A certified nursing assistant (CNA) works in the health care field under the direct supervision of a registered nurse (RN) and/or licensed practical nurse (LPN). He or she performs the basics of patient care including hygiene, moving and transferring patients, and taking vital signs. Certified nursing assistants can sometimes be referred to as nurse’s aides, nursing assistants, and unlicensed assistive personnel (UAP).
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median hourly salary for a certified nursing assistant/nurse’s aide was $11.46 in May of 2008. The top 10% earned more than $15.97 an hour and the bottom 10% earned less than $8.34 an hour. The average hourly earnings for CNAs who work through employment agencies and hospitals were higher than those who worked at elder community care centers and home health aide services.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Job Description and Outlook
A certified nursing assistant is responsible for patient care as directed and overseen by a registered nurse and/or licensed practical nurse. CNAs are required to assist patients with feeding, bathing, dressing, and grooming, as well as performing perineal care and oral hygiene. They also assist patients with transfers between beds and chairs, turning schedules, and making beds with and without the patients in them. CNAs may also be required to obtain patient’s vital signs: blood pressure, temperature, respiratory rate, and pulse rate. But because the CNA is not a registered nurse, he or she cannot make decisions on patient care based on the results of vital signs.
The certified nursing assistant has a very physically demanding job. This is why it is imperative for CNAs to properly lift equipment and patients to avoid back injuries, a common occurrence for workers in this field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports certified nursing assistants have some of the highest rates of illness and non-fatal injuries for all occupations. CNAs also find themselves standing for many hours, so comfortable footwear would be advised.
CNAs can work in hospitals, nursing homes, hospices, day care services, home health care agencies, and assisted living facilities.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the demand for certified nursing assistants will grow faster than average and there will be excellent opportunities for employment in the future. As more baby boomers become senior citizens, the demand for services for the elderly will increase. Since many certified nursing assistants work at nursing homes, elderly care facilities, and as home health aides, their necessity will be invaluable.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Training and Education Requirements
Training to become a certified nursing assistant can be completed through programs available at high schools, vocational schools, hospitals, and even some community colleges. Students in CNA training programs receive the basic education in anatomy and physiology, nutrition, body mechanics, and handwashing/infection control before moving onto patient care skills. These skills involve feeding, bathing, transferring, and performing oral hygiene on patients. CNA training also involves learning how to take vital signs. A certified nursing assistant should have good communication skills, respect for their patients’ rights, and patience. Once the training program is complete, students must take and pass a state exam before being becoming a certified nursing assistant.
For work in nursing homes, the Federal Government requires a mandatory 75 hours training program and a passing grade on the competency test before awarding a license to practice as a certified nursing assistant.
Some states have what is known as an alternate route program to obtain CNA licensure. With alternate route programs, students can submit school transcripts to their state’s Department of Health as proof of successfully completing a fundamentals of nursing course and qualifying them to sit for the CNA license exam. These students tend to be in RN or LPN training programs and are looking for an opportunity for paid work experience while completing their higher education.
In addition to training and education, prospective CNAs must also undergo a police background check with fingerprinting, be in good health, have proof of up to date vaccinations and TB testing before receiving their license.
When students complete a certified nursing assistant training program, they are expected to take a competency exam. If the student completes the test with a passing grade, he or she is awarded a license to practice as a certified nursing assistant. Each state may have its own additional requirements when applying for a CNA license, so students are responsible for contacting their state’s Department of Health for more information regarding CNA licensure. A CNA who is certified in one state and moves to another state is also responsible for contacting that state’s Department of Health to obtain information on reciprocity and equivalency.
Some individual states have their own professional associations for certified nursing assistants and caregivers like Georgia and Florida. CNAs also can join the following national professional associations:
- National Network of Career Nursing Assistants www.cna-network.org
- National Association of Health Care Assistants www.nahcacares.org
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