care facilities.

While it is rare to find CNAs working in clinical settings, it is not impossible.

As a nursing assistant, you should be prepared to spend much time on your feet, moving or helping other people do so. In terms of work schedule, most CNAs work full-time, but it is possible to secure a part-time arrangement with your employer.

How to Become a Certified Nursing Assistant

To become a nursing assistant, you must acquire training through a state-approved training program/institution. To become a certified nursing assistant, you must complete the final step of actually getting certified.

Training Prerequisite:

To begin your training through an approved program, you must first meet the program’s requirements. While each program is at liberty to set its requirements, all of them usually have similar criteria to be fulfilled.

First, applicants must possess a high school diploma or GED or pass a reading and mathematics assessment test.

Secondly, they are expected to attend an orientation session. Other institutions like the Red Cross may also conduct background checks.

What to Expect During a CNA Training Program

Most training programs for nursing assistants aim to teach the theoretical and laboratory aspects of the job. The former involves familiarizing with the fundamentals, including roles and responsibilities, ethics, communication, safety, and transitioning from student to employee.

The laboratory aspect provides some in-person practice. There is a third aspect, the clinical aspect, wherein students experience how it feels to work in an actual clinical setting under the supervision of a registered nurse or a training instructor provided by the school.

Notable CNA Training Programs & Organizations

The American Red Cross offers one of the country’s best and most notable CNA training programs. During 4 - 8 weeks, students learn everything they’ll need to know to be successful nursing assistants.

The Red Cross emphasizes all three categories of training highlighted earlier, including theoretical, laboratory, and clinical training sessions.

There are also online training programs offered by vocational schools and community colleges that may be worth considering. These programs tend to last between 4 to 12 weeks as well.

CNA Certification & Licensing

Different states have different requirements for nursing assistants to become certified. Generally, however, the process often involves taking a written or oral exam once you complete a training program.

Certification and licensing are usually needed before a nursing assistant can practice in their desired state.

The most popular certification program for nursing assistants, which is also the most required for state licensing, is the NNAAP - National Nurse Aide Assessment Program. The NNAAP exam consists of two sections - oral and written. On the program’s official page, you’ll find resources to prepare for the tests and more on locating the examination centers in your location.

Salary & Career Outlook

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that certified nursing assistants earned an annual median salary of $30,310 in 2021. Those who made the most in the field took home as high as $44,240, while those who fell into the bottom ten percent still reached as high as $23,970.

Factors such as establishment, location, experience, and more played a role in determining which category a CNA would fall into.

The Bureau also projects a 5 percent growth in demand for CNAs between 2021 and 2031, citing worker replacement and the aging population as reasons behind the projection.