CNA Job Description

CNAs, or certified nursing assistants, support patient care in healthcare facilities by interacting with patients and helping to prepare medical equipment. This position differs significantly from that of a registered nurse as CNAs are not licensed to perform many of the duties of RNs. However, CNAs do work with doctors, nurses, and patients to provide care during short- and long-term stays at healthcare facilities.

Within a healthcare facility, CNAs often have more direct patient contact than other professionals. A CNA may assist patients with everyday tasks such as bathing, eating, and dressing. They may also monitor and record patient vital signs to assist with diagnostic and recovery processes.


CNA Duties and Responsibilities

CNAs have many duties depending on the type of facility in which they work. However, most share several essential responsibilities:

Assist Patients with Daily Tasks

CNAs provide assistance to patients with everyday tasks. This can include delivering patient meals to hospital or care facility rooms, helping patients to dress, use the restroom, or groom themselves. CNAs determine the best way to help their patients, checking if they need anything to keep them comfortable and healthy.

Assess and Record Patient Vital Signs

During intake and throughout a patient’s stay, CNAs monitor and record the patient’s vital signs using a variety of medical technologies. These primarily consist of checking the patient’s pulse, breathing patterns, and blood pressure to determine whether they are within acceptable levels. Depending on the facility, a CNA may also be approved to draw a patient’s blood for further testing.

Maintain Patient Rooms

CNAs are responsible for cleaning and organizing patient and examination rooms. This can include changing linens on a patient’s bed, cleaning areas where fluids may have spilled, and ensuring that the patient and doctors have everything they need on hand at all times. For examination rooms, this may include restocking supplies, such as gloves, and following proper disposal methods for potentially hazardous materials.

Prepare and Clean Medical Equipment

In many healthcare facilities, CNAs prepare and clean medical equipment that doctors and nurses use for procedures and patient care. This can include specialized machinery and tools that are used throughout the facility. CNAs also maintain clean facilities, preventing infection by sterilizing equipment before and after use, maintaining use records, and ensuring that items are properly stored between uses.

Observe Patient Conditions and Behaviors

CNAs work closely with patients every day, contributing to long- and short-term treatment by carefully observing patients’ health and wellness from day to day. These observations include overall patient health, recovery progress after a procedure, and reactions to treatment. Additionally, CNAs update patient records to reflect new information and report any changes or potential health issues to doctors and nurses.

Communicate with Patients and Care Providers

Because CNAs spend a significant amount of time with patients, they frequently communicate with patients, doctors, and patient representatives. These communications may fall under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), so CNAs need to follow procedures regarding patient confidentiality while maintaining a flow of helpful information between concerned parties.


CNA Skills and Qualifications

CNAs work with patients day to day, supporting their health and wellbeing at a variety of healthcare facilities. CNAs typically have completed vocational training, achieved certification, and possess the following skills:

  • Medical assessment – during patient intake and continued care, CNAs assess patients’ vital signs and other health indicators
  • Patient care – exceptional patient care skills and bedside manner are important as CNAs interact with patients frequently to provide physical, mental, and emotional support and contribute to ongoing care efforts
  • Attention to detail – CNAs interact with and observe patients to find out about health changes and symptoms to report to doctors and nurses
  • Critical thinking – CNAs possess the ability to make rapid decisions and changes to care plans and routines in response to changing patient circumstances
  • Communication skills – CNAs interact with patients, doctors, nurses, and patients’ families to provide daily care and updates on health and wellness


CNA Education and Training

Generally, CNAs complete vocational training, typically at a community college or vocational school. Many hospitals and nursing homes also offer certification programs, which provide further opportunities for hands-on training and practice. Additionally, CNAs have to pass licensing and certification examinations, which vary from state to state. There are many opportunities for on-the-job-training as CNAs gain familiarity with policies, procedures, and best practices.


CNA Salary and Outlook

While CNAs’ earnings can vary depending on the setting in which they work, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides helpful salary guidelines. As of May 2017, the BLS found that nursing assistants earned a median annual salary of $27,520. The lowest-paid 10 percent of workers earned less than $20,680 per year, while the highest-paid earned more than $38,630.

The BLS expects employment for nursing assistants to grow at a faster-than-average rate of 10 percent between 2016 and 2026, particularly in long-term care facilities.


Helpful Resources

If you’re interested in a career as a CNA, we found several resources on the web to help you take the next steps:

National Association of Health Care Assistants (NAHCA) – CNAs may join this professional organization to keep up with industry developments, connect with other nursing professionals, and access educational and professional development resources.

CNA Exam Secrets Study Guide: CNA Test Review for the Certified Nurse Assistant Exam – Read this book to prepare for the CNA exam, with sample questions that cover the major responsibilities of CNAs.

Certified Nursing Assistant Guide – This post provides an in-depth exploration of the CNA’s role, with a focus on the differences between a CNA and medical assistant (MA), along with career prep information.

Mosby’s Textbook for Nursing Assistants – This book by Sheila A. Sorrentino and Leighann Remmert provides a thorough look at the responsibilities of a CNA and is packed with visual illustrations and practice scenarios for core concepts.


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