What Does a CNA Do?What Does a CNA Do

June 12 – 19 is National Nursing Assistants Week, time to recognize the 1.5 million US workers who are the main daily caregivers for millions of seniors in nursing homes, assisted living communities, hospitals, and private homes. To become certified nursing assistants, or CNAs, students must successfully complete a training program approved by the state they wish to work in, pass a state certification test, and get on the job training. In some states, CNAs must also keep up with continuing education requirements and may have the option to specialize in a particular area such as medication management. After all that preparation, what’s a work day like for these caregivers? Let’s take a look at a typical, hypothetical 12-hour shift.

Morning

When a CNA arrives at work, he or she is assigned patients to work with and gets a report on their conditions. Then it’s time to take and record vital signs on those people and help them get ready for the day. CNAs are usually the people who help seniors with their morning routine of bathing, toileting, grooming, and getting dressed. Once their charges are ready, it’s time for breakfast, either in the community dining room or in private. CNAs may help with feeding, cleanup, and medication if applicable. In some cases, CNAs may need to record how much each senior eats and drinks at mealtime.

Midday

Seniors who are going outdoors or on a shopping trip with other residents may need help transferring from a bed to a wheelchair or a chair to a van. CNAs need strong backs and proper lifting techniques to safely maneuver their clients from one setting to another — often, many times per day. Seniors who must remain in bed or who spend long hours sitting in a wheelchair require proper turning and repositioning to avoid sores and discomfort — CNAs are trained in the best ways to do that, too.

Lunch brings more mealtime tasks, and the afternoon may include helping seniors perform their prescribed physical therapy exercises to increase their range of motion, balance, and walking abilities. Trips to the bathroom, bedpan use, and calls from residents who require assistance are all part of the day. In most facilities, bed linens must be changed and patient rooms cleaned daily.

Evening

Dinnertime means more serving and possibly administering medication as well. If there are social activities or entertainment on the community schedule, CNAs help residents attend if they want to participate. Before the shift ends, CNAs must deliver reports to their supervising nurse to prepare for the next shift.

Throughout the day

CNAs are responsible for noticing any changes in the health or behavior of their patients and reporting them to the supervising nurse. They’re also the ones who check vital signs at regular times throughout the day, including blood pressure and heart rate, and record that information on the patients’ charts. Trips to the toilet, adult undergarment changes, and helping patients stay hydrated are ongoing tasks. Depending on the facility, nursing assistants may also help get medical equipment ready for tests and procedures, evaluate patient safety conditions, and serve as a liaison between patients and registered nurses and doctors.

Perhaps the most important work any CNA does is to listen and talk with patients, not only to assess their health but also to foster the social connections that are crucial to good mental health. With all the work that CNAs do for seniors in their care, a week in their honor might not be enough. If you need thank-you gift ideas for the CNAs who care for you or your loved ones, check out our blog post.

Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelance writer whose childhood was made awesome by her grandmothers, great-grandmother, great-aunts and -uncles, and their friends.

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