What Is a CNA? (With Salary Info and How To Become One)
Updated July 31, 2023
Health care facilities employ several types of nursing professionals to carry out a variety of duties. A certified nursing assistant, or CNA, provides basic care for patients in hospitals, nursing homes and long-term care facilities. If you're interested in pursuing a health care career as a CNA, learning more about this nursing role may help you to improve your qualifications and find the right position.
In this article, we discuss the health care role of CNAs, including what they do, how much they earn, what qualifications they have, the skills they use to succeed and some similar health care jobs a CNA might consider pursuing.
What does a CNA do?
CNAs have several duties and responsibilities in health care facilities. Although it's an entry-level position in nursing, it's often a great way to progress to other roles in the health care industry. CNAs work under the direct supervision of a registered nurse (RN) or licensed practical nurse (LPN). The CNA role has other common names, such as a nursing assistant, patient care assistant (PCA) or nurse's aide. CNAs can work in hospitals or long-term care facilities, including nursing homes.
These health care professionals also use their strength constantly as they often transfer patients from beds to wheelchairs and back again. Although some CNAs work standard daytime shifts, others work in the evenings or on weekends to provide constant coverage for patients. These nursing professionals directly work with patients and other health care professionals to perform several physical and complex tasks for them, including:
Helping patients with bathing and getting dressed
Grooming patients by combing their hair, brushing their teeth or shaving them
Helping patients eat and drink and tracking their liquid and food intake
Repositioning patients in bed
Transferring patients from a bed to a wheelchair
Measuring vital signs, such as heart rate and blood pressure, and recording observations
Cleaning and preparing rooms for new patients
Collecting and stocking medical supplies
Answering phone calls and patient calls
Documenting patient personal and medical information
Assisting RNs and LPNs with medical and patient safety procedures
Caring for wounds
The average salary of a CNA
The average salary of a nursing assistant is $42,163 per year, though this figure may be higher for those who have the qualifications to be a CNA. Other factors that can affect their salary include their location, experience, facility type and education. Some common benefits these professionals may receive include:
Flexible spending account
Health savings account
For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the link provided.
Requirements to be a CNA
CNAs generally use a combination of vocational education, on-the-job training, mandatory certification and specialized skills, including:
CNAs complete a vocational program their state approves. Depending on your state, they may enroll in a program a local high school, community college or technical school offers. Most programs include a combination of lectures, clinical experience and a practical rotation, along with a written and clinical exam. Programs typically last for a year or less and may include online components.
Most CNAs also complete on-the-job training, so they can learn the protocols and workflows that their organization follows. They generally receive their normal rate of pay during these training sessions. How long the training lasts can depend on the employer and the CNA's skills.
Related: Is It Hard To Become a Nurse?
Each state has its own requirements for CNAs. In most states, nursing aides need a certification to use the CNA title. Earning this certification also allows CNAs to be on their state's registry, which is a requirement for aides who work in nursing homes.
To earn a CNA certification, candidates typically complete an approved nursing aide program, undergo training and pass a state exam. Some states also require CNAs to complete a criminal background check to earn certification or pursue continuing education to maintain this credential.
Related: 17 Nurse Practitioner Specialties
Some of the most common skills CNAs use to excel in this position include:
Communication: CNAs are key members of health care teams, and they use strong communication skills to work efficiently with nurses, physicians and other providers. They can listen carefully to patients and colleagues, state instructions and concerns clearly and keep written records accurately.
Compassion: Because CNAs perform everyday tasks for patients with advanced age, limited mobility or serious health concerns, they frequently use compassion skills. Doing their jobs with care and sensitivity often is vital for success in this field.
Stamina: Because CNAs do much of their work while standing and perform physical tasks daily, stamina can help them stay focused and alert. Helping patients also sometimes requires them to lift patients out of and back into bed, so stamina can help them perform this task.
Read more: 15 Nursing Skills To Put on Your Resume
Similar jobs a CNA can pursue
Many CNAs specialize in one area or pursue other nursing positions. Here are some common positions for CNAs and some advanced positions to consider:
National average salary: $34,446 per year
Primary duties: Home health aides assist disabled, cognitively impaired and chronically ill people with everyday activities in their homes. Like CNAs, these professionals assist people with bathing and dressing. However, they also help with housekeeping, laundry, scheduling and grocery shopping. Many home health aides also transport their clients to medical appointments and help them connect with their communities.
Read more: Learn About Being a Home Health Aide
National average salary: $41,617 per year
Primary duties: Medical assistants support physicians, nurses and other health care providers in doctors' offices, hospitals and other facilities. They measure vital signs, document patients' health histories and assist with examinations. These health care professionals process blood samples, provide injections and give patients medications physicians prescribe. Some medical assistants specialize in clerical and administrative tasks, while others focus on clinical responsibilities.
Read more: Learn About Being a Medical Assistant
National average salary: $47,522 per year
Primary duties: Psychiatric technicians provide care for patients with mental health conditions. They monitor patients' conditions and note any concerns. These health care professionals help patients with daily tasks, like bathing and eating, and they assist with patient admission and discharge. Psychiatric technicians check patients' vital signs, give patients medications and guide patients through therapeutic activities.
National average salary: $61,350 per year
Primary duties: LPNs care for patients under the supervision of physicians and RNs. These health care professionals perform basic tasks like taking vital signs, changing bandages and helping patients bathe or get dressed. They talk with patients about their conditions and treatments, and they communicate concerns to their colleagues. In some states, LPNs also collect samples for laboratory tests, start intravenous drips and provide medications to patients.
National average salary: $93,295 per year
Primary duties: RNs coordinate care and administer treatment plans for patients. They observe patients, document their conditions, provide medications and conduct diagnostic tests. They show patients and their caregivers how to manage injuries and illnesses during treatment, and they help coordinate at-home treatments. Some RNs specialize in neonatology, public health, addiction or critical care.
For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the link(s) provided.
Frequently asked questions
Is a CNA a type of nurse?
CNAs work in the nursing field, but they're not nurses. Aspiring nurses may start as CNAs to gain care skills and clinical experience, but CNAs are unable to administer medications, dress wounds and set up IV fluids.
What's the fastest way to become a CNA?
If you want to start working as a CNA as quickly as possible, take an accelerated CNA program. Accelerated programs can prepare aspiring CNAs to take their licensing exam in just two to four weeks. Requirements vary by state, so check local guidelines to learn how many hours of classroom and clinical training are mandatory where you live.
Is being a CNA stressful?
CNAs often handle high-stakes situations, and working with patients can require concentration and attention to detail. When working as a CNA, it helps to develop effective emotional management techniques and develop healthy habits outside of work. While a CNA's daily tasks can be emotionally and physically tiring, many people also find it rewarding to provide direct care to people in need.
How is being a CNA different from being an RN?
CNAs work under supervision. They take instructions and perform various duties according to nurses' and physicians' needs. RNs make more independent decisions and fulfill a wider range of responsibilities.
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