5 Common CNA Struggles and How to Overcome Them

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Written by Ayana Dunn, BSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
A nurse experiences CNA struggles at work.

Being a certified nursing assistant (CNA) can be incredibly rewarding, but it isn’t easy. Far from it. What are some challenges as a CNA? If you’re already a CNA, a list of issues likely passed through your mind the moment you saw the title of this article.

If you’re thinking of becoming a CNA, educating yourself about the common CNA struggles can mentally prepare you for your new career, which can better set you up for success. A few of the most common challenges CNAs face are:

  1. Perception as the lowest rung on the healthcare ladder
  2. Salaries that don’t reflect the hard work
  3. Responsibility for the bulk of physically demanding tasks
  4. No room for career growth
  5. Long hours in tough work environments

1. Perception as the Lowest Rung on the Healthcare Ladder

What is the hardest thing about being a CNA? That depends on whom you ask, but this reason is often high on the list. One of the most aggravating CNA struggles is how often your job is diminished by patients, families, and even coworkers.

The truth is, the skills that CNAs provide are incredibly important. Proper care wouldn’t be possible without CNAs, yet they’re often taken for granted. This can lead to problems with patients feeling comfortable displaying emotionally and physically abusive behaviors and coworkers not being mindful of your patient loads.

How to Overcome This

You know your worth, and that’s what matters most. Remind yourself whenever you need to. When others don’t see that, that’s a result of their ignorance, not an absence of your value.

Speak up for yourself. Sometimes you have to remind patients and coworkers of the importance of your role. Is there a CNA committee at your job? Join it! If not, you can start one. If you’re unable to create a formal group, build rapport with your fellow CNAs so you can support each other and brainstorm. People are more powerful in numbers.

2. Salaries That Don’t Reflect the Hard Work

CNAs in the U.S. are paid a median of $30,310 per year. Due to the low salary, overworking yourself to make ends meet is high on the list CNA struggles. When you consider the extent of the physical and emotional demands attached to this job, the amount of work hours it can take to maintain the life you want to live can wear you down.

How to Overcome This

Advocate for yourself. Try asking for a raise every six months to a year. Gather other CNAs so that you can make this request as a collective. If this doesn’t work, consider employment elsewhere. You can’t change the system overnight, but you can look for high-paying per diem CNA shifts to cover your monthly costs.

3. Responsibility for the Bulk of Physically Demanding Tasks

Nursing is physically demanding in general, but CNAs are responsible for many of the tasks that could lead to injury. This can include toileting, bathing, clothing changes, and transfers. Nurses help with these tasks as well, but because nurses have other responsibilities beyond the scope of CNAs, these activities are left to CNAs until a nurse can pitch in.

How to Overcome This

Before you tell yourself “I hate being a CNA” because of the physical demands, remember this is the one of the CNA struggles over which you have the most control. Gauge your patient’s weight-bearing ability by asking them and observing their movements. Find help when you’re unsure of your patient’s capacity to bear weight, or if you’re certain you’ll need another person.

It’s also important to be mindful of your posture. Try to keep your back straight when lifting and transferring patients and lift with your leg muscles. Avoid lifting with your back.

Listen to your body. If you feel aches and pain, move in a way to accommodate that. When possible, build a few moments of rest into the day. You can always take a bathroom break if you don’t want to appear idle.

Make time for stretching on a regular basis. You can also purchase a foam roller to massage your muscles. If possible, treat yourself to an occasional professional massage, and look for massage therapists who offer discounts to healthcare workers.

4. No Room for Career Growth

Another common challenge of being a CNA is the lack of advancement opportunities. A common option for CNAs who wish to further their careers is to become an RN or an LPN. Sadly, not everyone has the time or money to pursue that path.

How to Overcome This

If you want some novelty, your best bet may be to work per diem and bounce between different work environments and age groups. You could also consider work as a traveling CNA.

Going back to school doesn’t have to break your bank account — research ways you can get help paying for nursing school. Additionally, you can pursue careers that don’t take as much time and money as nursing, like becoming an EMT or phlebotomist. Or, you could obtain certificates to advance your skill set, like becoming a certified medication aide (CMA).

Look for opportunities to volunteer to do new tasks to learn more skills. It’s also a good idea to ask questions on the job — even a simple question can start you on a path towards growth.

5. Long Hours in Tough Work Environments

The healthcare staffing crisis is no secret. This increases the stress of jobs that are already difficult to begin with. On top of that, many CNAs toil far longer than the average work week, whether from picking up extra shifts to make ends meet or because they feel compelled to help stressed coworkers. This situation is a sure contributor to CNA burnout symptoms if you don’t make practical self-care and healthy boundaries a high priority.

How to Overcome This

One option is to work primarily for staffing agencies so you can have more choice in where you work, or by working part-time at a steady job while filling in the gaps with agency work.

To make improvements in your current workplace, gather other CNAs and advocate for more staffing and better working conditions. Brainstorm with other CNAs to generate ideas to share with management.

CNA Struggles Don’t Define This Important Career Path

Being a CNA is a worthy career despite the challenges. It’s important to communicate the reality of this profession to build a much-needed sense of community and help you identify preventative measures to avoid burnout. Looking for a way to improve your work-life balance? Explore your options for creating a flexible schedule with IntelyCare.