Certified Nursing Assistant Careers: Salary Info & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a certified nursing assistant career? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a certified nursing assistant is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Certified Nursing Assistant Careers

Certified nursing assistants (CNAs) help patients with basic tasks while providing fundamental nursing care to make their lives easier. Let's consider the pros and cons of the job to see if becoming a CNA may be the right fit for you.

PROS of CNA Careers
Fast job growth, pegged at 21% from 2012-2022*
Reward of helping patients to improve their lives*
Career advancement outlook is strong with additional education*
40-hour workweeks are common*

CONS of CNA Careers
Physically demanding career with high injury rate*
Some night, weekend and round-the-clock work possible*
Limited advancement without additional education*
Low starting salary (average wage of $26,000 as of 2013)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Information

Job Description

Certified nursing assistants are a type of nursing aide. The ability to communicate is always key, but their tasks vary considerably based on employer and patient needs. Typically, CNAs are responsible for assisting patients with a variety of personal and home care duties. These tasks may include preparing meals, assisting with grooming and bathing, checking simple vital signs and doing chores such as making beds.

CNAs also offer physical aid and assistance to their patients. Due to all of the moving of patients, including escorting, lifting and lowering, this can be challenging and demanding on them physically. They also observe and monitor patients' overall health, emotionally, physically, mentally or otherwise, while reporting any important changes to other medical professionals.

Salary and Job Outlook

CNAs are able to work in a variety of facilities, most notably in long-term care and nursing facilities. Other employers include hospitals, government agencies and private homes. Despite several types of potential employers, CNA careers aren't known to generate a significant income. As of 2013, the BLS found that CNAs earned an average salary just above $26,000. However, there are excellent job opportunities for CNAs, especially in long-term care facilities, with an expected 21% growth from 2011-2022, according to the BLS.

Career Skills and Requirements

Since CNAs interact with the public, physicians and nurses, they should have excellent written and oral communication skills. Other attributes CNAs should have include compassion for others, the ability to make quick decisions, patience and a positive attitude. Physical strength and stamina are also important when handling patients.

A CNA is an entry-level career opportunity with few educational requirements. A high school education serves as a general baseline educational prerequisite, but completing formal training and gaining experience is widely recommended. Students can obtain training through CNA diploma or certificate programs available at community colleges and technical schools. These programs can usually be completed in less than a year and covers subjects such as personal care, nutrition, nursing care, communication and home care. Upon completion of the program, all prospective CNAs must pass a competency exam before calling themselves certified. Students who complete a CNA program are placed on their state registry board of nursing aides. Additional state and employer requirements may need to be met, which can vary.

What Employers are Seeking

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 55% of CNAs are employed in nursing and residential care facilities. While experience obviously helps, having proper training and licensing should be significant to help CNAs land job opportunities. Below are some examples of career postings available as of March 2012:

  • A Georgia medical staffing company is looking for CNAs with 1-2 years of experience. Job duties include oral care, meal prep, toileting and companionship. CPR certification is required along with a driver's license and reliable transportation.
  • A healthcare operating and management company in Massachusetts seeks a full-time CNA for the 7am-3pm shift. Experience with long-term care is desired. Rotating weekends required.
  • An entry-level CNA opportunity in Georgia seeks an on-site caregiver for a 5-day workweek. Candidates would live in a private residency with meals, rent and utilities included. Work would be required every other holiday and weekend. Duties include housekeeping, meal service, personal assistance and grooming care. A minimum of one year of long-term care experience is required as is CPR certification.

How to Beat the Competition

CNA careers require that you're emotionally stable, drug-free and reliable, so it's advisable to find a way to demonstrate professionalism. It sounds simple, but being a clear communicator in all phases will help and is tested through the certification process. Since CNA training only provides basic healthcare procedure knowledge, completing any additional nursing courses can be helpful to stand out in the field. The National Network of Career Nursing Assistants offers an advanced nursing assistant program for individuals to learn more about leadership, clinical practice and teaching.

Being flexible with your job requirements may also be of assistance to employers, since some schedules only have availability for part-time workers. Additionally, CNAs should also be in good physical and emotional health, because not only are CNA jobs demanding, but physical examinations and disease testing are likely to be required as part of the job hiring process.

Other Careers to Consider

Psychiatric Aide

With an interest in healthcare and a high school education, there are a host of job possibilities to pursue if being a CNA doesn't sound like something you'd like to do. Psychiatric aides are still part of the nursing aide job category, but some of their job duties differ significantly than a CNA, such as having to restrain violent patients. Like CNAs, psychiatric aides typically only need a high school diploma and the completion of a training program. According to data from the BLS, the 90th percentile of psychiatric aides earned a salary of more than $41,000 as of 2011. The BLS also found that job growth for CNAs was anticipated to be 15% from 2010-2020, which is slightly below than that of a CNA.

Nursing

Since advancement within the CNA field is difficult without additional education, perhaps you might consider completing a licensed practical nursing (LPN) program. LPNs are expected to grow even faster than CNAs, at a rate of 22% from 2010-2020. Those who love nursing may even consider becoming a registered nurse (RN) by completing a nursing diploma or degree program. Both LPNs and RNs require licensure by passing the National Council Licensure Examination. In either case, job prospects are bright and income should greatly exceed the capabilities within CNA careers. For instance, RNs earned a mean annual salary of about $69,000 in 2011, per the BLS.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Johns Hopkins University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Nursing Practice: Clinical Nurse Specialist Specialization - Online
      • Doctor of Nursing Practice: Clinical Nurse Specialist Specialization - Online
    Master's
      • MS in Nursing: Health Systems Management - Online
      • MS in Nursing: Health Systems Management - Online
    Certificate
      • Post-Master Acute Care Pediatric Certificate - Online
      • Post-Graduate Nurse Educator Certificate - Online
  • Online Programs Available
    2. The George Washington University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MSHS in Health Care Quality
    Certificate
      • Graduate Certificate in Health Care Quality
  • Online Programs Available
    3. George Mason University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Health Administration in Health Systems Management
      • Master of Science in Health Informatics
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Master of Science - DNP Executive Leader
      • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
      • Master of Science - DNP Path (Doctor of Nursing Practice)
    Master's
      • Accelerated BSN to MSN
      • Master of Science - DNP Family Nurse Practitioner
      • Master of Science in Nursing - Adult - Gerontology Practitioner
      • M.S. in Nursing - Family Nurse Practitioner
      • MS in Nursing
      • Master of Science - DNP Adult Nurse Practitioner
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelors of Science in Nursing - RN to BSN (RN License Required)
      • Bachelor: Health Science
      • Bachelor: Healthcare Admin
    Certificate
      • Family Nurse Practitioner Graduate Certificate
      • Nurse Educator Graduate Certificate
  • Online Programs Available
    5. American University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Healthcare Management
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Herzing University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MSN - Family Nurse Practitioner
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Public Safety Leadership
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Project Management
    Associate's
      • Associate of Science - Medical Assisting Services
    Certificate
      • Diploma: Medical Assisting
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Loyola University New Orleans

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • MSN to DNP
      • MSN to DNP - Nurse Practitioner
      • MSN to DNP - Executive Nurse Leader
    Master's
      • RN to MSN
      • RN-MSN Bridge
      • MSN - Nursing Leadership
      • RN to MSN - Nursing Leadership
      • RN-MSN Bridge - Nursing Leadership
      • MSN - Nurse Educator
    Bachelor's
      • RN to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Colorado Technical University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Management - Health Care Management and Leadership
    Master's
      • MS - Nursing - Nursing Administration
      • MS - Nursing - Nursing Education
      • MS - Healthcare Management
      • Master of Science in Management - Healthcare Management
    Bachelor's
      • BS - Nursing (RN to BSN completion)
      • BS - Business Administration - Health Care Management
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Benedictine University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • DUAL MBA-MSN
      • Master of Science in Nursing
      • Accelerated MBA Health Administration
      • MBA Health Administration
      • MPH - Health Management and Policy Focus
      • Nurse Executive Leader MSN
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Education Sepcialist - Nursing Education
    Master's
      • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration

Featured Schools

Johns Hopkins University

  • Doctor of Nursing Practice: Clinical Nurse Specialist Specialization - Online
  • MS in Nursing: Health Systems Management - Online
  • Post-Master Acute Care Pediatric Certificate - Online

What is your highest level of education?

The George Washington University

  • MSHS in Health Care Quality
  • Graduate Certificate in Health Care Quality

What is your highest level of education?

George Mason University

  • Master of Health Administration in Health Systems Management
  • Master of Science in Health Informatics

What is your highest level of education?

Kaplan University

  • Master of Science - DNP Executive Leader
  • Accelerated BSN to MSN
  • Bachelors of Science in Nursing - RN to BSN (RN License Required)
  • Family Nurse Practitioner Graduate Certificate

Which subject are you interested in?

American University

  • Master of Science in Healthcare Management

What is your highest level of education?

Herzing University

  • MSN - Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Associate of Science - Medical Assisting Services
  • Diploma: Medical Assisting

What is your highest level of education?

Loyola University New Orleans

  • MSN to DNP
  • RN to MSN
  • RN to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

What is your highest level of education?

Colorado Technical University

  • Doctor of Management - Health Care Management and Leadership
  • MS - Nursing - Nursing Administration
  • BS - Nursing (RN to BSN completion)

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