Here at Best Health Degrees, we’re committed to helping you find a pathway into medicine. We want you to learn what it will take to succeed before you begin an educational degree or certification, so you make informed decisions and don’t waste your time and money. One of the ways we accomplish these goals is through profiling different roles in nursing.
Nursing is a remarkably selfless career path. You’ll work on the front lines of treating patients directly, coordinating their care, and taking care of their essential needs. It’s exceptionally admirable and rewarding. Unlike many other professions, you’ll see the utility of your work every day.
Being a nurse is complicated and arduous. If you want a career in nursing you’ll need to train vigorously, stay current with the ever-shifting medical field, and complete various degrees and certifications to maintain or enhance your position and job opportunities.
Nurses are constantly moving. It’s estimated that a nurse walks four to five miles in every 12-hour shift they work (nurses are often required to work 12-hour shifts or longer). During that time they see often treat between one to eight patients, although this is highly dependent on the environment and facility they work in.
As a nurse, you’ll be joining an ancient tradition. Records of nurses extend back to 300 AD in the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire wanted hospitals in every town under their control. Over the following centuries, as the Catholic Church, Charlemagne, and eventually more localized rulers supplanted the Roman Empire as influential organizations in Europe and across the world, nursing developed dramatically. Throughout, one thing remained consistent: a strong need for nurses. That need continues today.
- What is a CNA? What is a CNA Degree or Certification? How Do You Earn One?
- What do CNAs Do?
- Ask Yourself and Consider the Following About Your CNA Education and Career
- How Can We Help You In Your Nursing Education and Career?
- What Can You Expect to Earn as a CNA? What’s CNA Employment Like?
Currently, there’s a far higher demand for qualified nurses than a supply of them. Nursing, and the medical field overall, is expected by many sources to grow drastically over the coming years. It’s not only demand that makes nursing desirable. Not long ago, in 2018, US News and World Report published a list of the 25 Best Jobs for Americans. Three of the top 25 were in nursing.
The nursing population is booming. In 2016 there were 4 million nurses in America. Between 2013 and 2016, 500,000 new nurses joined the field. This trend has been continuing for a while: the total amount of nurses has tripled since 1970, and the number of American nurses increased more than the overall American population in the 2000s!
When we think of nurses, we generally think of Registered Nurses (in 2018 there were nearly 3.06 million registered nurses in the country). However, many working nurses haven’t yet achieved the RN title, but are still vital participants in the nursing field.
Just like in other career paths, there are multiple entry points in nursing. You should select a subsection of nursing that suits your needs and goals. What’s best for you can feel murky. But it relies on many factors you can weigh and consider (more on that later). However, if you’re starting to work, or looking for a new career, an excellent option for beginning a career in nursing is earning a Nursing Assistant (CNA) Degree or Certification.
So, what does that entail?
What is a CNA? What is a CNA Degree or Certification? How Do You Earn One?
CNAs are Certified Nursing Assistants. They provide principle care to patients in many different healthcare settings, including clinics, nursing homes, long-term care facilities, and hospitals. CNAs work under the oversight of licensed or registered nurses.
CNAs don’t necessarily need a higher degree. In general, they complete a formal training program required by their state. These training programs take four to sixteen weeks to complete. There are also other requirements. You’ll need to complete a number of clinical hours (differing state to state), and then pass a nurse aide competency exam. This exam has a written section and a practical skill-based part as well. After completing these requirements, they are put on a state’s registry and get a certification as nursing assistants.
In some cases, CNA training may be provided to successful candidates for free or at low cost. In comparison to other nursing programs, which can cost thousands of dollars, this is a great way to save money. CNAs earn a credential that can help them begin a rewarding career with plenty of room for growth.
The written part of the CNA exam addresses many pressing issues you’ll face in your career, and some you may find surprising. There are several practice test resources you can find on the web. Here are some questions you might face on the test:
- 1) What kind of fire can you extinguish with water?
- A) Chemical B) Electrical C) Paper D) Grease
- 2) As a CNA, you’re walking a client who’s in a wheelchair around a facility. You hear a fire alarm, and your client becomes upset due to the noise. The CNA should:
- A) Push the client into a hallway then carry them outside B) Leave the client and get help C) Comfort the client while taking them to a safe place D) Lock the wheelchair and search the area for smoke
- 3) To be safe, what should you do when you leave a client alone in their room?
- A) Put a signaling device within the client’s grasp B) Restrain the client C) Close the door to the client’s room tightly D) Leave the bed in an elevated position
- 4) Which is the correct measurement of an amount of urine?
- A) 2 quarts B) 30 oz C) 3 cups D) 300 cc
- 5) The hormone insulin regulates
- A) Hearth rhythms B) The salt in a patient’s blood C) The strength of skeletal muscles D) The amount of sugar in a patient’s blood
And here are answers to these sample questions:
- 1) C. There are fire extinguishers that are used for paper, wood, and some plastics, some that are used for gas or oil, and others that are used for electrical fires.
- 2) C. In the case of a fire, nurses use the acronym RACE as an order of operations. R = Remove or rescue all people who can’t escape themselves. A = Alarm: pull the alarm if it hasn’t gone off in the process of rescuing clients C = Confine/Contain the fire or smoke through closing doors or anything else that can contain the spread of the issue. E = Extinguish the fire if you can, with a handheld fire extinguisher, if it’s small enough to be dealt with this way.
- 3) A. Clients must always be able to get in touch with caregivers. Their beds should be left in the lowest position, with bed rails in place. Restraints aren’t used unless under direct orders from a superior.
- 4) D. Always use the metric system when measuring weight, volume, temperature, and length in medical settings. It’s more precise, and the standard in the field.
- 5) D. Diabetic patients use insulin injections to regulate their blood sugar. Their blood sugar levels must be checked daily.
To qualify for a CNA training program, you’ll need to satisfy some prerequisites. These also vary by state, but can include:
- Passing a physical exam and tuberculosis screening
- Passing a criminal background check
- Completing an orientation session
- Having a high school diploma or equivalent credential
Remember: CNAs don’t have the same training as RNs or LPNs (licensed practical nurses), aren’t as skilled, and they don’t get paid as much. However, they often work just as hard as nurses above them, and many CNAs use this credential as a launchpad to higher degrees and certifications in nursing.
In a CNA program you’ll study many topics, including:
- Basic activities in daily life for CNAs and patients
- First aid
- Communication skills
- Personal care skills
- Emergency procedures
- Taking vital signs
- Controlling infection
- Nursing and patient safety
- Collecting and reporting on data
- Mental health issues, needs, and responsibilities
- Cultural differences and needs
- Patient and client rights
- Laws and ethics governing nursing
- Long-term care
CNA coursework is offered through the Red Cross, community colleges, vocational colleges and other settings depending on where you live. You can also get training to become a CNA through technical schools, and through hospitals, nursing homes, and other medical facilities.
To maintain your CNA certification, you’ll need to be recertified every 24 months in many states. Recertification often consists of 48 hours of continued education. You might be retrained in areas like domestic violence, medical record documentation, first aid, patient rights, and more.
Some CNA training can be done online (mostly the coursework). However, all CNAs will need to do practical training in person.
Let’s dive into the daily responsibilities of CNAs:
What do CNAs Do?
CNAs are the foot soldiers of nursing. In many facilities, due to the high demands on RNs and LPNs, they may be the primary caregiver to many patients. They need to be superbly compassionate, upbeat, energetic and take real pleasure from helping people who are dealing with a host of serious medical issues.
You’ll need spectacular communication skills and a vast well of humility. You must be comfortable reporting to superiors, because just about everyone you’ll work with (other than fellow CNAs) will be above you.
Some of the responsibilities CNAs take on include:
- Assisting superiors with medical procedures
- Stocking medical supplies
- Dressing and cleaning wounds
- Lifting, adjusting, repositioning, and turning over patients. This can involve putting patients into wheelchairs, onto exam tables, and into beds.
- Serving meals, feeding patients and documenting what they ate
- Providing bedpans, emptying them, and helping patients go to the bathroom
- Taking and recording vital signs
- Monitoring patients and attending to their calls
- Dressing and bathing patients
- Changing bedding and cleaning patient rooms
- Retrieving supplies for nurses and doctors
- Transporting patients to treatment units, operating rooms, and other medical facilities
- Working with medical technology, including medical record charting software, billing software, and health information software
- Administering medication to patients
- Serving as a liaison between patients, families, doctors, nurses, and other medical staff
- Among many others
A CNA can be called upon to complete many tasks, and they need to do so on the bounce. It’s not easy work, and absolutely not for the faint of heart or people who are easily grossed out. You might see very graphic things, including devastating injuries, violence, and biological processes that aren’t pretty. However, if you can handle the rougher aspects of this work, you’ll build strong camaraderie with your coworkers, and have secured a position in a field with a lot of opportunity for advancement. Not all CNAs rush to achieve further positions. The National Network of Career Nursing Assistants notes that 28% of CNAs work in the role for at least five years and at least 13% stay a CNA for 10-55 years.
Now let’s look at how you should decide whether to become a CNA, along with with where and how you should get CNA training:
Ask Yourself and Consider the Following About Your CNA Education and Career
- The most important thing to ask yourself is: can you do the work of a CNA, considering how grueling, painful, and rough it is? Will you be highly motivated by this work?
- Even though the training for a CNA position is far less than other medical degrees or certifications, it’s still not something you should waste your time on if it’s not for you. Think hard about whether you’re a good fit for this position.
- Consider volunteering at a long-term care facility, nursing home, or other medical organization to get a sense of the work you might do, and experience doing it.
- If you’re sure nursing is for you, how far do you want to go in your career? What are your short, mid, and longterm career goals in nursing, and in general?
- Is becoming a CNA a good first step for you, or should you study and become an RN or LPN straightaway?
- You can become a CNA much quicker than you can get an RN or LPN certification. However, by the time you get a CNA certification, a job, and work in it for a while to get your feet wet, you might spend enough time in the field to have earned a different certification. Weight the pros and cons of quick entry into nursing against higher pay and a more impressive credential.
- Where do you want to live and work? Some cities and states have higher pay for CNAs. The top states for CNA pay in May 2018 were Alaska, New York, Hawaii, California, and Nevada.
- You might consider pursuing your CNA training in the area you want to work in. It’s not necessary, but the program you train under might be able to connect you to more local opportunities than CNA jobs further away.
- One thing you have on your side is the high demand for nurses and the growing demand for certified CNAs.
- How long can you commit to a CNA program? Some programs take longer than others to complete. Make sure to find out all of the specs that govern any CNA program you’re considering.
These are just some of the questions and considerations you should be mulling over when you’re choosing a CNA program, or whether to pursue one at all. You can help yourself decide by discussing these questions with family, friends, experienced nurses, program facilitators, and anyone else you trust. Writing out answers to these questions can also be very useful in your decision-making process.
Now let’s explore how we can help you in your hunt for a nursing program, and in search for a nursing position.
How Can We Help You In Your Nursing Education and Career?
Here at Best Health Degrees, we’ve worked diligently to offer aspiring nurses a litany of informative content. We’ve ranked degree programs, including traditional and online offerings. We’ve prepared resources to help you decide what roles you should pursue in your medical career, and show you what opportunities exist once you’ve earned credentials, degrees, and certifications. We’re also committed to answering common questions that describe roles in the field, the differences between them, and much more. Some of our pertinent content can be found below.
If you find any program through our work that you’re interested in, you should reach out to its support staff directly. Usually, they’ll be happy to answer questions about their program and can give you valuable insight into whether it’s for you. You can learn about costs, timelines, and how to be successful from experienced professionals with an intimate understanding of any program you’re considering.
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- What Can I Do with a Bachelor’s in Nursing?
- What Can I Do with a Master’s of Science in Nursing?
- What Can I Do with a Master’s in Health Informatics?
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- What is a Nursing Assistant?
- What is the Difference Between a CNA and an LPN?
- What is a CNA?
- Can You Get a Degree in Nursing Online?
- What is a Long-Term Care Nurse?
- What is a Hospice Nurse?
What Can You Expect to Earn as a CNA? What are the Numbers on CNA Employment?
CNAs are at the bottom of the earning ladder for nurses, but as we’ve discussed, there’s significant room for advancement in the field. After earning your CNA credential and working, you can qualify to begin training as an RN or LPN, although you may need to obtain a Bachelor’s degree. However, the time that you log as a CNA will go a long way towards preparing you to gain further certifications, and you’ll likely work with more experienced and credentialed nurses.
Here’s some information about nursing employment overall, courtesy of the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics:
- In 2018, nurses made a median wage of $71,730 each year, or $34.48 per hour.
- In 2018 there were 3,059,800 employed nurses.
- Nursing was expected to grow by 12% between 2018-28. This means 371,500 new roles in the field over that timeframe.
BLS also offers information on Nursing Assistants and Orderlies. They define these roles as people who work providing primary care for patients in hospitals and residents of long-term care facilities.
- In May 2018, the median pay for Nursing Assistants was $28,540 each year, or $13.72 per hour.
- In May 2018 there were 1,450,960 people working as a Nursing Assistant.
- Employment for Nursing Assistants and Orderlies was expected to increase by 9% between 2018-28, creating 137,800 new jobs.
- Nursing Assistants working at hospitals and in government jobs received higher pay ($30,050 median annual wage and $33,800 respectively).
- In May 2018 the lowest 10th percentile and below of Nursing Assistants earned $21,290 annually or $10.24 per hour, and the top 90th percentile and above made $39,560 annually, or $19.02 per hour.
The highest level of employment for Nursing Assistants was found in the following industries in May 2018:
- Nursing Care Facilities (Skilled Nursing Facilities): 581,140 positions. Hourly mean wage was $13.73, or $28,560 annually.
- General Medical and Surgical Hospitals: 372,320 roles. Mean wage was $15.17 per hour, or $31,540 annually.
- Continuing Care Retirement Communities and Assisted Living Facilities for the Elderly: 163,950 jobs. Hourly mean wage was $13.35 an hour, or $27,780 each year.
- Home Health Care Services: 80,150 positions. Hourly mean wage was $13.52, or $28,130 annually.
- Individual and Family Services: 39,080 roles. Hourly mean wage of $12.82 or $26,660 annually.
A great way to earn more as a CNA is to expand your skillset. This can mean gaining a different credential or additional certification. One excellent option is to become a PCT or Patient Care Technician. PCT’s can take on CNA responsibilities and do some work in the fields of electrocardiogram and phlebotomy.
We hope you’ve found this guide informative and illuminating. Good luck in your nursing career!