What Does a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) Do?

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Certified nursing assistants (CNA) are responsible for providing care to patients and helping them with daily activities. This is a hands-on caregiver role providing basic health care and assistance, and it typically occurs in a nursing facility, retirement community, or hospital setting, under the supervision of a nurse. 

CNAs are licensed in the state they work in, and certification requirements vary by state. In most, though, you’ll need to pass a state-approved training program and pass an exam to receive certification. Depending on your location, the job title may vary. This means CNAs may also be licensed as a certified nurse's aide, certified nurse aide, or licensed nursing assistant.

If you’re interested in the profession, learn how to become a CNA as well as the job responsibilities and needed qualifications, education, training, salary, and job outlook.

Duties & Responsibilities

Nursing assistants help with basic care under the direction of nurses and health-care staff, and they typically work in a health-care or nursing facility. Duties include monitoring health status, assisting with meals, bathing, dressing, grooming, toileting, or ambulation of patients. Job responsibilities include:

  • Communicating with patients 
  • Measuring patients’ vital signs
  • Reporting observations of patient behavior, complaints, or physical symptoms
  • Administering medications or treatments
  • Cleaning and bathing patients
  • Helping patients with daily tasks, like getting dressed or using the bathroom
  • Providing physical support to assist patients with daily living activities
  • Transporting patients using wheelchairs, stretchers, or movable beds
  • Setting up treating or testing equipment
  • Assisting nurses and doctors with the operation of medical equipment

Most nursing assistants work full time, though some work a part-time schedule. Flexibility to work nights, weekends, and holidays may be required because health-care facilities provide around-the-clock care to patients.

Thirty-seven percent of CNAs are employed by skilled nursing facilities or nursing homes. Other employers include hospitals (27%), retirement and assisted living facilities (11%), home health-care services (5%), and government (4%).

Salary

A nursing assistant’s salary varies based on experience, certification, industry, geographical location, and other factors. As of 2020, the average nursing assistant makes the following pay: 

  • Median Annual Salary: $30,850 
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: Earned more than $42,110 
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Earned less than $22,750 

Education, Training, & Certification

Most nursing assistant positions require a high school diploma or GED as well as participation in a formal training program and state licensure. 

Education

In many locations, nursing assistants must complete a state-approved education program that includes nursing instruction and supervised clinical work. Following the program, individuals must also pass a state competency exam. In most states, a high school diploma or GED is required.

Nursing assistant training programs are available at high schools, community colleges, vocational and technical schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and other health-care facilities. Use CareerOneStop’s Local Training Finder to find a training program near you.

Training

The federal government requires nursing assistants to complete a minimum of 75 hours of training. Some states have a higher requirement for licensing. For example, Indiana requires 105 training hours, while Maine requires 180 hours.

Certification

CNAs may need a state-issued license or certification. In most states, certification is obtained after participating in training and taking a competency exam. Some states have additional requirements and certification options, too.

See the Licensed Occupation Tool on CareerOneStop for information about the certification requirements in your location. 

Skills & Competencies

In addition to having the physical abilities necessary to lift and move patients, nursing assistants also need the following soft skills to communicate effectively with patients and staff. 

  • Service orientation: This is a service-oriented role. As such, nursing assistants need to show compassion and kindness when handling patient care. They also need the patience to handle routine tasks such as cleaning, feeding, and bathing patients.
  • Communication skills: Nursing assistants require excellent interpersonal skills to communicate with patients, family, and other health-care workers. You will also need good reading comprehension skills to understand work-related documents and relay information to medical staff.
  • Technical skills: The ability to provide basic medical care, including measuring vital signs, tracking and recording food and liquid input and output, and administering medication or treatments, are requirements for this position.
  • Physical strength and stamina: Nursing assistants need to be able to lift and maneuver patients and perform other tasks that require physical strength.

Job Outlook

The job outlook for nursing assistants is strong and will continue to improve as the baby boomer generation ages. CNAs will be needed to help care for an increasing number of older patients in nursing and residential-care facilities. 

This is a “Bright Outlook” occupation, designated by the U.S. Department of Labor’s O*Net OnLine. This means the occupation will grow rapidly or have a large number of available jobs in the near future. Employment is projected to grow 8% between 2019 to 2029, much faster than the 4% average growth rate of all occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Despite challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an increase in interest in schools of nursing. In bachelor programs designed to prepare new registered nurses, enrollment increased by 5.6% in 2020.

How To Get the Job

Research

Before deciding to join the health-care industry, it’s important to do your research and understand what you may be getting into. Learn more about the job duties of CNAs, and assess whether the job is a good fit for your experience and interests. Also, look into the training and licensing requirements in your specific location.

Apply

You can go directly to the website of care facilities in your location and apply for jobs posted on their sites. Check sites like Care.com that list caregiving jobs. You can also find nursing assistant job listings on job boards such as Indeed.com, Glassdoor.com, and Zip Recruiter. Use search terms like “CNA,” “nursing assistant,” “nurses aide,” and “patient care aide” to generate a list of job openings.

Interview

Take the time to prepare for your job interviews. To do so, you can answer common interview questions on your own or practice a mock interview with a friend or family member. Be ready to share information on why you're qualified and interested in the role, as well as your availability to work.

Related Job Titles

There are a number of job titles that include nursing assistant job responsibilities. Job titles will vary based on the role, organization, nursing facility, and whether the assistant is certified, so be sure to do your research. Similar job titles include:

  • Care Assistant
  • Certified Medication Aide (CMA)
  • Certified Nurse Aide (CNA)
  • Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)
  • Direct Care Assistant
  • Direct Care Worker
  • Geriatric Aide
  • Home Care Aide
  • Home Care Assistant
  • Hospice Assistant
  • Licensed Nursing Assistant (LNA)
  • Nurse’s Aide
  • Nursing Aide
  • Nursing Assistant
  • Patient Care Assistant (PCA)
  • Patient Care Associate
  • Personal Care Assistant
  • Resident Assistant

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