CNA Job Description, Duties & Skills (The Inside Word)

CNA job description and skills overview

What do CNAs do?
What are the main duties, skills required and job description?
These are questions that people looking to become a CNA are interested to know prior to commencing their training. Here’s some common promoted role and duty descriptions for CNAs: The primary role of a CNA is to be the “go between” that connects patients, nurses and doctors.

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Regular daily tasks include:

  • Assisting patients with bathing and dressing
  • Taking and recording patient vital signs
  • Providing and emptying bed pans, generally assisting with toileting which may include changing soiled clothing and bedding
  • Moving or repositioning patients
  • Answering patient requests
  • Examining patients (eg checking wounds etc)
  • Serving meals
  • Communicating with medical staff, nurses and doctors

Rather than take my word for it, or take extracts from official nursing websites as gospel, we decided to go directly to the source and asked health professionals their opinion!

Here’s a question I posed in the /nursing Sub Reddit:

Hi, I’m writing an article based on nursing careers and would like the “inside word” on what CNAs do most of during a normal shift? I know it might be a little subjective, but any information on the duties and responsibilities that you do as a CNA or that you see CNAs doing (if you work in health) would be super-helpful. Thanks in advance!


What we were given was a flurry of very useful insights! Let’s see what CNAs really do on shift.

Reddit user Wiksa gave a very clear description of life as an aide in Assisted Living vs a med/surg unit in the hospital while in nursing school.


0700: Start getting residents up that aren’t already out of bed. Help them get dressed, go to the bathroom, and get them down to the dining room for breakfast. Check blood sugars.

0800: Help serve everyone’s breakfast, clean up the dining room, help residents either go back to their rooms or to common rooms to watch tv/sit outside and watch birds.

0900-1030: Start showers. Usually 3 per shift per aide. Since it was AL, they mostly just needed help with some parts like washing their backs and feet, and help getting their clothes on. Some people needed creams put on so I did that after the shower (AL aides are allowed to administer meds! on evening shift we did the whole med pass including insulin injections).

1030-1200: Get every one set up for lunch in the dining room. Repeat what I did at breakfast.

1200-1230- eat lunch

1300-1500: Change linens, help out residents with tasks as needed. Give some of the PM showers if the residents were willing and I had time.


0700-0800: Get vitals and blood sugars. Help everyone to the bathroom that needs it. Give out fresh water. Chart vitals. Order breakfast for those that can’t.

0800-1030: Answer bells, turn and reposition patients. Bathe everyone or get them set up to bathe themselves. Change linens. Feed people that can’t feed themselves. Record I&Os/percentage of breakfast eaten.

1030-11: Vitals, blood sugars.

1100-1200: Do more baths if I didn’t get them all done.

1200-1230: Lunch if I am lucky!

1230-1500: Feed patients lunch. Answer bells and miscellaneous things.

Tasks I do throughout the day: Change soiled patients, reposition patients q2h, ambulate patients in the halls, get patients out of bed to the chair, help patients go to the bathroom, transport patients to tests, transport patients out to their car at d/c, remove foley catheters, empty catheters and drains, fetch drinks and snacks, get ice packs, draw blood (most of the routine labs are done by night shift at 0400-0600, but some stat stuff is ordered throughout the day), etc.

As more an more answers came in from Reddit users as to their experience, a common thread of CNAs being VERY busy started to emerge:

User Yourernurse added this:

I was a CNA for six years – 4 in assisted living and 2 in PCU/Surgical.

Almost The entire day is helping with their activities of daily living. That would be toileting, showering, feeding, changing their linens, helping them ambulate.

In addition to that you are getting their vitals signs every shift to every 2 hours depending on your unit. getting blood sugars. emptying foleys or other drains.

and when you have 12-16 patients you are running the whole time.

and that’s not including time for any emergencies or unexpected events.

Bedpanjockey has a very similar description of busy workdays.

I’ve been a 3-11 CNA for 6 years in LTC 3p-4:45p … Get report, visualize residents, pass fresh water, pass linens I may need for the evening, toilet residents 4:45p-5:15p … Prepare for Supper. Transport residents to their appropriate dining room. 5:15p-6:20p … Serve Supper. Assist those who need to be fed. 6:20p-7:00p … Catch up on charting, return residents to room or to the evening activity. Take a moment to breathe before the rat race. 7p-8:45p … Assist my group of residents to bed. Most go to bed around this time. Toilet, spit wash, put to bed. 8:45p-9:45p … I may take a 15 minute break. Finish charting. Put to bed one of my last residents. Toilet. Answer call lights. 9:45p-10:20p … Do my last rounds. Change incont residents. Reposition. 10:20p-10:45p … Wrap up charting. Take care of trash around the unit. Gather dirty dishes. Report off to 11-7.

Although CNAs working the hospital floor basically reported busy shifts across the board, a number of commenters from alternate facilities outlined day-to-day life as a CNA to shed a different (slightly less hectic) light on common CNA skills and duties:

Monkeyface496 contributed this:

From another perspective, I work in a sexual health clinic that is open 8-8 M-F. Our CNAs are a bit all over the place depending on which area they are assigned to work in during the 4 hour session (3 sessions a day). They take bloods, chaperone doctors during exams (esp females exams), control stock levels, microscopy of samples, occasionally cover reception.

All of our patients are well enough to be having sex, so it’s a very different environment from the floors. I miss ED sometimes but not the floors. Haven’t emptied a stoma bag in years! (But the most exciting thing that happens is when someone faints during bloods- that’s as acute as it gets)….

It’s interesting, you can really tell who has experience working in a hospital and who was trained on this job (or in outpatients in general). Those who have come from the floors appreciate how good they now have it.

Of course, CNAs work around-the-clock, so if you are potentially doing a night shift at a nursing home for example, you might expect

Captainsuperdawg, who works in a nursing home and does night shift outlined a consistent, yet seemingly less grueling set of shift duties. Below is an extract and here is the link to the full night shift duty overview.

It depends on what kind of facility the CNA works in, the unit they work on, and the shift they work. I’m a night shifter (6pm-6:30am) at a nursing home, and my wing is primarily PT focused. What I do is far more different than what a CNA in a hospital or a home health facility does, and even to an extent, different in what the aides on other wings do, but I’ll give you an example of what a typical night for me is like.

It was a similar description to what user Campfo, who works in a paediatric long term acute care facility offered:

Nurses do vitals at my work, but I like to try and help some nurses especially newer ones with vitals sometimes before I take lunch.

I take care of 9-13 patients at a time.

Usually lots of poop

The first 4 hours I work really hard and it is quite labor intensive, after lunch it chills out a little bit.

You can read the rest of Campfo’s shift description here.

Common points of discussion:

The entire thread has plenty more discussion within it and we’re very grateful for everyone who contributed. What we found as a consistent theme was that hospital staff are often working hectic shifts filled with moving from patient to patient be it morning, noon or night.

Workers who pick up CNA employment at nursing home or care facilities tend to have a consistent flow of duties to perform, but what is described is not nearly as hectic as many hospital-based employees.

Overall, the career appears very rewarding. Some of the duties such as assisting with toileting are not glamourous, but the work is very meaningful and allows you to make a really difference by helping people who need it.

For any further information about becoming a CNA, be sure to check out our resource centre.