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What Is a CNA?

Updated on September 23, 2008
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Sunshine is a wife, mother of four, a relationship expert, a journalist, a photographer, a public speaker, and author.


The fist line of defense for patients in nursing homes, hospitals, or other situations where they are in need of care, is the Certified Nursing Assistant, or CNA. What is a CNA? By definition, a CNA is a person who has completed a training course approved by the Board of Nursing for the state in which they're licensed, has completed the correct amount of clinical hours, and has passed the state exam. Courses are often offered through medical care facilities, community colleges, the Red Cross, or privately approved classes. In training, a CNA learns how to assist residents, or patients, with their Activities of Daily Living, or ADL's, take their vitals, and document and report directly to a nurse.

There are many different Activities of Daily Living, but a CNA will focus mainly on:

  • Bathing
  • Dressing and Undressing
  • Eating
  • Transferring from one surface to another
  • Voluntary control of urine or bowel movements
  • Toileting
  • Walking
  • Locomotion
  • Bed Mobility

A CNA also learns how to follow instructions on a care plan, prevent pressure sores, chart events of the day with correct documentation, execute instructions from the Therapy Department, answer call lights in a timely fashion, provide post mortem care, assist families with the eminent death of a loved one, patient safety and confidentiality, and catheter and ostomy care. When you are a CNA, you are the nurse's right hand, the maid, a counselor, a family member, kitchen help, office staff, and traffic director. It takes dedication, a big heart, compassion, and most of all, patience to be successful as a CNA.

Certified Nursing Assistants work directly under an LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse), or an RN (Registered Nurse), and are an integral part of the nursing program. CNA's are the first line of care for residents in a nursing facility, a hospital, or an in home care situation. The CNA will put their hands on a patient more times than the nurses, and even the doctor ever will.

Being a CNA doesn't end with the physical care a patient needs. It means being the voice of the patient to the nurses, who are in turn the voice to the doctors. CNAs' are the first ones to notice changes in a patient. Bringing changes to the attention of your nurse can mean the difference in quality of life from that moment on. A CNA is often the only family for patients who feel they've been forgotten. Sharing excitement for their achievements and holding their hand through their disappointments is a big part of the job. You're the soothing voice in the middle of the night that calms their fears, and for some, you are the last contact they will have with this world. You listen, you encourage, you make them laugh, and hold them when they cry. You treat them like your grandmas and grandpas, because they are all in fact some one's grandma or grandpa, and you know you would want yours well taken care of. You learn their life stories, because they have seen it all. Also, you tuck them in just the same every night, even if they treated you poorly, slapped you in the face, or repainted their walls with bowel movement, because you know their injury or illness prevents them from being any other way.

As a Certified Nursing Assistant, I have met the most interesting people who have led amazing lives, and done fantastic things. People live better lives because I have assisted them to do so. They've pushed me to my limits, but I counter it with the love that I have for each and every one of them. I've seen perfectly healthy people fall ill, struggle to stay alive, and breathe their last breaths in my care, and I've let families cry on my shoulder as they said goodbye one last time. I've been treated like dirt, and praised like a goddess. I've shed tears alone in the bathroom as I struggled to stay strong after loosing one that was particularly close to me, and I've cheered them on when they wanted to give up, seen them get well, and go home. It's been sad, wonderful, horrible, and amazing, all in the same day. Though the job is physically challenging, emotionally draining, mentally difficult, and flat out exhausting, it's also one of the most rewarding in the nursing field.


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    • thecnatraining profile image

      thecnatraining 6 years ago from Vancouver

      Most cna's do the back-breaking jobs, cleaning up beds, lifting 400 lb patients, etc. most become discouraged with nursing in this capacity and drop out of the nursing field. CNA is a gateway to higher paying postions like LPN or RN. Depends on the persons goals of course!!

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      EJH 7 years ago

      Very informative and honest. Thank you for sharing your experience.

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      Ebonique 9 years ago

      I liked how you really just layed the truth out about how it is going to be in the beginning but once you get the hang of you would be great see the reason i chose this because i had a grandmother that i i had to take care of and i know how hard it is but its like if you have patience you would do wonderful and also like communicating with older women, men its like what you dont know they would always be right their to talk all about it. but theres was one question that i had to ask you for your exam test was it hard or what do have to do how many points do have to score to pass.