Certified nursing assistants (CNAs) are important members of the healthcare team, helping the patient with their most basic physical and emotional needs. They assist the patient in performing basic self-care activities: walking to the bathroom, eating, drinking, dressing and bathing.
For bed-bound patients, CNAs perform total care: giving bed baths, feeding them, and changing their position every two hours to prevent bedsores. This can be a very physical job because CNAs are on their feet for many hours of the day, and must be strong enough to turn or help move patients.
While not formally allowed to assess their patients, CNAs are often the first to notice that something may be wrong. This is simply because the CNA gets to know her patients very well. Caring for people the way that they do allows nursing assistants to develop strong and caring relationships with their patients. Due to the intimate nature of their work, nursing assistants must be sensitive, trustworthy and compassionate.
Nursing assistants frequently work in hospitals, long-term care facilities and in homecare. They work with all ages and all patient populations, although in very critical situations, the CNA may need to perform patient care with the nurse present.
Their facility’s policies will dictate a lot of what CNAs are allowed to do. Some hospitals will allow them to take vital signs or blood glucose readings; others will not.
To become a CNA, you must attend a training program that may last four to sixteen weeks. The training consists of time spent in the classroom, clinical setting and laboratory. A practical and written exam is given at the end of the training program. After passing the exam, candidates must submit all of their paperwork directly to the State Board of Nursing, who will issue the certification. Once certified, the CNA must complete a certain number of continuing education credits each year to stay in good standing. Check with your state nursing board for more information about their requirements.