Nursing Assistant

A certified nursing assistant’s (CNA) main role is to provide basic care to patients, as well as assist them in daily activities they might have trouble with on their own, such as bathing. Because of the personal nature of the job, a certified nursing assistant job description must include people skills and the ability to be compassionate and enjoy helping others. In nursing or long-term care facilities, a CNA is often a patient’s main caregiver.

CNAs also work with medical technology, like billing software, health information software and medical record charting software. In some facilities, a CNA will administer medication to patients, but this usually depends on the CNAs level of training and experience, as well as state regulations.

CNAs report to either registered nurses or licensed practical or licensed vocational nurses. They should have phenomenal communication skills since it’s their job to bring all patient concerns and issues to their supervisor.

Aspiring CNAs should understand the job isn’t glamorous and can be graphic at times. From dressing wounds to cleaning a patient after an accident, CNAs are often put to the test on a daily basis.

What does a certified nursing assistant job description consist of?

CNAs assist patients with daily activities and while some CNAs have additional responsibilities, such as administering medication, the core functions on the job include:

  • Bathe and dress patients
  • Serve meals and help patients eat
  • Take vital signs
  • Turn or reposition patients who are bedridden
  • Collect information about conditions and treatment plans from caregivers, nurses and doctors
  • Provide and empty bedpans
  • Lift patients into beds, wheelchairs, exam tables, etc.
  • Answer patient calls
  • Examine patients for bruises, blood in urine or other injuries/wounds
  • Clean and sanitize patient areas
  • Change bed sheets and restock rooms with necessary supplies


CNAs also serve as a conduit between patients and nurses and doctors and record and communicate all issues to medical staff. Depending on where a CNA works, other duties might include transporting patients to operating rooms or treatment units and setting up equipment at a nurse or doctor’s request.

Aspiring CNAs should understand the job isn’t glamorous and can be graphic at times. From dressing wounds to cleaning a patient after an accident, CNAs are often put to the test on a daily basis.

What education or certification will I need to become a certified nursing assistant?

Unlike many other nursing jobs, a certified nursing assistant doesn’t need to earn a bachelor’s degree or higher to practice. However, formal training resulting in a postsecondary certificate or award is required. The training typically marries basic nursing principles with hands-on supervised clinical work. Learn more about what you’ll study.

Community colleges, vocational colleges and technical schools offer training, along with some hospitals and nursing homes.

CNA program graduates aren’t completely done once their state-required education is complete. They must pass an exam proving their competency and if they do so, they are listed in the state registry. Your state board of nursing can provide comprehensive information on what exactly is needed to become a CNA.  Some will require a background (criminal) check or continuing education.

Because CNA jobs can cause burn out, you may decide to head in another direction with your nursing career. If that’s the case, an associate’s degree can help you become a registered nurse.

What career paths can I take as a certified nursing assistant?

CNAs work in state, local and private hospitals, but they’re most prevalent in nursing and long-term care facilities. Due to the nature of the medical field, the likelihood you’ll be asked to work irregular hours (nights, weekends and holidays) is high.

Nursing and long-term care facilities: As the population ages and those who are disabled and need long-term care, the role of certified nursing assistants has become more necessary. If you’re interested in working as a CNA for an extended period of time, one of these facilities could be right for you. According to the National Network of Career Nursing Assistants, 28 percent of CNAs stay five or more years in their role and almost 13 percent work 10-55 years.

The upside of working in a nursing home or long-term care facility is the relationships you make with patients and job security. However, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Occupational Outlook Handbook notes that many nursing assistants go on to further training or a new job because of the emotional and physical toll being a CNA can take.

Hospitals: While the tasks are generally similar, a hospital CNA usually doesn’t spend as much time with the same patients since most are discharged within a maximum of a few days. However, if you’re more interested in working in a faster-paced environment, a hospital could be for you. Hospitals can also provide CNAs with experience in different departments, such as the emergency room.

Learn about pay & job projections for certified nursing assistants.

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