Fact is, we’re living longer. Whether simple evolution, technology, or advancements in food and nutrition, in just 20 years — from 2000–2020 — the average life expectancy has increased by two years and continues to rise.
This is a big reason why the job of certified nursing assistant (CNA) is in such demand, with an estimated growth of nine percent faster than all other occupations. California has the most number of CNA jobs (99,440), but Alaska — which only employs 1,820 comparatively — pays the most. The average salary in Alaska is $39,830, as opposed to California, where the average salary is $35,220.
“As the Baby Boomers age, not only are they going to need more skilled services such as rehabilitation, but also long-term placement for a place to live,” says Dane Henning, director of public policy for the National Association of Health Care Assistants (NAHCA).
The problem is, according to Henning, “individuals in the Baby Boomer generation have not saved enough for retirement, the cost of living has gone up, and life expectancy is also going up; therefore, more people are needing nursing home services.”
Nursing care facilities, continued care retirement communities and assisted living facilities, and home health care services are among the top employers for CNAs. They provide basic care and help their patients and clients such as cleaning or bathing, grooming, restroom assistance, getting dressed, walking, taking vital signs, and transferring (such as from a wheelchair to a bed).
“In all healthcare settings, nurses and doctors play vital roles in the care plan of a patient or resident, however, CNAs play a more hands-on role by assisting and delivering activities of daily living,” Henning says.
The criteria for training can differ from state to state, but generally, training includes classroom learning and clinical experience, where you put that learning into practice. State exams for certification usually include written and skills exams.
Depending on the state, training can be available online, at a training center, vocational school, or university. The Red Cross even offers training. And in some cases, nursing homes have CNA training programs in-house. From start to completion, the average training can take three-to-five weeks.
In choosing a training program, the NAHCA recommends potential trainees:
- Look for online reviews
- Speak to instructors and ask the institutions for their statistics on their passing rate percentage
- Speak to CNAs in their area to find out where they were trained and educated, and ask about their experience during that process.
- Look at the chatter on social media; and check out groups specifically for CNAs on Facebook to get insight into programs, jobs and more.
In addition to training, Henning says there are inherent personal qualities that are ideal for CNAs.
“This profession is for someone who is caring patient, and isn’t afraid of hard work,” he says. “CNAs care about people and want to help them live their lives in dignity. This profession is also ideal for anyone who wants job security for wherever they go.”
Certified nursing assistant is certainly a job in itself, but it is also part of a few career paths, including certified medical technician, licensed practical nurse (LPN), registered nurse (RN), and even that of an administrator. These roles do require additional experience and education in healthcare, and often times the CNA experience can count towards credit in pursuit of these other jobs.
The turnover in long-term care is high, Henning adds, and CNAs are no exception to this trend. The stress on certified nursing assistants’ emotions and body are notable.
“The physical demand is very high. CNAs are constantly moving and there is hardly ever a point where someone doesn’t need something. CNAs will need to lift residents and patients and lift them frequently. Residents and patients of various sizes and weight need to be lifted, moved, and turned on a regular basis. Improper lifting is a high cause of back injury in the profession,” he cautions.
“Being a CNA also takes a toll on the emotions. CNAs develop relationships with their residents/patients as well as their families. CNAs are usually there from admission until passing, and this can be very difficult to go through. Also, families many times go to the CNA during their grieving process.”
Despite those challenges, and the relatively low salary of CNAs, Henning says the job is a vital and fulfilling one.
“They know their work makes a difference every day,” he says. “Someone who comes in who can’t walk, and the nursing team and therapy work together to rehabilitate the resident or patient to walk out of the building unassisted provides a very rewarding feeling.”
“A CNA can go to sleep at night knowing they helped give someone a normal life and they helped make that difference.”
In addition to Certified Nursing Assistants, there are many other Healthcare Support Occupations, including Orthotics & Prosthetics Assistants.
Watch Amy Boutchee as she pursues an education at Century College that ultimately led her to a career as Orthotics & Prosthetics Assistant.