JAANUU » What a Certified Nursing Assistant Can and Can’t Do

What a Certified Nursing Assistant Can and Can’t Do

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We like to think of the job title of certified nursing assistant in two ways. CNAs assist supervising nurses and doctors, but they also directly help patients. That makes them assistants and assisters.

In assistance nursing, professionals perform care tasks to keep patients comfortable and safe. Certified nurse assistants also help with basic medical tasks and are knowledgeable on pharmacology and medical terms. A CNA’s job plays an important role in a patient care team. 

But the role also has its limits. In this article, we’ll explore the question: What can a CNA do and not do? If you’re interested in having more responsibility than this role allows now or in the future, we encourage you to further your education. The CNA role may have its limits, but you certainly don’t. 

CNA: What is this role?

A certified nursing assistant is an entry-level role in the field of medicine with limited responsibilities. These professionals work under the supervision of a nurse to provide basic medical and personal care, which can include bathing, feeding, and administering certain medications. Again, this is a support role that runs two ways: CNAs look after patients and assist the supervising nurses and docs on their team. 

What are the duties of a certified nursing assistant? 

So, what does the direct patient care that CNAs provide look like on a daily basis? Here’s a rundown of some of the key tasks that these nursing professionals perform. 

  • Grooming care: CNAs bathe and dress patients, as well as help them shave and brush their hair/teeth.
  • Transporting patients: CNAs can move patients from one area to another. 
  • Changing wound dressings: Under a nurse’s supervision, CNAs can change dressings on uncomplicated wounds. They’re also expected to assess and report any changes in wounds. 
  • Checking vital signs: CNAs are able to monitor vital signs like heart rate and blood pressure. 
  • Drawing blood: In certain states, CNAs can draw blood after having received training to do so. 
  • Administering medication: After receiving specialized training, some CNAs can administer oral, optical, nasal, and topical medications. 
  • Take blood sugar readings: Certain facilities will allow CNAs to help diabetics in this way. 

What are things that a certified nursing assistant cannot do?

There’s a fairly long list of things that CNAs can do, but let’s look at the tasks that aren’t on it. Here are some activities certified nursing assistants can’t perform.

  • Treating wounds: While CNAs can change basic wound dressings, they cannot perform open wound care.
  • Giving injections: CNAs are not allowed to administer injections, including insulin. 
  • Tube feeding: Because the assessment for tube feeding must be performed by a nurse, CNAs cannot do this task. 
  • Bowel evacuation: This procedure can have dangerous secondary effects, so it must be performed by a registered nurse (RN). 

Where do certified nurse assistants work?

Both patients and nurses need assistance in a variety of healthcare environments. Here are some of the common places where CNAs work: 

  • Hospitals
  • Rehabilitation facilities 
  • Assisted living facilities
  • Adult daycares
  • Nursing homes
  • Clinical facilities
  • Long-term care facilities

How to become a certified nursing assistant

If you think this role is for you (or at least a good place to start your career), we invite you to jump right in. In fewer than 12 weeks, you can complete your CNA education, learning the basics of anatomy, physiology, and pharmacology, as well as patient care skills, like feeding and bathing.  

Earn a high school diploma or GED

CNA programs are short, but you’ll need to hold your high school diploma or GED before entering one. If you don’t have either of these base credentials, you’ll need to complete one or the other before looking at certified nursing assistant programs. 

Complete a CNA training program + clinical hours

There are online, hybrid, and in-person certified nursing assistant training programs that meet all types of schedules. Just make sure the one you choose meets your state’s requirements. Most states require a minimum of 75 classroom training hours and 16 clinical hours. 

Pass the CNA certification exam

After you complete your studies, you’re sure to ace this exam. Depending on your state, you may sit for the exam given by the National Nurse Aide Assessment Program (NNAAP) or a special test given in the area in which you live. Once you pass your state’s CNA certificate exam, you can start your career as a CNA. 


What skills do you need to become a certified nurse assistant?

You know what you can and cannot do in this role, but what about how to perform the tasks assigned to you. The following are some of the knowledge bases and interpersonal skills you’ll need to excel at this job. 


CNAs perform sensitive work helping patients through the activities of daily living and meeting their personal care needs. You’ll be bathing and feeding patients as well as closely monitoring their conditions. So, it’s important to foster a safe, trusting connection between you and your patients. 

Communication skills

CNAs form part of a team of caregivers. As such, they’re responsible for reporting on patient status, explaining conditions to their superiors (like nurses and doctors), and also to patients’ family members. 

Knowledge of medical terminology

Since you’ll be working closely with nurses and doctors, you’ll have to be able to communicate about patient conditions using official terms. So, keeping your knowledge of those seven-syllable pharma terms fresh is key. 

Knowledge of drug administration

Even if, at first, you’ll only be administering most drugs under supervision, you may, in time and after the proper training, be able to work on your own. In your CNA classes, you’ll learn about drug administration, so try to retain it as this knowledge will be essential to keeping your patients safe later on.  

As you blaze your career path, we’ll make sure you look and feel your best, wherever it takes you. No matter where your journey takes you, we’ll be here to support you through all you do.

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