What Does a Nursing Assistant (CNA) Do?
Are you interested in exploring medical careers? The healthcare industry is currently the 3rd biggest in the U.S. and is expected to grow even larger as demands for patient care rise.
One of the best ways to enter the industry is by becoming a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant). A nursing assistant has an important role in healthcare, but this role doesn’t demand years of schooling and student loans.
What does a CNA do? Is becoming a CNA the right healthcare career for you? There are many nursing roles and levels to keep sorted, so picking the best one can be tough.
Luckily, a CNA job will help you become familiar with the industry first-hand. Read on for our comprehensive nursing assistant guide, and learn how this rewarding job can take your career planning to the next level.
What Is a Certified Nursing Assistant?
CNAs are entry-level for healthcare careers. They assist their healthcare teams with patient care. CNAs generally work under the direction of a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) and/or Registered Nurse (RN).
Nursing assistants are integral to a healthcare team’s success. Patient care facilities rely on CNAs to ensure their patients are safe, hygienic, and have all their basic needs addressed.
Without CNAs, LPN and RNs would have too many additional tasks and duties to perform on their own. Patients would also lose an important advocate for their comfort and rights.
What Does a CNA Do?
CNAs can work in many different healthcare settings. These include:
Retirement and nursing homes
Assisted living facilities
Clinics and private practices
Substance abuse centers
Travel healthcare agencies
Obviously, your assistant tasks can change depending on where you work. CNAs are limited on what patient care they can perform in any setting, however, so many skills and duties will be similar.
Nursing Assistant Skills
CNAs rely on a range of technical and soft skills. Your soft skills will be just as important as your technical ones. For example, you may have to calm an anxious patient while taking their blood pressure.
Technical skills include:
Taking vital signs
Nutrition and feeding
Exercise and rehabilitation
In many cases, your technical skills will assist patients with tasks or self-care. This can include helping them brush their teeth, take a bath, or walk around the facility.
Soft skills include:
Attention to detail
Interpersonal skills (empathy, active listening, etc.)
Interpersonal skills will help you address your patient’s mental and emotional needs. This includes treating them with empathy and respect. This will also help you become a better patient advocate.
Nursing Assistant Duties
In addition to assisting LPNs and RNs, a nursing assistant is responsible for their own patient care tasks. These include:
Providing care items
Dressing or changing bandages
Assisting patients with tasks
Answering patient requests
Observing patient health and vitals
Adding info to reports and documents
Keeping areas free from hazards
Moving and transporting patients
Patients rely on you for their day-to-day comfort and routine tasks. Nurses and doctors rely on you to keep an eye on a patient’s physical and mental health and notify them of any warning signs or changes.
When you become a CNA, you take on many indispensable roles and responsibilities. There are many benefits to your career, however, that reward you for your hard work.
Becoming a CNA
CNA qualifications are simple and fast compared to other medical careers. There are only a few basic steps to becoming a CNA:
Complete a training program
Pass the CNA exam
Apply for an official license
CNA certifications and licensing are managed at the state level. States can have different criteria for training hours, license applications, etc. Be sure to look up your state-specific information on its official .gov site below:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
CNA certification programs can take as little as one to four months on average. You must have a high school diploma or equivalent to qualify for admission.
There are many organizations that offer CNA programs, from community colleges to hospitals and care centers. Always make sure your prospective program is approved by your state nursing board before paying for classes.
Your coursework will consist of classroom instruction and practical labs. You may have the option to take the coursework portion online, but the labs must be completed in person.
There are nine main knowledge and skill sections on the CNA exam:
Activities of daily living
Basic nursing skills
Emotional and mental health needs
Legal and ethical behavior
Members of a healthcare team
Spiritual and cultural issues
You must know more than performing basic technical skills for physical and medical needs. As a CNA, you will also use interpersonal skills to meet the emotional and mental needs of patients as well.
1. Activities of Daily Living
Activities of daily living will cover the daily activities you perform while assisting patients. These include feeding, hygiene, and exercise. It’s important to assist patients while respecting their autonomy, dignity, and comfort.
2. Basic Nursing Skills
Basic nursing skills include the routine tasks all nurses perform. For example, everyone must observe proper handwashing techniques to prevent the spread of pathogens. Other basic skills include taking vitals and wearing the proper PPE gear.
3. Client Rights
Client rights are critical to CNAs. Your close work with patients means you are their first line of defense. Along with basic comfort and respect, you must ensure your patients’ rights to privacy, confidentiality and other legal protections are respected.
Communication skills may seem obvious, but even small mistakes can result in harm. It’s critical to maintain clear and concise communication between you, your patients, and your team. This includes both oral and written communication.
5. Emotional and Mental Health Needs
Emotional and mental health needs are just as important as physical needs. Some patients will have mental health disorders, while others will have anxiety and stress related to their care. CNAs assist with their treatment and comfort.
6. Legal and Ethical Behavior
Legal and ethical behavior is especially crucial in healthcare. Patients are vulnerable to abuse, neglect, and malpractice. CNAs must make sure facilities respect their patients and their rights over profits.
7. Members of a Healthcare Team
Healthcare teams have various roles and responsibilities. Along with their own duties, CNAs must know the responsibilities of their team members. This includes nurses and doctors, and outside associates such as chaplains and social workers.
8. Restorative Skills
Restorative skills refer to teaching and assisting patients with their own preventative care. This includes addressing mental and physical health issues and finding effective treatment plans. CNAs will also help and encourage patients with rehabilitation, motivation, and task completion.
9. Spiritual and Cultural Issues
Spiritual and cultural issues are part of basic respect for patients. Their religion, ethnicity, or nationality can play a role in the care and comfort they receive. They are also legally protected from discrimination in care.
How to Pass the CNA Exam
The CNA exam isn’t the most difficult nursing exam, but it will test you on healthcare-related knowledge you probably haven’t encountered before. Effective study is necessary for a passing score.
The CNA exam is a great way to start honing the study skills and tools you’ll need for future health career exams. This includes the notoriously hard NCLEX-RN exam, the bane of nursing forums everywhere.
The best study strategy uses a variety of learning methods and tools. Study methods include:
Retrieval practice (flashcards, practice tests)
Spaced practice (study guides, dynamic lessons, practice tests)
Mind-mapping (study guides, flashcards, practice tests)
Dual coding (flashcards, info articles)
Chunking (study guides, flashcards)
Enhanced learning is best for any career field exam. It helps you retain the knowledge and skills you need to both pass the exam and work in your field.
1. Retrieval Practice
This method refers to using your memory to answer a question. In grade school, for example, a teacher probably called on you to verbally answer a question without using your books or notes. You had to use your retrieval practice to answer.
CNA flashcards are great for tool retrieval practice. You can also flip them around for an additional memory boost.
2. Spaced Practice
Spaced practice means spreading your study sessions over a long period of time. Your study sessions will also be shorter (1-2 hours) than an overnight cram session.
This method helps you learn the material, instead of memorizing it temporarily and losing it later. CNA study guides, dynamic lessons, and practice tests can help you organize spaced practice.
Mind mapping refers to making a visual “map” of information. This helps you conceptualize different knowledge areas and how they relate. For example, you could create a mind map of all the techniques to take a patient’s vitals.
CNA study guides, flashcards, and practice tests can help you create effective mind maps. Practice tests are especially effective because you can create mind maps based on practice questions.
4. Dual Coding
Dual coding pairs information with visual cues. You could pair different anatomy pictures with their functions, for instance, to help you study physiology.
Flashcards and information articles are great ways to enhance dual coding. Info articles have the added bonus of connecting the abstract knowledge you learn with its real-world application.
Chunking allows you to make full use of your brain’s memory space. Instead of studying separate pieces of info, you gather them up into blocks, or chunks of related knowledge and skills.
Study guides and flashcards can help you organize and practice chunking. For instance, you could remember the baselines for vital signs by chunking them into blocks.
Like the training and exam, your state will handle your license application. Additional criteria can include:
Proof of citizenship or legal residency
Background checks and fingerprinting
Proof of vaccinations
Other healthcare-related training (AIDS training, CPR, etc.)
You’ll also be required to pay any applicable fees. Make sure you know your state requirements for license expiration and renewal, too. A lapsed license is typically more difficult to renew than a current one, and it can place you under legal liabilities if you continue to work as CNA while it’s expired.
Exploring Healthcare Careers and Other Options
Once you’ve mastered the CNA exam and earned your license, you’re ready to work as a dedicated nursing assistant. One of the best perks for CNAs is the flexibility it gives you to explore all your options.
With a CNA career, you can:
Explore other medical careers (pharmacist, X-ray tech, etc.)
Work towards higher level nursing (RN, LPN, NP)
Pursue related careers (social work, criminal justice, etc.)
Work in a variety of care facilities
CNAs don’t require years of education, so you won’t have to start over from scratch if you want to try something different. You’ll also have a solid experience foundation if you want to pursue the next level of nursing.
You can also love being a CNA and make it your career. Your employers will appreciate the long-term experience you bring to your job!
Start Your First Steps Into Your Healthcare Career Today
A nursing assistant has many roles and responsibilities on a healthcare team. This includes technical skills like the safe transfer of patients, and interpersonal skills like keeping patients calm and comfortable.
A CNA career can last a lifetime, or be a great stepping stone into other medical careers. You won’t have to worry about years of lost money and time while you explore other options.
Are you ready to start mastering your CNA exam? Union Test Prep has all the (free!) study resources you need to pass your test. Start studying today!
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