Counting Radial Pulse CNA Skill

CNAs are responsible for checking and recording certain vital signs including the radial pulse. What is a radial pulse? This is the pulse measured from the radial artery which runs up the wrist beneath the thumb. Accurately monitoring a patient’s radial pulse can help identify issues with blood pressure, heart disease, and other major health problems. As a CNA, you can help diagnose changes in their health and potentially identify the need for life-saving care. 

To follow along with this entire mouth care process, please watch this video demonstration. 

CNA counting radial pulse skill procedure

The following steps are a foundational guideline for measuring the radial pulse as a CNA.

  1. Perform the standard beginning tasks – knock before entering the patient’s room, greet the patient by name, introduce yourself, explain the task you are about to perform, close the privacy curtain, and then wash your hands.
  2. Get the patient into a comfortable position and have them extend their arm. Take the patient’s hand and then use your index and middle finger to slide it into the hollow of the wrist to locate the patient’s radial artery. You can perform this on either the right or left arm of the patient, whichever is most comfortable for them.
  3. Apply pressure with your fingertips until you can feel the pulse of the patient. Once you consistently find the heart’s rhythm, count the number of beats for thirty seconds and then multiply the count by two to record the beats per minute (BPM) of the patient’s pulse rate. 
  4. If the resting heart rate is irregular, measure the pulse for a full minute.
  5. Perform your standard completion tasks – ensure the patient has a clean environment, ask if they are comfortable, give the patient their call light, wash your hands, and document the results.

* Please be sure to consult the testing materials provided by the skills test provider in your state to ensure that these steps for how a CNA should count the radial pulse are in compliance. The procedure in different states and from different test providers can vary slightly and greatly affect your score.