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In health care, as in a number of professions, if it’s not your job focus, you may not know what other people do in theirs. For example, if you’re not a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), you may not be aware of what is in their scope of practice.

Kim Warren, RN, BSN, nursing assistant program director at Dawn Career Institute, a private, post-secondary school preparing students to pursue a new career in the health care and wellness fields, took some time to answer questions about what tasks a CNA is responsible for, what kind of training they need, and what someone considering this type of position needs to do.

An edited version of our interview follows.

Kim WarrenFor those who don’t know, what is a CNA and what kind of tasks does he/she perform?

A CNA assists nurses in the care of patients of all ages. Care includes bathing, dressing, grooming, feeding, and personal care.

What kind of training does a CNA need? From what kind of school? Do students usually attend part-time or full-time? Do they go through clinicals like other health care professionals do?

To become a CNA, a candidate must take a state required training and competency evaluation program and pass a certification exam. These programs are offered in every state in a career training school, some high schools, and some community colleges. Programs are usually 6 to 8 weeks in length, which includes classroom and clinical, depending on individual state requirements. Students usually attend full-time.

What changes, if any, have occurred lately with regard to being a CNA?

Over the last year, some post-secondary schools have required that students who are pursuing a nursing degree take a CNA course before entering the clinical portion of the nursing program. I think this is a good idea because it gives the student more clinical, hands-on experience and also allows them to get this experience early on in their education path.

What kind of career paths can CNAs have? Where can they work?

Many CNAs go on to become RNs and work in a variety of health care settings. Some choose to work as a CNA, and they find jobs in hospitals, nursing homes, hospice facilities, and home health care settings.

What are the biggest challenges?

There is often a lot expected of a CNA! The positive side is that there are always CNA jobs available and the flexibility to work in multiple places is convenient.

What are the greatest rewards?

A CNA position is very rewarding in many ways. You have daily one-on-one contact with patients and clients of all ages and ethnic backgrounds. A CNA spends more time with the patient than any other health care professional and therefore is able to meet their changing needs.

What would you say to someone considering this type of nursing work?

I would recommend CNA to anyone looking to pursue a career in nursing, as it really provides insight into the health care profession and also allows students to gain experience that they don’t get until later in nursing school. For those who may be unsure if the medical field is the right fit for them, a CNA program provides the opportunity to get this experience early in order to make an informed decision. I believe that CNAs are valuable and such an important part of the nursing team. I have worked with many CNAs throughout my career, and I have the utmost respect for them. I truly believe that I would not be the nurse I am today without the great team of CNAs that I have worked with.

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