CNA Job Description (Salary, Certification, Training, Skills & More)

By Mike Simpson

If you’re looking for the unsung heroes of the healthcare industry, look no further than the certified nursing assistant (CNA). They fly through hospitals and clinics, donning scrubs and sensible shoes instead of capes and heavy boots. They deftly handle their CNA duties, allowing the virtues of great patient care to be their beacon in the night sky, guiding their every move.

When a citizen (patient) needs help, they are there, without question. And, when singled out for the amazing work they do, they don’t expect a parade. Instead, with a simple smile, they say, “I’m just doing my job.” But that job makes a difference, a bigger one than many people realize.

What is a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant)?

A CNA is a medical professional that wears a shocking number of hats. However, the core CNA responsibilities always focus on one thing: being the superhero of basic patient care.

Every CNA handles a variety of routine tasks that are critical in the healthcare industry. Many treatments are administered by CNAs. Additionally, they provide a ton of direct assistance to patients. Typically, the work isn’t glamorous, but it’s indescribably important.

Additionally, a CNA is a communication conduit. They listen to patient concerns and discuss them with other medical staff as needed.

What Are a CNA’s Duties and Responsibilities?

A CNA job description can vary dramatically. While their primary purpose is usually the same, the exact CNA duties they handle depends on the environment they work in. You can find CNAs in hospitals, clinics, assisted living facilities, and providing care in patient’s homes. Each of those environments comes with a unique set of responsibilities, so no two CNA roles are exactly alike.

However, some CNA job duties are incredibly common. Here’s a list of some of what you can expect to do as a CNA:

    • Assist with daily living tasks, including eating
    • Provide personal hygiene assistance, including bathing and bedpan emptying
    • Lift, move, shift, or physically support patients with mobility limitations
    • Check vital signs
    • Collect specimens
    • Examine patients for injuries, including bruises, cuts, and scrapes
    • Dress wounds
    • Record patient information on charts
    • Maintain electronic medical records
    • Administer medications or treatments (as directed by a doctor or nurse)
    • Set up medical equipment
    • Change bed sheets
    • Restock rooms with medical supplies

And, while it isn’t part of the official CNA job description, many working in these roles also provide a slew of mental and emotional support to patients and family members. They listen when people are worried or scared and try to calm any fears. At times, they simply chat with patients, giving them a sense of connection during what can be a very challenging time.

CNAs aren’t just mysterious superheroes dashing in and out in the night. They are beacons of hope, guidance, and support, as well as healers.

MIKE'S TIP: This part of the job is a potential area where you can outshine your competition in a CNA job interview. A lot of your competition might focus only on their day to day duties and forget to highlight their ability to connect and be empathetic with their patients. Don't forget to highlight these qualities when you're answering interview questions. It might just make the difference between you and another candidate.

What Skills Do CNAs Need?

If you want to be a real hero CNA, you need the right mix of skills. Along with technical ability, you have to possess the right soft skills, too. Otherwise, you won’t be able to do everything listed in a CNA job description.

Since the most concrete part of the equation are the technical abilities, let’s start there. Here’s an overview of what a CNA made need:

    • Medical terminology
    • Infectious disease control and prevention
    • Measuring vitals
    • Wound dressing
    • Medical records maintenance and charting
    • Ambulation, moving patients
    • Hand hygiene
    • Patient mouth and foot care
    • Feeding
    • Catheter care
    • Bedpan

However, you can’t stop there. You also need great soft skills. Think of it this way, in the land of superheroes, you want to make sure that you aren’t a gruff CNA Batman. Instead, you want to be your friendly neighborhood CNA Spiderman, and soft skills help you do that.

Here’s a list of the soft skills that are a critical part of CNA duties:

    • Empathy
    • Compassion
    • Communication
    • Time management
    • Organization
    • Attention-to-detail
    • Dependability
    • Accountability
    • Problem-solving
    • Critical-thinking
    • Physically fit
    • Ethical

It’s important to note that the skills above are only the tip of the iceberg. Each job is different, so employers might have other ones they want to find. But that list gives you a solid baseline, as it represents what many medical institutions look for when hiring a CNA.

What Kind of CNA Training, Education, Certification Do I Need?

In the medical field, the CNA position is fairly unique.

Why?

Because you don’t need a bachelor’s degree or higher to work in the job. However, you do still need formal CNA training.

Every CNA has to complete a state-approved training program. Usually, you can find these at community colleges, technical schools, or vocational schools. The exact length of the program can vary, but it usually lasts around three months.

Once the program is complete, you also have to pass a certification exam that is administered by a state government agency. The exact agency involved varies from state to state, though most of them are health- or nursing-oriented. For example, in Arizona, the certifications are handled by the Arizona State Board of Nursing. In Washington, it’s the Washington State Department of Health.

Without passing the exam, you aren’t licensed in your state, and can’t work as a CNA. That’s part of why participating in an approved training program is so important; it gives you all of the information you need to earn your CNA superhero cape credentials.

What Are the Salary Expectations?

To say that CNAs are in-demand is an understatement. Over 1.5 million positions exist. Plus, the need for CNAs is growing far faster than average. Between 2018 and 2028, a stunning 135,400 jobs are going to pop into existence. That’s on top of the one-and-a-half million or so that are already here.

The median pay for CNAs across the nation is $13.72 per hour. However, it is possible to earn more. The top 10 percent of CNAs bring in over $41,460 a year, which is a pretty solid income.

Plus, some CNAs use their position as a springboard. They keep learning on the job and remain in school, allowing them to become a registered nurse (RN), licensed practical nurse (LPN), or nurse practitioner (NP), for example. That can significantly boost a person’s earning potential, all while letting them stay in a field they’ve grown to love.

What You Need to Know for Your Job Interview

While CNAs are in-demand, that doesn’t mean you can just swoop into your interview and expect to get hired without spending any time preparing. If you want to showcase yourself as the superhero you truly are, then you’ll need to do better than that.

For example, you’ll want to tear into the CNA job description for the position. It’s chocked full of details that let you know what the hiring manager wants to find, so it’s an excellent resource.

You’ll also want to review how to handle behavioral interview questions using the STAR Method and the Tailoring Method. Finally, don’t forget to look at the top CNA interview questions. That way, you’ll know what to expect.

MIKE'S TIP: While you usually don’t want to focus too much on exercise habits during an interview, as they often don’t relate to the role, there can be an exception when you want a CNA job. Since the position requires physical strength and endurance, don’t be afraid to mention your physical accomplishments. For example, if you take part in Tough Mudder runs or Spartan Races, bring it up. Even belonging to an intramural sports team or just working out regularly could be worth talking about, as long as you can make it engaging. It makes your physical abilities clearer, so it may actually work in your favor.

Putting It All Together

When you really think about it, CNAs are superheroes. Without them, the entire medical industry could collapse, and patients may not get all of the care they need to heal.

Whether you currently work as a CNA, or are interested in joining their ranks, keep the information above in mind. It will let you know where to focus your efforts, ensuring that you bring everything you need to the table and can get your CNA career headed in the right direction.

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Check out our other “job description articles” if you’re exploring career options:

About The Author

Mike Simpson

Co-Founder and CEO of TheInterviewGuys.com. Mike is a job interview and career expert and the head writer at TheInterviewGuys.com. His advice and insights have been shared and featured by publications such as Forbes, Entrepreneur, CNBC and more as well as educational institutions such as the University of Michigan, Penn State, Northeastern and others. Learn more about The Interview Guys on our About Us page.