Certified nursing assistants (CNAs) help patients with daily living activities in a variety of health care settings. Usually working under the supervision of a registered nurse, CNAs help maintain the safety, hygiene, nutrition, exercise and psychological comfort of patients in their care.

Nursing assistants are an essential part of the health care team. In many health care facilities, they are the principal caregivers who often have more direct contact with patients throughout the day than other staff members. Many certified nursing assistants consider the close relationships they develop with patients over time to be the real joy of their career path.

A Day in the Life of a Certified Nursing Assistant

A CNA works with patients who are injured, sick or suffering from chronic conditions like dementia. In large facilities, there are many patients and residents to see and, consequently, a certified nursing assistant remains busy all day long even if they work as a team of nursing aides under a nurse supervisor.

Their patients may face a variety of health concerns, but a CNA is there to reassure the patient and help them work through challenges that can appear daunting and feel overwhelming.

Certified nursing assistants start their day on the go, whether their shift begins early in the morning or late at night. Here are some of the typical duties they perform:

  • Helping patients get in and out of bed, or re-positioning patients in bed
  • Assisting with personal hygiene such as bathing, brushing teeth, denture care and nail care
  • Aiding patients when using the toilet, getting dressed and moving around their rooms
  • Changing the undergarments of patients who are incontinent
  • Serving meals and helping to feed patients
  • Listening to patients and informing the nursing staff of developing health concerns
  • Recording vital signs such as blood pressure and temperature

At the end of the day, the relationships that CNAs develop with patients can make their career truly special, particularly for patients who express their gratitude and appreciation.

Important Characteristics for Certified Nursing Assistants

People who are interested in certified nursing assistant careers should be compassionate, patient and caring. These attributes are valuable since CNAs help provide constant care for the sick, elderly or injured. This is particularly true when CNAs are employed in a long-term care facility or nursing home.

Perseverance and physical stamina are important qualities, too, especially for some of the more repetitive tasks of the job such as cleaning a room, moving patients or putting away items after a meal. However, these types of tasks also can bring joy to CNAs who enjoy chatting with patients while they work. After all, there is almost always a story that a patient wants to tell. Communication and listening skills are essential parts of the job and can make all the difference when it comes to a patient feeling that their needs and interests are being respected. Those skills also help to ensure that accurate information is relayed to other team members about each patient's condition.

Typical Steps for Becoming a Certified Nursing Assistant

Several steps need to be taken to become a certified nursing assistant, like completing a CNA training program and working toward CNA certification. The details provided below outline the steps helpful to becoming a CNA:

  1. Complete an education program. A college diploma or certificate is typically needed to become a certified nursing assistant, although CNA training may be available in a high-school setting in some cases. Students should look for CNA classes and programs that are approved by a state so that they are later eligible to take the state's competency exam. Program requirements can vary from state to state and programs can have different names, such as the titles listed below:
    • Certified Nursing Assistant Program
    • Nurse Assistant Program
    • Nursing Assistant, Certified Program
  2. Pass a state's CNA exam. Once students have completed a state-approved program, they should be ready to take the state's competency exam. This exam can include questions about infection control, nutrition, personal care and other topics, while incorporating questions of knowledge and practical skills. Passing a state's CNA exam typically leads to the title of Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) or even Certified Nursing Aide, but the exact wording may vary from state to state.
  3. Look for a job. Once a candidate has passed the CNA exam, his or her name should appear on the state's CNA registry. Organizations looking to hire a CNA need to first verify a candidate's name on the state's registry before hiring them. Jobs may be available in many different settings such as long-term-care facilities, nursing homes, home health agencies and hospitals.
  4. Continue their education. A CNA may like working in health care or assisting patients in a variety of ways and there are many opportunities for continuing toward advancement. Those who wish to take their CNA career to higher levels of responsibilities can pursue additional education to become a licensed vocational nurse (LVN) or registered nurse (RN).


  • Certified Nursing Assistant, Brookhaven College, Accessed September 2017, https://www.brookhavencollege.edu/cd/dcc/health/nursing/cna/pages/default.aspx
  • Certified Nursing Assistant Program, Truckee Meadows Community College, Accessed September 2017, http://www.tmcc.edu/certified-nursing-assistant/
  • Nursing Assistant, Certified Application Instructions, Bellevue College, Accessed September 2017, https://www.bellevuecollege.edu/nursing/nac/apply/
  • Nursing Assistants, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016-17 Occupational Outlook Handbook, Accessed September 2017, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/Healthcare/Nursing-assistants.htm#tab-6
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