What Is a CNA?
A CNA, or certified nursing assistant, is an entry-level member of a patient’s healthcare team, performing important patient-centered tasks under the supervision of licensed nursing staff. Although a CNA is not a nurse, CNAs work very closely with nurses.
Becoming a CNA is the path that many people take to start their career in healthcare. Some may advance to further levels of nursing, while others are satisfied with the many rewards of being a CNA. In either case, it will take you an average of only 10 weeks — and possibly as few as 4 — to complete the necessary education to become a certified nursing assistant.
This page will discuss in depth what a CNA is and what a CNA does — their typical day to day responsibilities, where they work, and the types of patients they interact with.
What Does a CNA Do?
Although a CNA’s responsibilities vary somewhat depending on work setting and patient population, CNAs all have one common goal: to ensure the wellbeing of their patients. This may entail a variety of things, as explained below.
Patient care involves many things, but a big part of it is assisting a patient with daily activities. Some of the tasks might include:
- Answering call buttons and alerting nurses to any emergencies
- Monitoring patient needs and reporting any issues to other healthcare personnel
- Helping patients with their daily needs, such as eating, bathing, dressing, and using the bathroom
- Ensuring the comfort of the patient by changing bedding, filling water jugs, and positioning items so they are in reach
- Repositioning a patient in bed
- Helping a patient move from a bed to a chair or wheelchair, and back
- Assisting with lifting patients from their bed to examination tables, surgical tables, or stretchers
CNAs also perform more advanced duties — which ones will depend on the facility and state requirements. Such duties might include:
- Measuring and recording food and liquid consumption
- Accompanying patients to doctor appointments that are off-site
- Stocking or issuing medical supplies, such as dressing packs or treatment trays
- Measuring vital signs, including blood pressure, oxygen level, and temperature
- Explaining medical procedures or tests to patients and their families
- Dispensing medication
- Changing dressings or bandages
- Setting up equipment such as oxygen tents, portable radiograph (X ray) equipment, or IVs
- Assisting in minor medical procedures
One of the most important responsibilities of a CNA is to be an advocate for their patients. CNAs generally spend more time with their patients than nurses or doctors do. They get to know each patient, their typical behaviors, and their general state of health.
Because of their frequent exposure to their patients, CNAs are often the first to notice if something is wrong, either physically or emotionally. They may notice subtle, yet important, changes in a patient. For example, they may notice that a patient is eating less or more than normal, having more trouble with mobility than usual, experiencing increased pain levels, undergoing mood changes, having trouble recognizing common items or people, and so on.
CNAs are an important source of information about a patient’s condition — they may notice changes that other healthcare personnel do not.
Where Do CNAs Work?
CNAs work in various healthcare settings, including general and specialty hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living establishments, and rehabilitation facilities. In some cases, their non-routine duties may be somewhat dependent on where they work.
The patient populations CNAs work with can also vary along with work setting. CNAs in hospitals might work in wards with specific age groups, such as infants or young children. They may work in specialty hospitals with cancer patients or patients with other specific health conditions. CNAs who work in nursing homes deal with elderly patients, while those who work in rehabilitation facilities may interface with patients of all ages. And those who work in memory care facilities have the challenge of working with patients who have Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
All this means that as a CNA, you will have options. You can work in environments and with populations that you are interested in and most comfortable with.
CNA Personality Traits
After learning about the specifics of a CNA career, you might still be wondering if the job is the right fit for you. Successful CNAs often have the following traits:
- Dependability: CNAs must be reliable and responsible to complete the many tasks required to care for patients.
- Compassion: Providing an understanding ear for your patient, and caring about his or her needs, is a key part of the job.
- Empathy: You might work with people whose ages, ethnicities, or lifestyles are different from your own. It is important that you can put yourself in their shoes.
- Ability to work as a team: You will need to work well with not only patients and their families, but also with nurses, doctors, and other professionals.
- Composure: CNAs are often in stressful situations. Your ability to manage stress and stay calm will help everyone.
- Patience: It is not always easy to work with people who are hurting, scared, or frustrated about their inability to do the things that they used to do. Some patients can be demanding, irritable, stubborn, and otherwise trying. Being patient and realizing the cause of these behaviors will help you deal more effectively with patients and their families.
- Ability to communicate well: Do you enjoy communicating with others? Can you communicate clearly and effectively? This is an important requirement for CNAs. You will be communicating with a variety of people — patients, family members, nurses, doctors, and other healthcare staff. Being able to relay information in a way that is understandable and useful is a must.
- Physical fitness: While you don’t have to be a super athlete to be a CNA, keep in mind that the job of a CNA is not a sedentary one. You will be doing a lot of walking, and you may be lifting, moving, or turning patients.
- Lack of squeamishness: Your work with patients will involve dealing with personal bodily functions, as well as blood and injuries. If you are at all squeamish, being a CNA is probably not the career for you.
What Else Do You Need to Know?
Now that you’ve gotten an overview of what the job of the CNA involves, there are other things you probably want to know about the career as well. What is the outlook for CNAs? How much can I earn? How do I become a CNA? You can find answers to these questions by checking out other pages on PremierNursingAcademy.com: