Assisting with Patient Care as a Certified Nursing Assistant

Earning a Certified Nursing Assistant degree will prepare one for a career working under the tutelage of a fully qualified nurse. A certified nursing assistant, somtimes called the nurse's right arm or nurse's aide, deals directly with patients by tending to their needs and overseeing their overall well being. This may include tasks such as:

  • Feeding patients
  • Ensuring the patient maintains good personal hygiene, such as bathing and grooming
  • Checking vital signs
  • Maintaining patient records and medical equipment

Becoming a certified nursing assistant is a great way to gain a foothold in the medical profession. Many certified nursing assistants continue with further education to become registered nurses (RN).

Unlike most facets of the medical profession, becoming a certified nursing assistance does not require years of study and can be achieved by completing a CNA certificate program.

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Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) Degree Information

People wishing to work as CNAs need to attend 75 hours of class time, with 16 of those hours involved in clinical practice. The exact number of required hours may vary by state, so students should check with their local community college or the state health department for information. When CNA training is finished, the candidate needs to take the state’s certification test. The CAN test has two parts, a written exam, usually of about 70 multiple choice questions, and a skills test, which involves actively demonstrating the skills used by CNAs, such as taking vital signs, bathing a bed-ridden patient or feeding a patient who can’t feed themselves. The skills test will take place in a hospital or nursing home or in a simulated environment resembling a hospital. The candidate will be asked to perform a number of patient care procedures.

Attending CNA training full-time means that a student could become a CNA within the space of a month or less. CNA training is also offered on a part-time basis, or only on weekends or at night classes, so people already employed may attend.

CNAs work in hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living centers, elderly and child day care operations, in home health care and in many other situations requiring their skills in patient care. CNAs generally work as part of a medical team with doctors, nurses and other medical personnel. As the people working most closely with patients and clients, a CNA’s people skills must be highly developed. They listen to and comfort patients and assist them with daily living—bathing, toileting, eating, repositioning patients in bed when necessary.

CNA Curriculum

CNA classes involve classroom training, lab work and hours of clinical practice under the supervision of a registered nurse. CNAs learn to provide basic health care for patients, and provide daily living assistance, usually bathing, feeding, grooming and toileting patients, checking vital signs, reporting to other members of the health care team and documenting the care provided.


CNA students will attend a certain number of hours in classroom and lab training, along with clinical practice in a hospital or long term care facility. Classes will cover: Anatomy Disease and infection control Personal care Nursing support Nutrition Communication

Data collection and documentation, fall prevention, medical emergencies, blood glucose monitoring, catheter care, vital signs and equipment monitoring will also be covered. CNA programs vary by state, so check with your state’s health department for state specific program requirements.

Career Opportunities

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that employment of CNAs will grow by 20 percent up to 2020, which is faster than average. The United States has a growing elderly population, who will require more health care as they age, spurring CNA employment during the coming decade. CNAs who want to advance in nursing can go on to become a registered nurse or licensed practical nurse. CNA jobs are available everywhere in the country, so getting a CNA can mean steady employment, a real benefit in a tough economy. Getting CNA training is far more affordable than a four year nursing degree—costing from $800 to $1500 as opposed to $50,000 for another medical career such as a registered nurse.

Earning Potential

The BLS puts the median salary for a certified nursing assistant at $11.54 per hour or $24,010 per year. CNAs working in hospitals can earn more, with a mean annual salary of $26,540, according to BLS data. While not comparable to a nurse’s salary, CNAs can always pay the bills and find employment in many different situations.

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Certified Nursing Assistant FAQ

What type of jobs can I expect as a CNA?

CNAs are needed in long term care facilities, hospitals, assisted living facilities, retirement homes, nursing homes, and elderly and child day care centers. Some CNAs also find work in schools, providing assistance to children with health issues. Nursing homes employ the most CNAs, with hospitals running second as the largest employer of CNAs. Home health care agencies hire many CNAs to provide care for the elderly and others requiring care and assistance in their homes.

How long does it take to become a CNA?

Attending a CNA training program full time can mean a student could get certification in as little as a few weeks, or at most, a semester. By going part time, achieving the certification would take longer, but the overall training and taking the state’s certification exam doesn’t take long. Once classwork, labs and clinical practice is done, the CNA candidate then goes on to take the state-required exam, which is in two parts, a written exam and a skills test. Passing both parts of the test is required for all candidates.

Where are the highest paying CNA jobs?

CNAs who work for the federal government earn more than CNAs employed elsewhere, approximately $17.18 an hour or $35,730 a year. Connecticut, New York and California tend to pay higher CNA salaries than other states. CNAs who work for insurance carriers also earned slightly more per hour than those employed by hospitals.

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