Certified Nursing Assistants, or CNAs, are patients’ most accessible source of comfort, relief and companionship. CNA Lorena DeLeon notes that CNAs also provide relief and comfort to families of hospice patients, who usually are exhausted as the end of life draws near. "They're happy to know that their loved one is being cared for by someone they trust," she says. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 20 percent growth rate in this field over the period 2010 through 2020 -- higher than the national average for all U.S. occupations -- because of our aging population. As of 2010, the median pay for CNAs was $24,010 per year, or $11.24 per hour.
Basic Life Functions
CNAs assist patients in a variety of settings, including hospitals, assisted living facilities, nursing homes, private homes and adult day care centers. They help with the tasks of daily life that patients can't perform, such as bathing, getting out of bed, eating, dressing, grooming and using the restroom. They also maximize patients’ comfort, for example by providing proper support in bed, applying lotion to prevent skin from cracking and ensuring that necessary items are easily accessible. In addition, CNAs are trained and licensed to monitor the patients’ environment to ensure their safety, for example by removing tripping hazards.
Drugs and Therapies
CNAs are not authorized to administer injections, but they do give patients oral medications and may provide treatments directed by a doctor or nurse, including cold or heat packs, vibration, whirlpool baths or wound irrigation. They also may change wound dressings, apply a sling or put support bandages on a patient. Many patients have trouble with mobility and CNAs help them maintain muscle tone and strength through active and passive exercise.
Monitoring and Pain Relief
CNAs measure and record patients’ pulse, respiration rate, temperature and blood pressure, and they also may collect specimens of urine, sputum or feces for lab analysis. In addition, CNAs observe patients’ behavior and physical symptoms and talk to them about their pain. CNAs report significant changes in behavior or vital signs as well as pain issues to the supervising nurse or doctor so medication can be adjusted. CNAs also play a critical role in relieving pain or helping patients cope with it through non-drug methods, such as massages, heat, distraction and even humor. Often, CNAs often are the first to notice changes in a patient's condition and these observations can make a real difference in the quality of treatment.
Whole Person Therapy
Besides the patients’ direct medical needs, CNAs often help patients by addressing their emotional and spiritual needs. For example, a key part of private care involves listening and talking to patients who are otherwise alone and cut off from the world. CNAs also may assist patients with deep breathing, meditation or relaxation techniques. In some cases, they may pray with a patient or read spiritual passages aloud to him.
- Nursing Assistant Guides: What Is a Certified Nursing Assistant?
- Nurse Together: CNAs Are Important, Too! Their Role on the Patient Care Team
- CNA Training Help: The Job Description of a CNA – Function and Limits
- O-Net Online: Nursing Assistants
- Lorena DeLeon, CNA; Private Patient Care; Middletown, Rhode Island
A retired federal senior executive currently working as a management consultant and communications expert, Mary Bauer has written and edited for senior U.S. government audiences, including the White House, since 1984. She holds a Master of Arts in French from George Mason University and a Bachelor of Arts in English, French and international relations from Aquinas College.