A career as a Certified Nursing Assistant can be highly rewarding, both intrinsically and financially. If you have a notable interest in science, possess excellent critical thinking skills and are drawn to the field of healthcare and the idea of helping others, becoming a Certified Nursing Assistant might be the ideal career path for you.
The following guide provides a comprehensive overview of the career of a Certified Nursing Assistant, complete with educational and experience requirements, job outlook and salary potential.
What is a Certified Nursing Assistant?
A Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) is a trained nursing professional that helps patients with their healthcare needs, under the direct supervision of a Registered Nurse (RN) or a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN). CNA’s may also be known as Patient Care Assistants, Nurse’s Aides or Nursing Assistants.
Aspiring nurses who opt for this credential may be looking for advanced study options in the future, such as becoming an LPN or RN. Others might be interested in this qualification to get an idea of the overall field of nursing and if they want to continue to the next step in their healthcare education journey. Often, CNAs may already be enrolled in a nursing school program and might use this career as an opportunity to get some real-life healthcare industry experience.
What Does a CNA Do?
Certified Nursing Assistants can help in the smooth operations of a medical facility by helping nurses that have multiple complicated cases on their hands. CNAs may be responsible for a series of basic medical tasks, such as turning or repositioning patients, obtaining vital signs, bathing patients, compiling relevant documents and paperwork, feeding patients, cleaning rooms and bed linens, helping with medical procedures, dressing wounds, answering patient calls or bells and preparing room for admissions etc.
Certified Nurse Assistants work with patients of all age groups and abilities. The type of patients they work with and the amount of involvement they have in their treatment plan depends on their skill set.
Primary Responsibilities of a Certified Nursing Assistant
While the job description of a CNA can be quite vast, the primary responsibility of a Certified Nursing Assistant is helping patients with daily life activities such as bathing, toileting, grooming, moving and eating. Their main job is to make sure that patients under their care are comfortable and well-taken care of. They also perform a number of other tasks such as maintaining clinical records and documenting patient condition over time.
Where Do CNAs Work?
- A vast majority of Certified Nursing Assistants work in nursing facilities, though there are opportunities in other healthcare facilities as well. CNAs are required by medical facilities on a 24/7 basis, which is great if you are looking to put in some over time or extra shifts.
- According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the industry with the highest number of Nursing Assistants was Nursing Care Facilities (Skilled Nursing Facilities) with an employment of 527,480 in May 2020. This was followed by General Medical and Surgical Hospitals, with an employment of 374,770. Other top employers for Nursing Assistants include Home Health Care Services and Individual and Family Services.
- Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) may be able to find work in hospitals, nursing homes, home health care services, assisted living facilities, adult day care centers, schools, clinics and offices of physicians. Their job description would vary according to the requirements of the place of employment.
Why Become a CNA?
Becoming a Certified Nursing Assistant comes with a lot of benefits, and certain drawbacks as well. Let’s take a look at both sides of this career to help you make a well-informed decision.
Advantages of Becoming a CNA
- In addition to allowing you to grow personally and professionally within the field of nursing, becoming a CNA offers great job stability, since these nursing professionals are always in demand. Healthcare facilities all over the US are always in need of trained nursing assistants to take care of basic medical tasks. Even if you choose to relocate, you can easily find a job in a new location as well.
- The career of a CNA also offers a lot of flexibility in terms of what kind of work environment and work timings work best for you. Since most CNA positions require 24/7 work, candidates can choose shifts that work well with their pre-existing schedules. This freedom can help make achieving work-life balance a lot easier.
- Working as a Certified Nursing Assistant can be highly gratifying and enriching, especially for those who enjoy helping others. You will have a chance to impact the lives of people based on the quality of care you provide. Working closely with patients will allow you to build meaningful relationships with the community around you.
- Furthermore, becoming a CNA is considerably more affordable than other nursing professions. Since this is a basic level nursing credential, you will not have to spend a lot to clear the education, experience and licensure requirements.
- This field also offers numerous opportunities to specialize as the job market is quite vast and consistently growing. The number of jobs for Nursing Assistants in the US in May 2020 were a massive 1,371,050, and this number is not expected to slow down anytime soon. With such a huge number of jobs, there are countless opportunities to specialize in an area of your interest. Candidates can choose from concentrations in geriatrics, home care, psychiatry, paediatrics and cardiology.
Disadvantages of Becoming a CNA
- While there are certainly many advantages to becoming a Certified Nursing Assistant in the US, there are several disadvantages as well. Let’s take a look at some of these.
- The salary of a Certified Nursing Assistant is considerably lower than that for Registered Nurses or the average for healthcare professions in the US. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nursing Assistants made an annual median income of $30,850, as compared to Registered Nurses, who made $75,330 in May 2020.
- Furthermore, there is little room for advancement as a CNA if you do not go for further education and training. Advancement opportunities are available in the form of CNA-to-LPN and CNA-to-RN bridge programs.
- The job of a Certified Nursing Assistant can also be very physically and emotionally demanding. In addition to that, working conditions can be challenging too as nursing assistants are often required to do unpleasant jobs like handling body fluids, changing bed sheet and emptying bed pans.
How to Become a Certified Nursing Assistant?
In order to become a Certified Nursing Assistant, there are a series of educational and experience requirements you will need to meet. The following are the steps to become a CNA:
This is the minimum level of education required to enter the field of nursing. Students are encouraged to pay special attention to science subjects while in school.
Aspiring CNAs will then have to complete a state-approved CNA training at a local hospital, community college or organizations such as The Red Cross. Most CNA programs can take around 1 to 4 months to complete, depending on the institute and the mode of study. During a CNA program, you will study topics such as medical terminology, pharmacology, physiology and anatomy.
Before entering the professional field of CNAs, students will have to complete certain number of hours of clinical requirements. CNA students will have to work under the direct supervision of a trained medical professional, such as a registered nurse. This exercise will give CNA graduates a direct and useful exposure into the field of nursing. They will be performing simple tasks such as recording vital signs, providing patient comfort or changing bedding.
Once the certification exam has been cleared, you will get listed on your state’s CNA registry and will officially be eligible to work as a nursing assistant. The purpose of this certification is to ensure consistency in healthcare provision across the field of medicine. Details of the certification requirements may vary by state, but in most cases, students will have to clear an exam that consists of multiple choice questions, along with manual skills testing.
How Much Do CNAs Make?
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Certified Nursing Assistants in the country made an annual median income of $30,850 in May 2020. The top paying industries for Nursing Assistants were Junior Colleges with an annual mean wage of $49,250, followed by Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools, with an annual mean wage of $44,870. Other high paying industries includes the Scientific Research and Development Services and Outpatient Care Centers.
The top paying states for Certified Nursing Assistants were Alaska, with an annual mean wage of $42,500 and New York, with an annual mean wage of $40,620. CNAs working in California, Hawaii and Massachusetts also enjoyed high salaries.
All of the above salary data has been extracted from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, for the occupational category of Nursing Assistants in May 2020.
How Much Does it Cost to Become a CNA?
The cost of becoming a CNA would depend on a number of factors and would vary from school to school. Students can expect to pay several different kinds of fees, including the basic tuition fee and other fees such as technology fee, campus access fee, and student support fee, books and supplies cost. The average cost for an out-of-state program for aspiring CNAs is more than $2,000, while in-state programs are typically less expensive, ranging around $1,300. Please note that these are just estimated costs, exact fee structures would depend on the school you attend.