A nursing assistant, or nursing aide, helps sick or impaired people with the activities of daily living. Nursing assistants help bathe, dress and feed people who are unable to do so independently. They also measure patients’ vital signs and provide basic nursing care under the supervision of a nurse.
In some states, specially trained nursing assistants may also administer medication. Nursing assistants work closely with nurses and are an important part of the healthcare team.
Where nursing assistants work
Most nursing assistants take care of elderly clients, but some care for children or physically or developmentally disabled adults. Nursing assistants work in nursing homes, assisted care centers, hospitals, hospices and patients’ homes. While most nursing assistants provide care to groups of patients in nursing homes and hospitals, some nursing assistants are employed by homecare agencies and provide one-on-one care to patients in the patients’ homes.
Job skills for nursing assistants
Nursing assistants complete a brief training course that includes both classroom lessons and clinical experiences. While some high schools offer training courses, most nursing assistants obtain their training at a community or vocational college. Some healthcare facilities offer nursing assistant classes as well. Students in a facility-sponsored course may be paid for training and may be guaranteed employment upon successful completion of the course.
The federal government requires nursing assistants who work in state-certified centers to complete 75 hours of training and pass a state certification test. Nursing assistants who pass the test are known as certified nursing assistants (CNAs). Contact your state board of nursing for more information. To be eligible for employment, nursing assistants must be listed on their State Nurse Aide Registry. In some states, nursing assistants can take a medication administration course and become certified as a medication nursing assistant (MNA).
Nursing assistant is a physically demanding job. CNAs are on their feet all day; they also help lift, move and reposition patients. The job is emotionally demanding as well. Nursing assistants often work with sick, dying or confused patients.
Nursing assistants in demand
Demand for nursing assistants is high. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the demand for nursing assistants to increase by 18 percent. Part of the demand is fueled by high turnover in the field; the rest is fueled by a rapidly aging population that requires care.
Wages tend to be higher at home care agencies and hospitals. Wages are also higher on the East and West coast.
Nursing assistants have limited opportunity for advancement without returning to school. Working in this profession, though, provides an excellent foundation for a career in nursing. Many nursing assistants eventually become licensed practical nurses (LPN) or registered nurses (RN).