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What is a CNA

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Certified Nursing Assistant: an Important Part of the Healthcare Team

A CNA is a certified nursing assistant. The CNA assists patients or clients with health care needs and works under the supervision of a Registered Nurse (RN) or a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN). Certification requirements can typically be completed in under two months, enabling you to get to work quickly in a new career.

Job Description

CNAs help patients be as independent as possible but assist with basic daily care as needed. This can include feeding, dressing, showering, toileting and mobility. Sometimes help with light housekeeping is necessary.

CNAs change dressings, place catheters and administer medications under a nurse's or physician's supervision. They check vital signs and ask patients questions to prepare the briefs that will make the nurses' and physicians' visits with the patient more efficient. CNAs ensure every patient’s file is up-to-date, which is essential for other members of the health care team as well as for the medical billing and coding specialists.

Education Requirements

To become a CNA, you need a high school diploma or GED and successful completion of a training program that's approved by your state’s nursing board. Classes are offered by the American Red Cross, community colleges and vocational schools. Some medical care facilities offer free training with the requirement that you work at the facility for a specified period of time afterwards. The training period is short, typically four to six weeks, and includes approximately 160 hours of classroom instruction and supervised clinical training at a health care facility. After completing the training, you must pass the two-part CNA certification exam. The written portion consists of multiple choice questions. The clinical skills portion requires you to demonstrate three or four skills randomly selected by the test observer. You must pass both parts of the exam to earn your certification.

The Industry

CNAs work in a variety of settings, including nursing homes, adult day care centers, hospitals, assisted living facilities and private residences. Opportunities are available for full- and part-time work. Because patients often need round-the-clock care, second- and third-shift positions are commonly available. Most employers offer an hourly increase for work at night and on weekends. The strong demand for CNAs means that some facilities offer signing bonuses. Location also matters; CNAs typically earn more in regions with a higher cost of living.

Years of Experience

The average pay for a CNA is $11.68 per hour, or $24,294 annually. Salaries do not change much with more experience. Based on the number of years in the field, a CNA can expect to earn:

  • 0‒5 years: $23,000 per year
  • 5‒10 years: $25,000 per year
  • 10‒20 years: $26,000 per year
  • 20+ years: $28,000 per year

Job Growth Trend

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that demand for CNAs will increase by 21 percent over the next decade. As the Baby Boomer generation ages, there will be a greater elderly population in need of the services that CNAs can provide. Turnover in the field is high, since many CNAs return to school to become LPNs or RNs.


Denise Dayton is a a freelance writer who specializes in business, education and technology. She has written for, Library Journal, The Searcher, Bureau of Education and Research, and corporate clients.

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