Nursing Assistant 101

A Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) acts as a go-between, facilitating communication between a Registered Nurse (RN) or a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), and a patient. Taking direction from the RN, the nursing assistant works closely with the patient to ensure that patient concerns are addressed and the patient’s medical needs are met. CNAs perform a wide variety of tasks related to patient care; however, limitations regarding certain medical procedures are strictly observed. As the heath care industry continues to boom, more and more job opportunities for CNAs are becoming available. Although fast-paced and at times grueling due to long work hours and the intense nature of working with sick and dying patients, the work of a CNA can be extremely rewarding.

Nursing Assistant Duties and Responsibilities

CNAs are employed in a variety of medical and non-medical facilities, with job requirements varying greatly from setting to setting. The most common work settings for CNAs include nursing homes, private homes, hospitals, mental institutions and intermediate care facilities. Generally, CNAs are responsible for checking patients’ vital signs and alerting the nurse to problems or positive lab tests. CNAs must pay special close attention to patients’ blood pressure, pulse, respiration and temperature to ensure that patients are not in any medical danger or at risk for an immediate attack or life-threatening reaction.

In certain settings, such as a hospital or nursing home, a CNA may be asked to change bedsheets, sweep floors and clean light spills. The CNA may also assist patients in taking a bath, getting dressed, eating food, or going on a daily walk outside the patient’s room or along the grounds of the facility. Such tasks may be scheduled or requested as needed. CNAs should be flexible and comfortable handling and assisting patients with a variety of tasks.

CNAs working in nursing homes may be asked to help patients move to and from rooms, including escorting patients into a dining room or kitchen area and then guiding the patient back to their bedroom or a common room afterwards.

Training and Education

There is no one way to obtain the training necessary to work as a CNA. Individuals can attend a community college, complete an online CNA program, or complete a training program at a medical facility like a local hospital. Training must include both coursework and clinical or real world experience and training, both of which prepare students for unexpected circumstances and on-the-job problems.

An individual can work as a CNA upon completion of a state-approved exam; requirements vary by state and must be approved by the licensing board governing the test taker’s state.


Generally, CNAs earn a decent salary; however, a number of factors can drive up a CNA’s salary, including training, education, experience and the CNA’s state or city of residence. Usually, work performed in hospitals receives the greatest pay, whereas work performed in nursing homes and private facilities receives the lowest. As with any job, demand greatly affects pay and benefits packages. On average, a nursing assistant earns between $11 and $16 per hour.