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What does a Nursing Assistant do?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A nursing assistant is a trained professional who supports the nursing staff in hospitals, long-term care facilities, rehabilitation clinics, and in doctor’s offices in providing basic care for patients. The job can require ability to lift patients, great people skills, a sense of humor and tolerance for cleanup and care of patients who cannot fully care for themselves. Most nursing assistants, who may also be called healthcare workers, undergo training through programs offered by colleges, medical or technical schools, and through organizations like the Red Cross. Training is usually completed within a few weeks to a few months, depending upon the individual program, and classes are frequently taught by registered nurses (RNs). Most nursing assistant jobs require certification, which may be gained through participating in a class and passing examinations at the end.

The certified nursing assistant assists in the basic human needs of the healthcare profession. They may help to bathe patients, feed them, change diapers or beds, empty bedpans, and help patients to bathroom or toileting facilities. They are also trained to take vitals, which are measurements of pulse, blood pressure, and respiration, and are responsible for charting vitals several times during each shift. The nursing assistant also needs to be fully aware of any changes in vitals, and any significant changes in a patient’s condition, and report such to the nursing staff.

In facilities where patients are hospitalized for long periods of time, it is usually the nursing assistant, sometimes with the help of hospital orderlies, who will help patients turn over every couple of hours so they don’t develop bedsores. A nursing assistant may be the first responder when a patient calls for help, and the job can require some pretty heavy lifting when patients who are ill or recovering need to get up to walk around, change their clothing, or get to the bathroom. It requires some physical strength and knowledge of safe lifting tactics to work as a nursing assistant.

Some nursing assistants may additionally support patients by helping them with prescribed physical or respiratory therapy exercises. In long term care facilities, nursing assistants can be trained to help exercise patients who are paralyzed or in comas. These health care workers may also work with patients in home care settings, and may be the primary caretakers for patients recovering from conditions or who have long term disabling conditions.

The many jobs a nursing assistant performs frees up nurses to provide care that requires greater training, like administering IV medications and starting IVs, giving appropriate medications on time, charting and noting significant changes in a patient’s health, and alerting doctors to potential problems. In many care settings, the higher patient-to-nurse ratio in recent years is a matter that can be somewhat resolved by skilled nursing assistants. Yet, the amount of work required for these assistants can be significant and exhausting when patient-to-nurse ratio is particularly high.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Practical Adult Insights contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon971291 — On Sep 24, 2014

In Quebec, a nursing assistant is half way between a PAB and a pill distributor, which means you'll do everything that the RN's don't feel like doing when you're not changing diapers. Salary = between 12$ (private) and 19$ (public).

By anon945428 — On Apr 12, 2014

Hate to burst the bubbles of all of you who think being a CNA helps bring smiles to peoples' faces, but nine times out of 10, the only thing you get is yelled at for not getting there quick enough or given five other things to do for them. CNAs are hardly ever appreciated by patients or even the RNs.

By anon926221 — On Jan 17, 2014

Don't do it! Nurses lie. Yes, lie! If something goes wrong, guess who takes the blame? Very few -- and I mean very few -- nurses will ever get off their ample butts to get up to answer a light or put someone on a bedpan/toilet.

Then there is the know it all CNA. The CNA who is the tattle tale, and the “I'll be there to help you lift” CNA. Then, after waiting a half hour, you finally decide to just put a two hundred pound person to bed. There’s the one who is late every day and never gets in trouble. How do they do it? There’s the one who hates you because she hates everyone. There’s the nurse who has an unhappy home life and brings it to work with her.

More often than not, you'll always work short staffed. No one can give proper care to 12 to 14 people. It's impossible! You will be short of lifts and lift pads. Oh, and that pat on the back? Don't ever think you’re going to get it. More than likely, you'll be reminded of what you didn't do. Remember, you’re the low man on the totem pole. You will be reminded of that often. You never speak up or you’ll be labeled the wave maker.

At most nursing homes where I've worked, you’re under paid, short staffed and unrecognized! Always remember the nurse is always right -- even if she isn't, because she/he can make your life hell!

How much does a nursing assistant make? It all depends. Most of the time, it’s not enough! I worked for a county home for the last 13 years and it had a union. I do believe in unions as long as they actually back you up. In this case, we had the very worst union around. The only thing they got us was our wage. That was the one thing we did get. We were paid better than a lot of small nursing homes.

Watch your back, and I mean physically. I hurt my back and I was thrown away like a old rag. If you do become a nursing assistant, have a plan B. This is no career! This job will burn you out in every way.

The saddest part of all the people who have to live in these places never get what they need. One person can only do so much, and as hard as I tried it was mission impossible. Check with the nurse to make sure your loved one is getting their medications. If not, demand they get their meds in a timely fashion. You’d better go every single day to check they are being fed if they are unable to feed themselves.

Please don't get upset with the nursing assistant. We may have anywhere from 13 to 14 people to take care of during a shift. Last but not least, if you suspect your loved one isn't getting what they need or if you’re worried for their safety, go to the state you live in and complain.

By anon344844 — On Aug 13, 2013

Being a nursing assistant is a job that isn't for everyone. If you don't have the patience, heart and love for it, then I suggest you find another job. Yes, it is a job that requires a lot and takes a lot out of you. What really matters is that your clients are being loved and are given the best care ever. Remember, one day you might have to be in the same position as the one you are caring for, so wouldn't you want someone to care for you wholeheartedly? It's not all about the money, it's about knowing that you can lend a helping hand to someone who needs it. Please, if you are in this field and have a negative attitude and don't like what you do, then consider another job. Nobody asked you to be a caregiver; you wanted to do it. People need a caregiver who have a passion for helping others. I don't care what job you have, it all comes with some kind of stress and issues.

By anon343102 — On Jul 27, 2013

The requirements for a CNA? Clean butts and kiss them. And I'm not talking about kissing the patients' rear ends, either. I'm talking about the jerks who run these places and don't know what the hell they are doing.

By anon307281 — On Dec 04, 2012

Being a CNA is a rewarding job of its own. You do start anywhere from $9-$12 an hour.

You do not give out the meds or do what a doctor does. You check vitals, clean up after them, bathe them, change them (if needed), feed them (if needed), and empty caths.

If you are a soft-hearted person and get your emotions hurt easily, then this is not a job for you. But you do get to know your residents, and learn all their history and these amazing stories they have to tell you.

By anon306997 — On Dec 03, 2012

I've been reading everything everyone has said because I truly want to become a CNA (I've been volunteering as a NA at a hospital for the past year). I've got what it takes with all of my heart and soul. However, I cannot believe that such a challenging job pays so little! It's such a difficult job, very tiring, not something your average human being wants to do or can do. It's almost sacred if you ask me, and very important in terms of the patient's well-being.

CNAs give their heart out out there. They absorb all the pain the patient is feeling and yet find the strength to give strength to the patient. They go home exhausted and with so many thoughts, and tomorrow it's back to the old drawing board. They should at least be paid enough to not have to worry about their bills, especially if they've got a family of their own and are always too tired to spent some "quality" time with them! It's the kind of job that literally burns you out as the years go by. A little more appreciation wouldn't hurt anyone.

By anon301949 — On Nov 06, 2012

I am a first year nursing assistant here in Australia and my hourly rate is $18.78, but after I do 1,200 hours that pay will increase. I acknowledge that the job is stressful and yucky at times but overall I love my job. Time management in this job is vital!

Those who hate being in this type of work for whatever reason, or who lose their compassion for the patients or residents, should seriously consider changing their career as there isn't and shouldn't be any room for people like that in this industry.

By anon300002 — On Oct 27, 2012

A STNA, CNA and nurse assistant are all the same -- nothing. Put it on the one who does all the work for the least pay.

I've been doing this for almost 30 years and the job I have now pays the least of any in the last five to 10 years. And yet they don't feel you're doing enough or working hard enough, event when you have been in the someone room 15 times in 10 minutes for the same thing, have given three showers, and wiped five dirty bottoms, but nope you're not doing anything.

Then a nurse needs a blood pressure on someone so she can give blood pressure meds and is standing a foot from the blood pressure machine. So my advice to anyone thinking about doing this, is don't. You might get stuck like have for 25 years and hate your job as much as I do now.

By anon298967 — On Oct 23, 2012

You can look up a lot of that stuff on the bureau of labor and statistics site to find out pay and working environment, etc.

By anon278331 — On Jul 05, 2012

I completed my short course on AIN and with the two weeks of work experience I did, I loved every bit of it. In Sydney it's $20-22 hourly but it just depends which age care facility you work at.

By anon277930 — On Jul 03, 2012

If I were a young person today, I would be seeking the training and/or the job that will have benefits for me in my retirement years. Otherwise, go for a high paying job that will allow you to save enough money for your retirement.

Don't work for minimum wages unless you plan on working your entire life. One day you'll be burned out with the aging process and money saved will be a blessing for your survival.

By anon276577 — On Jun 25, 2012

My sister is a nursing assistant and she hates her job! Not because she doesn't like helping the people, but because the job is hard and the pay is really low for the job duties. She comes home tired and has lost her appetite to do what she has to do. Now she regrets it because they do not pay what they should for that type of work. Being a CNA is not worth it.

By anon260083 — On Apr 09, 2012

CNA = Certified bleep Wipers! Find a different career. Seriously, I have been doing it for over a year and it is nasty and the pay stinks.

By anon257407 — On Mar 26, 2012

I'm only 13 and I want to be an assistant nurse. I know I'm very young right not but I'll get there and it might be a lot of work frustration and stress but at the end of the day, you are helping those who can't help themselves. The best part about my soon to be job is the smiles I will bring to peoples faces.

By anon217170 — On Sep 24, 2011

I was a CNA for two years, and I hated it. You work long, awful hours. Also, most starting salaries are 8-11 dollars an hour. Most of CNAs work in long term care facilities, so if you don't mind wiping people's butts (literally), then go for it.

By anon207500 — On Aug 20, 2011

How much does a nursing assistant make in miami fl?

By anon206804 — On Aug 17, 2011

That sounds like an awful job. I wanted to get into health care, but now I'm not sure.

By anon187087 — On Jun 16, 2011

Being a nursing assistant, a person should manage to control his stress.

By anon167843 — On Apr 14, 2011

i want to become a nursing assistant because i want to help other people.

By anon164794 — On Apr 02, 2011

I'm a high school graduated and I'm a college graduate on my medical with associate degree and now I'm taking classes for nursing assistant because i like helping people in need. being a nursing assistant was all i wanted it to be.

By anon163990 — On Mar 30, 2011

Wages will vary depending on where you work and what type of facility you work at. The same thing goes for patient to nurse ratios.

In recent years, the patient to nurse ratio has changed and that has caused some stress and controversy among nurses. The number of patients in Minnesota has increased and the number of nurses has decreased. There have been a few strikes here because of that. Sources: 33 years as a nurse (Some as an LPN, some as a RN), experience

By anon135658 — On Dec 19, 2010

I just started working as a nursing assistant. It's tough work. I have 12-14 patients to bathe, dress and change. What a hassle and workout.

By anon101498 — On Aug 03, 2010

i would love to be a nurse's assistant in order to help people who are in need, but I am an african and my language is not that fluent. Would I be chosen for the programme?

By anon98218 — On Jul 22, 2010

is it really all about the money? have you thought about the person you will be helping, or is that not important? Really now, how about the crap you'll be taking from some jerk of a supervisor and all the little things you'll be blamed for? After all, crap rolls down hill.

By anon95493 — On Jul 12, 2010

here in australia, an aged care assistant gets $17.90 for the first 12 months then $25.80 thereafter.

By anon89324 — On Jun 09, 2010

i believe it's anywhere from 11- 15 dollars. depending on where you live.

By anon77406 — On Apr 14, 2010

i need help on nurse assistants, because i am doing a four-page bibliography on nurse assistants.

By anon67726 — On Feb 26, 2010

i want to become an assistant nurse because i love to help those who are in need.

By anon66891 — On Feb 22, 2010

what are the requirements to become an assistant?

By anon64336 — On Feb 06, 2010

What is the patient ratio for a nursing assistant in an acute hospital? Does anybody know?

By anon63122 — On Jan 30, 2010

i would like to be a nurse assistant but my language is not good because i just came from another country. i'm not sure if I can be a nurse assistant. Will i have to speak a lot or not?

By anon52321 — On Nov 12, 2009

I didn't know someone could train as a nurse assistant in France? I would like more information in becoming a nurse assistant in France? Could information be provided?

Garibay, from Calfornia, U.S.A.

By tonyromofan — On Nov 08, 2009

I am a french nursing assistant, and I want to work in the United States. how could I do that? thank you

By anon47427 — On Oct 05, 2009

A CNA cannot handle or distribute prescription medication, correct?

By anon40338 — On Aug 07, 2009

how much does a nurse assistant make at north california?

By hotrox38 — On Mar 02, 2009

how much money does a nurses assistant make in north carolina?

By anon18220 — On Sep 17, 2008

how much does a nurse asst make?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Practical Adult Insights contributor...
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