How to Become a Hospital CNA

Overview

CNA helping an elderly woman out of bed

Hospital certified nursing assistants (CNAs) have the extraordinary opportunity to make a positive impact on the lives of their patients. By aiding the nursing staff in nearly every aspect of patient care, hospital CNAs play a significant role in a patient's day-to-day experience within a healthcare facility. CNAs respond to calls; help move, clean and feed bedridden patients; monitor blood pressure and vital signs; and ensure their patients take in enough nourishment at mealtime.

Another primary responsibility of hospital CNAs is to help patients remain mobile by helping them up from bed, transporting them by gurney or wheelchair when necessary or assisting them with short walks. Hospital CNAs, who may also be referred to as licensed nurse’s aides, also help clean and maintain hospital beds and rooms in some facilities. The valuable assistance they provide gives CNAs the opportunity to make a significant contribution to the quality and comfort of a patient's stay at a healthcare facility.

Work Environment

Most hospital CNAs work in full-time positions, where common working hours include nights, weekends and holidays. A hospital CNA should be strong because the work frequently requires physical exertion such as moving bedridden patients. CNAs must also be alert so they can quickly identify any change in their patients’ health. Because hospital CNAs work closely with their patients, they often develop strong, friendly relationships and earn a deep sense of personal satisfaction from their work.

Requirements

Education

A high school diploma or a GED is a prerequisite for a hospital CNA, as is completion of a CNA certification program. Most community colleges and many hospitals and healthcare facilities offer such programs—typically a twelve-week course that includes both theory and practice. The course covers training in basic nursing skills and safety, and the basic concepts of hygiene, nutrition, infection control and life support. The certification course also reviews some human anatomy and physiology. Through the program, students will gain at least 100 hours of supervised training and at least 50 hours of classroom training, although some states only require 75 total hours. Once students complete the certification program, they take the CNA certification exam.

Training

Most CNAs receive training on the job, even with the certification program.

Licensing and/or Certification

CNA certification applicants must be at least sixteen years old and have completed a CNA certification program (see above) within the last two years. In addition, some states require a criminal background check (conducted by the Department of Education).

CNA certification applicants take the CNA certification exam, which is administered under the auspices of the American Red Cross, over the course of one day. The exam consists of two parts. The first, the theoretical portion, is written and has seventy multiple-choice questions. The second part of the test, the practical portion called “Skill Evaluation,” requires applicants to perform five skills randomly chosen by the testers on a volunteer acting as a patient. Once hospital CNAs pass the written test and perform each of the five skills correctly, they receive the National Nurse Aide Assessment Program (NNAAP) certification and are listed in the Nurse Aide Registry.

The Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1987 governs CNA certification and ensures that training a CNA receives in one state does not prevent him or her from being eligible to serve as a CNA anywhere in the country. Some states have slightly different requirements, however, and certain states require that hospital CNAs complete continuing education. Details on local requirements are available through chapters of the Red Cross and state nursing or health departments.

Necessary Skills and Qualities

The most successful CNAs are compassionate, communicative and patient. Because CNAs must often exert themselves, physical fitness and strength are also important. In addition, it is critical that CNAs work well not only with patients but also with other facility staff.

Opportunities for Advancement

Hospital CNAs spend a great deal of their time learning healthcare in literally a “hands-on” way. A hospital CNA may teach others how to become a CNA or decide to continue his or her education and become an LPN or an RN. After a few years of experience, a CNA may get into management and supervise other CNAs.

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Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2010, hospital CNAs earned a median annual salary of $24,010 or $11.54 per hour. Typical salaries ranged from $17,790 to $34,580. Wages paid to hospital CNAs often vary depending on the particular CNA’s duties, level of responsibility, educational background and job location. In comparison, self-employed CNAs generally earn higher wages than hospital CNAs, but hospital CNAs on average earn more than CNAs employed in other medical facilities.

Job Outlook

Reflecting a growing need for healthcare workers, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that employment for hospital CNAs should increase by an estimated 20 percent between 2010 and 2020. The growing elderly population in the United States is expected to increase demand for healthcare services—and therefore the demand for hospital CNAs—significantly in coming years. In addition, many hospital CNAs seek advanced training and education to become LPNs or RNs, which creates a high turnover rate in the CNA field and drives up the need for new hospital CNAs.

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