Certified Nursing Assistant: Providing Direct Care to Patients
A certified nursing assistant (CNA) offers long-term care for patients who need attention on an extended basis. They may also be referred to as nursing aides or nursing attendants in some areas of the country. Although opportunities for advancement are limited without further education, CNAs have the opportunity to build up long-term caregiver relationships with their patients.
A certified nursing assistant typically must have a minimum of a high school diploma or a GED to apply to a training program. Most courses are only a semester in length, although some may be completed in a few weeks.
CNAs that are going to work in nursing care facilities need at least 75 hours of training approved by their state board and then must pass a short examination. This is a requirement of the federal government.
State regulations vary widely for CNAs. Generally speaking, there are very few requirements for CNAs. A license is not usually required.
For employment purposes, a physical health examination or proof of one may need to be submitted. A CNA needs to be physically capable of lifting or supporting a patient on occasion. Some employers may check a CNA’s disease test results or their vaccination records. Because CNAs work with vulnerable patients, a criminal background check will be done by nearly all employers.
A CNA’s work duties can differ depending upon the facility, but they may be responsible for:
- Changing bandages, bed linens, or bed pans
- Cleaning patients’ rooms
- Helping a patient bathe
- Helping a patient eat
- Monitoring basic patient information (blood pressure, pulse rate, temperature, etc.)
- Moving a patient from bed to a wheelchair
- Supporting a patient as they walk
Most CNAs will work under the supervision of other medical or nursing staff. Those who work in a nursing facility typically provide primary care for residents. Nursing facility CNAs may build up more of a rapport with their patients because of increased time spent together. Nursing facility patients also tend to stay much longer than patients in hospitals or other medical facilities.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics is predicting an 18 percent increase in the number of jobs for CNAs from 2008 to 2018. As of 2008, about 1.5 million CNAs were employed full-time in health care.
Because of limited advancement chances and relatively low pay, the CNA profession tends to be an entry-level job more than a career for most professionals. Younger CNAs eventually take courses to become a licensed practical nurse or registered nurse if they find that they enjoy working in health care. Some may switch to another occupation. Those who are older CNAs may be returning to the work force after a career in another profession.
Becoming a certified nursing assistant is a low-impact way for professionals to enter the health care profession. The requirements are relatively low and most professionals will be able to qualify. However ambitious professionals will want to use their CNA position to become a registered nurse or other health care professional with more opportunities for advancement.