What Does a CNA Do?

Woman with brown hair posing in front of a gray background
Written by Aislinn Twohig Marketing Campaign Manager, IntelyCare
Image of content creator smiling for camera
Reviewed by Katherine Zheng, PhD, BSN Content Writer, IntelyCare
Young nurse assistant crouching and talking with elderly resident in a wheelchair.

Nursing is made up of a number of job titles that run the gamut from bedside care to management to administration. One such position that is critical to healthcare is CNA, which stands for certified nursing assistant.

What does a CNA do? Many things! These professionals support registered nurses (RN) and licensed practical nurses (LPN) to ensure patients are receiving quality care.

If you’re interested in exploring a healthcare career, keep reading to learn all about CNAs. There’s a low barrier to entry for this position, which means you can get started sooner than you might think.

What Is a CNA?

A CNA is a trained healthcare worker who is responsible for attending to the direct needs of patients, usually under the supervision of an RN or LPN.

While most states use the acronym CNA, nursing assistants go by a few names, depending on where in the country you’re located.

What Does a CNA Do?

In most instances, CNAs perform some of the more demanding physical tasks of patient care, and there are some overlapping responsibilities with those of an LPN.

Common CNA responsibilities include:

  • Providing basic patient care and helping with activities of daily living (ADL) such as feeding, bathing, toileting, and dressing.
  • Answering patient calls.
  • Changing bed linens and keeping patients’ rooms clean.
  • Stocking supplies.
  • Helping nurses and physicians with certain medical procedures.
  • Safely repositioning and moving patients.
  • Keeping tabs on patients’ vital signs and general conditions.
  • Ensuring timely reports and appropriate documentation of the patient’s condition.
  • Depending on their training and the state they’re in, nursing assistants may also be able to administer medication.

As you can see, many CNA duties have physical requirements. Because they provide direct assistance with daily living activities like patient mobility, a CNA must be able to meet minimum lifting requirements and be able to be on their feet for long stretches of time.

For more details on CNA responsibilities, check our sample CNA job description and our CNA resume template.

What Does a CNA Do in a Hospital?

CNAs in hospital settings tend to work with a greater mix of patients, young and old, that have varying needs. Individuals may be recovering from surgery or illness. Typically, they help all the nursing staff on the floor complete care tasks that are within their scope of practice. Some common examples of tasks include:

  1. Monitoring and documenting vital signs (this sometimes needs to be done hourly for patients in more critical condition).
  2. Measuring and recording a patient’s intake and output (e.g., food, drinks, urine output).
  3. Emptying drainage and catheter bags.
  4. Transporting patients to and from different units in the hospital.
  5. Aiding with other medical procedures as requested by the healthcare team.

What Does a CNA Do in a Nursing Home?

The resident population in nursing homes is composed of elderly and/or people with disabilities. Because of this, CNAs working in these settings often dually take on caregiving responsibilities. CNAs in nursing homes may still have some overlapping duties as those in acute care (such as taking vital signs), but their tasks are more centered around enhancing the day-to-day life for residents. This includes tasks like:

  1. Accompanying residents to nursing home events (e.g., movies and game nights).
  2. Reminding residents to take scheduled medications.
  3. Helping residents with ADLs like eating, bathing, and dressing.
  4. Sitting with residents who need overnight supervision.
  5. Greeting and escorting new residents to their rooms and helping them get acquainted.

Steps to Be a Nursing Assistant

So, what do CNAs do in terms of education? The basic requirements often include having a high school diploma (or equivalent) and completing training courses that have been approved by your state board of nursing (BON). Note that CNA requirements may differ by state. Your BON will be able to tell you the specifics.

  1. Get a high school diploma or GED.
  2. Complete an accredited CNA certification program, which are offered at community colleges, medical centers, and trade schools.
  3. Pass an exam — the National Nurse Aide Assessment Program (NNAAP) exam is the most common.

When you’re applying for jobs, some facilities might require at least six months to a year of experience in post-acute care or relevant in-patient care. A prospective CNA may also be subject to a background check, depending on the state of practice. Check out our comprehensive article on how to become a CNA for more information.

What to Consider in a CNA Program

If you’re looking into CNA training, consider some of the following factors:

Training hours. A program may meet minimum federal or state requirements, but remember that a more comprehensive program will better prepare you to work as a CNA.

Student-teacher ratio. Some states set limits on the numbers of students allowed per instructor for clinical training, but for the best quality of training, look for the lowest ratio. The closer to 1:5, the better.

Internships and shadowing. What do CNAs do? You’ll be able to find out firsthand. The ability to observe or work with medical professionals performing their daily activities is an invaluable part of any training program.

Reimbursement. In many cases, facilities with Medicaid contracts are required to offer reimbursement to CNA students.

Where Can CNAs Work?

Because of their broad range of patient support, CNAs work in several healthcare settings. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nursing assistants primarily work in:

Some of these professionals even work as traveling CNAs, completing contract assignments at a variety of locations.

Great Cities for Nursing Assistants

The BLS reports that these are the metropolitan areas have the highest level of employment for nursing assistants:

Check out all the CNA jobs available right now to get a better understanding of where you could be employed.

What Is a CNA Expected to Earn?

How much do CNAs make? Good question. While this varies by facility and location, the average CNA salary is $39,610 per year ($19.04 per hour). There are other factors which can determine a CNA salary range, such as:

  • Education
  • Certifications
  • Experience
  • Extra skills
  • Number of hours worked per week
  • Location
  • Staffing needs

The states and areas that pay the highest annual salaries to CNAs are

What Are the Benefits of Working as a CNA?

Career opportunities. Working as a CNA is a great stepping stone to a career in healthcare. You’ll have a solid baseline of training and education, not to mention experience working with patients in real-world scenarios.

Solid job outlook. What is a CNA? The answer is “in demand.” Due to the realities of an aging population, the need for quality care will continue to increase. Certified nursing assistants are among the most qualified professionals to cater to this need.

Flexible job options. There’s a vast array of opportunities for CNAs across several healthcare settings, including working per-diem. Some of these per-diem opportunities also allow CNAs to design their work schedules based on their preferences.

Meaningful work. Working as a CNA is rewarding, especially if you’re passionate about helping people and giving care to others. As a nursing assistant, you get to work closely with patients, deliver care at the frontline, and help people to heal both physically and emotionally.

What Does a CNA Do to Find Jobs?

If you’re ready to work as CNA but don’t know where to start, we’re here to help. Learn how IntelyCare can match you with the latest CNA jobs that interest you.