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What Does a Certified Nursing Assistant Do? Basic Responsibilities for Different Work Environments

Depending on where you’re working, your daily duties as a CNA could look slightly different. CNAs have quite a bit of job flexibility — they can work in all types of healthcare fields, as well as all types of healthcare facilities, including hospitals, clinics, assisted living or nursing homes, hospice care, urgent care facilities, schools, and as at-home care assistants. CNAs play an important role to all they work with, including patients, family members, and other medical staff. Below, you can find a breakdown of what a CNA might do in a day at a hospital, nursing home, or as an at-home care assistant.

Basic CNA Job Skills

No matter where you work, there are certain skills that all CNAs should have in common. As a certified CNA, you’re often helping people in very vulnerable and intimate moments. What’s more, CNAs not only monitor the physical needs of their patient, but their quality of life and emotional well-being as well. This is why CNAs in all industries need to build interpersonal skills like compassion, empathy, patience, and professionalism in order to make their jobs easier, and improve their patient’s quality of care.

Common CNA Job Descriptions

Each CNA job, regardless of where you work, will have some overlap in duties and routines. However, the place that you work will affect how you do certain tasks, what resources are available to you, and the main focus of day-to-day routines. Below are some of the most common CNA job descriptions for hospitals, nursing homes, and at-home care assistants.

CNA Hospital Duties

  • Collecting Samples: CNAs in a hospital will be responsible for collecting blood, urine, stool, and sputum samples as needed from their patients.
  • Delivering Meals: CNAs can expect to deliver meals as a part of their routine, and even help some patients eat.
  • Maintaining Patient Records: CNAs in a hospital will be responsible for updating patient records whenever they take vitals, samples, or administer medication.
  • Prepare Patients for Surgery: This is unique to CNAs working in a hospital and can include shaving, disinfecting the area, taking vitals, and escorting the patient to the OR.
  • Taking Vitals: Taking a patient’s blood pressure, temperature, pulse, and breathing rate is a standard part of being a CNA.
  • Use of Hospital Equipment: Another task that can be more common for CNAs in a hospital is using hospital equipment such as respirators, IV drips, heart monitors, or even maintaining life support equipment.

CNA Nursing Home Duties

  • Activity Supervision: Many nursing homes have activity schedules for residents, and part of your job as a CNA in a nursing home may be to monitor activities in case of injury or medical distress.
  • Overseeing Medication: CNAs in a nursing home may also schedule and give residents medications their provider has prescribed to ensure that they are being taken properly, as well as that they aren’t causing distress or health concerns.
  • Meal Delivery: Nursing homes also tend to have scheduled meal times, and CNAs are responsible for delivering meals to residents, either in their rooms or communal areas, and in some cases helping them eat.
  • Patient Hygiene: CNAs may also be in charge of overseeing or assisting with resident hygiene, such as teeth brushing, showering, hair brushing and dressing.
  • Patient Toileting: Some patients in nursing homes rely on bedpans, adult diapers, or need assistance using the toilet. It is the CNAs job to assist residents with these tasks.
  • Preventing Bedsores: In hospice and nursing home care, some residents may be immobile. It is the CNAs job to prevent bedsores by rotating bedridden patients or applying ointments to affected areas.
  • Taking/Checking Vitals: CNAs in nursing homes may also be in charge of checking the heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure, and temperature of the residents at scheduled times.

CNA At-Home Care Duties

  • Assistance with Home Chores: Where CNAs in hospitals and nursing homes may be responsible for activity supervision and meal delivery, at-home care assistants may be responsible for cooking, helping their patients eat, or supervising activities such as yard work or house cleaning in case of an accident.
  • Changing Bandage and Cleaning Wounds: CNAs working both as an at-home caregiver and at any kind of healthcare facility may be responsible for wound care. For at-home assistants, you will need to come prepared with the necessary implements or stock them at your patient’s home.
  • Mobility Assistance: An at-home care CNA may also be in charge of assisting with mobility, such as walking, standing from sitting or laying down, and even assist with basic physical therapy or exercise as advised by a clinician.
  • Overseeing Medication Use: At-home care CNAs are also responsible for overseeing their patient’s medication regimen to ensure that they are following their doctor’s prescription.
  • Patient Hygiene Maintenance: At-home care assistants may need to assist their patients with bathing, dressing, brushing their teeth or other hygiene maintenance they require.
  • Patient Toileting: At-home care CNAs may also need to assist in getting their patient on and off the toilet, or changing bedpans or diapers.
  • Socialization: A unique and vital part of an at-home care assistant’s job is socialization. Directly via conversation or activity, or through connecting their patient to their community via walks to neighbors or to local parks, an at-home care assistant is an important part of their patient’s socialization.

CNA Salaries

What type of employer you have will also affect your earning power. As of 2019, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the national average salary for nursing assistants at $29,640 per year. Ziprecruiter reported that as of July 1, 2020, CNAs employed by hospitals were making $36,631 a year. reported that as of June 28, 2020, CNAs employed by nursing homes were making an average of $28,048 a year. While it is generally common practice for CNA caregivers to charge hourly rates, meaning their earnings will fluctuate based on the needs of their patients, Glassdoor reported CNA caregivers making an average of $25,000 a year.

These numbers are national averages, meaning that your salary outlook as a CNA may be more or less dependant on factors such as the state you’re working in, the company you’re working for, your experience, and the needs of your patients.

Getting a CNA Job In Your Desired Field

If you’re interested in working in a specific field as a CNA, there are ways that you can increase your chances of getting your dream job outside of your application. Before you can finish your CNA certification, you will have to complete clinical hours as a part of your CNA training program. Completing these hours in your desired field when available — such as at a surgery ward or urgent care clinic — can be a great way to build work experience for your resume. If you’re interested in working in a nursing home or hospice, many of them accept volunteers. This is a great way to interact with a future patient base that can be flexible to your schedule.

Although a position as a CNA is an entry-level job, there are countless different opportunities and tasks that CNAs can do and evolve into based on the chosen industry or employer. Being a CNA offers you flexibility and diversity in your working life that many other fields aren’t afforded.