Becoming a CNA
A certified nursing assistant (CNA) is a crucial part of the medical system. CNAs use their training to help patients with direct care, ensuring their daily needs are met and assist in physical activities. Becoming a CNA is a great stepping stone to begin your journey in the medical field. Learning the differences between different medical care providers can help you make the right decision for your career.
The Difference Between a CNA, an MA, or an LPN
It is helpful to understand the different roles and duties among various medical providers. Certified nursing assistants (CNA), medical assistants (MA), and licensed practical nurses (LPN) all share a common goal, to help care for the needs of their patients. However, their specific duties and job responsibilities vary based on their training.
CNAs work closely with other healthcare providers, including under the direct supervision of a registered nurse (RN) or a licensed practical nurse (LPN). CNAs differ from other healthcare providers in that they tend to be more involved in the direct care of patients. CNAs do, in some states, complete some medical duties; however, they are not often as involved in these tasks.
Because certified nursing assistants commonly work closely with nursing staff, they are sometimes referred to as certified nursing assistants or patient care assistants.
CNAs are most closely aligned with an MA. Both CNAs and MAs work closely with patients, providing them with care. Medical assistants primarily focus on assessing and evaluating patients, whereas CNAs are more involved in helping patients with daily tasks. An MA is also involved in administrative support. They may help patients with personal care, as well as drawing blood and administering medication. Whereas a CNA spends the majority of their workday directly with patients, an MA transitions their time between patient care, assisting physicians, and completing administrative tasks.
An LPN’s duties may cover both direct care tasks and medical assistance. However, because they have more medical training, they tend to be more involved in this aspect of care. An LPN may also work under the direct supervision of an RN and may be involved in additional medical aspects, like taking and monitoring vitals, rehabilitative care, managing IV drips, and completing laboratory tests.
The educational requirements of each medical career path differ. Because CNAs are entry-level jobs, their training can sometimes be completed in as little as four weeks, with the average being around twelve weeks. Whereas most LPNs or MAs require one to two years. LPNs must also successfully complete the NCLEX-PN test and be licensed. While a CNA does require the completion of a test, a license is not required to work.
The educational focus of each career path will also differ between each. An LPN will focus primarily on nursing tasks. A CNA program includes training in both direct patient care and minor medical procedures. An MA may receive additional training in administrative support, including medical billing and coding.
The role of a CNA is often the first step toward other medical roles. Some CNAs may choose to work while also attending an LPN program or preparing to attend school to become a registered nurse (RN).
Type of Care CNAs Provide
Working as a CNA can be highly rewarding. They are an important part of the healthcare system, providing direct care to patients and nursing home residents. A CNA may be involved in each aspect of care for patients, including:
- Assistance with daily tasks like bathing or dressing.
- Assistance with physical tasks like getting in and out of bed.
- Repositioning bed-ridden patients.
- Offering patient’s emotional support and companionship.
- Responding to patient calls.
- Documenting a patient’s concerns.
- Cleaning a patient’s room.
- Monitoring wounds.
- Assisting the RN or MD with medical tasks.
- Stocking necessary nursing supplies.
- Preparing the room for new patients.
- Cognitive assistance and stimulation.
- Helping with preparing meals and feeding.
- Assisting with physical mobility.
- Helping patients monitor and take medications.
- Transporting patients to locations outside of the home.
- Ensuring the safety of patients.
CNAs may also be involved in minor medical tasks, including:
- Taking and recording vitals.
- Monitoring weight.
- Managing blood pressure.
- Monitoring temperature.
CNAs may also act as a liaison between the resident and their other care team members. They may express patients’ wants or needs to family members, their nurse, or their medical staff. A CNA is usually the medical provider that the patient will interact with most often. This means that the CNA will usually have the most information about the patient’s needs and wants.
Whether or not a CNA is involved in minor medical tasks, including administering medications, depends on state requirements.
Typical Workday for a CNA
The typical workday for a CNA can be structured, or it can be ever-changing. The daily tasks will vary, depending on how the patient is currently feeling. If a patient is dealing with a chronic medical condition, the CNA may need to assist with tasks like feeding or bathing. Some patients may be more independent but require assistance with things like remembering to take medications or just having someone to talk with.
CNAs may work with residents who live in a nursing home or assisted living facility. They may also work in a hospital, helping patients who are recovering from surgical procedures. CNAs can work part or full-time. They may also work as an employee with a company, or as a contractual worker. However, most CNAs work full-time, but some may decide to work part-time if they also attend school.
Because patients require around-the-clock care, CNAs may have to work evenings, overnights, weekends, or holidays.
The CNA role can be an intimate one. The direct care provided gives CNAs the opportunity to get to know their patients well. This is a good position for people who prefer to develop strong relationships. It is also a good career for those with strong interpersonal and communication skills. Many CNAs stay with a living facility for many months and may have the same patient base, meaning they can develop intimate relationships with their patients.
Other skills that may be beneficial while working as a CNA include compassion and empathy, as many patients may be in difficult situations. The CNA is in a position to provide these patients with the care and attention they need. Patience and problem-solving skills are also useful while working as a CNA.
While the work of a CNA can be emotionally satisfying, it can also have challenges. CNAs may have to complete physically laborious work, including turning patients or helping them in and out of bed. Additionally, patients may not always get better, which can be emotionally stressful for some employees.
It is always a good idea to consider the disadvantages and benefits of being a CNA before beginning a program.
How Working as a CNA Prepares You for Other Medical Careers
Working as a CNA can be a good way to develop further in the medical industry. Some CNAs may decide to go back to school for training to be an LPN, RN, or even a geriatric care manager. Work experience as a CNA may also make someone a competitive candidate as a nursing home administrator. Many use the experience earned from working as a CNA to apply to other medical programs.
If you are interested in becoming a CNA, it can be helpful to do additional research and read more about the requirements and duties of other medical professionals. You can find more information from online places like Everynurse.org, Accreditedschoolsonline.org, Nursejournal.org, and the National League for Nursing (NLN).
Becoming a CNA
The path to becoming a CNA is short, meaning you can begin working right after high school without a college degree. In total, the training to become a CNA is less than one year. This is a good option for people who don’t want to spend a lot of time or money going to college. Additionally, you can always pursue a career as a CNA and then work in the medical industry while attending college for further training to become an LPN or an RN.
The hands-on experience that you earn while working with residents and patients can give nursing students an advantage.
Becoming a CNA does not require that you become licensed. However, each state does have its own requirements on what you need to do to become a CNA. It is important to evaluate these requirements before beginning a career, or training program, with employment as a CNA.
Requirements of Working as a CNA
While some employers may hire CNAs without a certification, job availability may be limited. In these roles, you may also be limited as to the tasks that you can complete.
Most employers require the following to work as a CNA:
- High school degree or GRE diploma.
- Completion of a certified training program.
- Clean background check.
- Successful completion of the state’s certification test.
The training program for becoming a CNA is often a mix of classroom instruction and hands-on clinical experiences. Because requirements vary from state to state, you may need to take an updated training class and another CNA exam if you move states.
Most CNAs will continue their CNA training even after they have completed the certification program and test, learning more while they work on the job. This is important as different employers may have different rules and protocols they require in the workplace.
One of the most common CNA classes is through American Medical Facility Management (AMFM). They offer training to 19 locations in the West Virginia area. While you can work for up to four months as a CNA after completing training with them while you await your test, you are not required to work with them after completing their program.
Choosing the Best CNA Educational Program
There are a lot of CNA training programs available. Whichever program you choose, make sure that it is state-certified. It is best if it is approved by the state’s nursing board and the National League for Nursing Accredited Commission (NLNAC).
Some students may decide to pay for a CNA training program right out of high school. Others may choose to volunteer in the medical industry first to get an idea of how well they are likely to enjoy working as a CNA.
If you get lucky, you may find employment with a facility or center that offers paid training, which is common in high-demand industries. Some people may complete their training in as little as four weeks. However, this often requires a full-time commitment to the training program. But, if you are looking for the fastest path to becoming a CNA, this may be an option for you.
Students must then maintain an active CNA status. Being inactive means that the CNA is not actively working as a CNA. If you want to work again as a CNA after taking a break, you may need to submit additional work to reactivate your status. An expired registration means that a person has not worked as a CNA in a few years (the timeline varies, depending on your state). In this case, the CNA may need to submit additional documents or may be required to retake the exam.
Average Salary of a CNA
The average salary of a certified nursing assistant (CNA) is $29,640 or $14.25 per hour. If you continue to gain experience and further your education, you can make even more than that. Additionally, other positions that a CNA can prepare you for, including an LPN or RN, make a higher average salary.
Your salary can vary, depending on the number of hours worked, your location, and the environment in which you work. The highest paying industry for CNAs currently is in the ambulatory healthcare services industry, with an average annual salary of $31,950. Some CNAs may also work with the government, which can pay slightly above average.
Where you live can also affect your expected salary. Some states pay CNAs higher, either due to a higher cost of living or greater demand for CNAs. Currently, the highest paid CNAs tend to work in Kansas and the southeast coastal areas of South Carolina. States with a high number of seniors are likely to have a greater demand for CNAs.
Becoming a caregiver can be a beneficial investment. The investment into becoming a CNA can be a good option for many, as some places will cover the cost of training while also offering you a job upon successful completion. Additionally, because seniors will always require assistance in assisted living or nursing homes, CNAs are likely to always be in demand.
Facilities CNAs Can Work At
Most CNAs work in nursing facilities, but you are not limited to that environment. CNAs may also work in:
- Hospital settings
- Senior care centers
- Retirement communities
- Home healthcare
- Private doctor’s offices
- Urgent care center facilities
The majority of CNAs work in hospitals or assisted living facilities, specifically working with live-in seniors. These patients may have chronic healthcare needs or dementia. However, CNAs can also help patients for a short period of time, such as post-op.
Government facilities can be a good place to work, but employment can be affected by government funding. If programs like Medicare or Medicaid are reduced, the federal government may reduce the number of CNAs they need.
Because there will always be demand for senior healthcare, a CNA is a good job. It can also provide you with medical training while also giving you a challenging and rewarding position. If you work in a specific setting that you don’t enjoy, you may transfer your CNA skills to a different industry.
Job Outlook for CNAs
It can also help to look at the job outlook of any careers you are considering before you put the time and investment into the required training.
The job outlook for CNAs is good, with an estimated increase of 8% from 2019-2029, as the baby boomer generation gets older. This is considered much faster than average. Additional licensing and credentials can also put a CNA in even more demand.
Facility Requirements of Working as a CNA
Many facilities will require the successful completion of a background check. They may also check references. Once you complete the required training to become a CNA, you may be required to be placed on the state registry if you want to work in a nursing home.
The direct care registry is often maintained by the state where you’re employed. Active registration may be required when working for specific employers.
Most facilities require notification if a CNA is convicted of abuse, neglect, or misappropriation of property. Any of these offenses will leave the CNA with a Federal Indicator. If you have a Federal Indicator, you are not allowed to work or volunteer for a long-term care facility or a long-term care facility in a hospital. Other employers may also prohibit employment.
Depending on where you work, you may also be required to obtain additional certifications. A few common ones include CPR and basic life support (BLS).
Being a CNA is a great way to begin your medical field career and is a gratifying job.