In the nursing field, a certified nursing assistant (CNA) works under the supervision of relatively senior positions, such as registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs). The CNA position is an entry-level role that commonly doesn’t require previous experience in the medical field.
Nursing assistants generally do not earn as much as other roles in the nursing profession. However, becoming a CNA is an excellent way for you to quickly enter the health care field. Your experience as a CNA can help you determine if a career in nursing is suitable for you. It can also serve as a career stepping stone to other positions in the nursing industry.
The average salary for a CNA in the US is $28,540, but the rates can be much higher in specific states or metro areas.
What Is a CNA?
The main role of a CNA is to help patients with a variety of health care needs while working side-by-side with RNs and LPNs. If you become a CNA, your basic responsibilities will include the following:
Assisting Patients with Daily Activities
One of the most important duties of a CNA is assisting patients with their day-to-day essential needs. When patients can’t perform basic hygiene and grooming tasks on their own, a CNA aids them in maintaining their overall cleanliness by helping them with routine activities. These daily tasks include bathing, brushing their teeth, combing their hair, getting dressed, etc. Additional duties that a CNA accomplishes on a regular basis are repositioning patients on their sides, changing linens, placing bedpans, and performing in-bed weight measurements.
Listening to Patients’ Concerns
Because CNAs spend a lot of face-to-face time with patients, people tend to voice health concerns to them first before anyone else. Listening to patients and relaying information to other medical staff is a crucial task of a CNA. The valuable input of CNAs enables health care facilities to provide the best, appropriate care for their patients.
Measuring Vital Signs
CNAs are also responsible for measuring the vital signs of their patients on a regular basis, especially as they assist patients with daily activities. Typically, CNAs record their patients’ temperature, pulse, weight, blood pressure, and level of pain every day.
The housekeeping responsibility of CNAs may be taken for granted by some, but it is an essential role in any medical environment. After all, patients who are not capable of tending to their own needs are not capable of maintaining the order and cleanliness of their surroundings either.
CNAs are usually in charge of cleaning and organizing a patient’s room every few days to ensure that their environment is safe and sanitary. CNAs working in a home care environment may also be expected to clean other rooms in their patient’s residence, such as the kitchen, restroom, and living room.
What Is the Average CNA Salary?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment Statistics, CNAs make $28,540 annually, on average, or $13.72 hourly. The highest rate per hour known is $18.57 while the highest known annual CNA salary is $38,630. As of 2017, nearly 1.5 million individuals are employed as CNAs. Most CNAs work in various health care settings, such as nursing care facilities, general medical and surgical hospitals, continuing care retirement communities, assisted living facilities for the elderly, home healthcare services, and employment services.
How to Become a CNA
While the process of becoming a CNA is not as prolonged or as labor-intensive as becoming an RN or LPN, you still need to invest your time and effort to meet certain requirements in order for you to qualify as a CNA. To start your vocational path as a CNA, you need to complete the following steps:
Complete a CNA Program
A CNA program is usually offered in educational institutions in your local community, such as high schools, vocational schools, community colleges, and the Red Cross. Before you enroll in a program, make sure that it is approved by the National League for Nursing Accredited Commission (NLNAC) and recognized by your state’s nursing board.
In some states, you may be required to apply for your CNA license within a certain timeframe, after passing the certification exam. Be sure to find out the licensing guidelines for your own state.
Pass The Certification Exam
Next, you will need to pass the CNA certification exam. This test is divided into two sections: the written exam (a.k.a. theoretical exam) and the clinical exam. The written exam generally consists of 60 multiple-choice questions that you must complete within 90 minutes. However, the number of questions and the time limit vary by state.
The clinical exam’s requirements also vary by state. In general, it usually consists of performing at least five skills out of 22 tasks (plus handwashing and indirect care) within 30 to 40 minutes. These tasks include, but are not limited to:
- Changing bed linens while a patient is in bed
- Measuring vital signs
- Dressing a patient
- Helping a patient use a bedpan
- Feeding a patient
- Positioning a patient in the side position
If you did not pass all the portions of the examination within two years of finishing your CNA program, you will need to take the CNA program again and restart your application process.
Submit Application and Fingerprints
Once you have passed the certification exam, you must submit your application. Generally, the application consists of filling out personal information, such as your name, address, social security number, and driver’s license or state ID. You will also be asked to provide your criminal background record or any opposing action towards you held by any health-related authorities.
Along with your application, you are also required to submit your fingerprint for a comprehensive background check. If you did not previously disclose any criminal convictions and your background check reveals a criminal past, your application will be denied.
Certain convictions, such as traffic violations, will not prevent you from obtaining your CNA license. Minor citations that happened seven to 10 years ago may also not hinder you from getting your license. However, felonies such as murder, sexual assault, and manslaughter will prevent you from getting your license.
Pay Any Processing Fees
Depending on your state, you may be required to pay an application fee, background check fee, and examination fee when you submit your application as a CNA. However, some states require employers to pay part or all of your application fees.
CNA Continuing Education & Career Advancement
In some states, CNAs are required to complete a certain amount of continuing education units (CEUs). While the mandatory credits vary per state, the typical requirement is 48 hours every two years. CNAs may be required to indicate the number of completed in-service or continuing education credits upon renewal of their license.
There are three different levels of CNA Training: CNA I, CNA II, and CNA III. As you advance to higher levels, you will gain additional responsibilities as a CNA. At the same time, you will also be eligible to work in more different health care settings.
A nursing aide who has completed an entry-level CNA training program may assist nurses in a skilled nursing, long-term care, or assisted living facility. However, CNAs at this level may not work in a hospital. To achieve this level, you must complete a CNA I program and pass the CNA exam conducted by your state.
CNA IIs perform the same level of patient care as a CNA I, but they may work in more medical environments, such as a hospital or urgent care facility. To become a CNA II, you must already have a CNA I license, complete a CNA II program, and take additional exams.
CNA IIIs, also known as patient care technicians (PCTs), are authorized to perform specialized nursing aid duties in different units, such as running an electrocardiogram. At this level, a CNA can work in laboratories, surgical wards, blood banks, and private clinics.
Many CNAs make the decision to advance their career by becoming a registered nurse (RN), licensed practical nurse (LPN), nursing home administrator, or nurse educator. Depending on your interests, career goals, and skill set, you can find a wide variety of nursing specializations to pursue after you become a CNA.
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