Home health aides work directly with patients to provide the day-to-day care necessary for comfort and health, including help with bathing, dressing, cooking and housekeeping. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, they often work with the chronically ill, disabled, cognitively impaired, or elderly. Other duties may include calling a pharmacy to refill a patient's prescriptions or managing doctor appointment schedules. Some states allow home health aides to give medication to patients or check their vital signs, as long as they're being supervised by a nurse, doctor or other medical professional (bls.gov/ooh, 2012).
Home health aides might work in a patient's home, in small group homes or as part of larger community care centers. Some work with only one client all day, while others might have several clients under their care. Sometimes home health aides work in shifts to ensure that a person has around-the-clock care. Because home health aides often help patients move in and out of bed or help them with other physical tasks, they might suffer injuries, including back injuries, while on the job. They might also work with clients who act violently and could be subjected to health hazards such as minor infections or communicable diseases. Proper training can minimize the risk of these hazards, however (bls.gov/ooh, 2012).
How to Become a Home Health Aide
Home health aides jobs typically do not require formal education according to the BLS. However, most do have a high school diploma. Postsecondary diploma and certificate programs are available, and some states may require training from programs like these. Home health aides training is often handled on-the-job by supervisors, including nurses or other healthcare professionals.
The following steps represent one path towards potential home health aides careers:
- Earn a high school diploma or equivalent. Though some states do not require this, it allows home health aides to move into further education if they so desire.
- Optionally earn a home health aide diploma or certificate from a community college or technical school.
- Seek out home health aides jobs, then begin on-the-job training and take a competency exam if required for the position. For example, the BLS notes that jobs at a certified hospice or home health agency require completing formal training and passing an exam.
- Contact state health boards to research regulations. Some states require background checks, a specific amount of on-the-job training, a passing score on an exam, and/or certification. For instance, home health aides who work in facilities that accept Medicaid or Medicare must pass a competency exam or receive state certification according to the BLS.
- Complete any additional training or continuing education required to keep certification current.
It's important to note that these steps are intended as general guidelines, and do not guarantee employment.
Post-Education Requirements: Certifications and/or State Licensing
Some states require home health aides to earn certification/licensure, which can include passing an exam, completing on-the-job training and undergoing a background check. Aides who choose to pursue professional (non-state) certification can do so through the National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC). Requirements for NAHC certification may be similar to those needed for state certification. The BLS reports that certification through the NAHC requires 75 hours of formal training, observation and documentation of 17 separate skills that demonstrate competency in the pertinent areas, and passing grades on a written exam.
Home Health Aides Job Growth and Average Salary
Home health aides jobs are expected to see a robust national growth of 69 percent from 2010 through 2020, roughly five times faster than the average occupation in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Much of the growth will be spurred by the aging baby boomer generation, who will place stronger demands on the healthcare industry and home health workers. The rising cost of healthcare also means that many older Americans are choosing to rely on home health aides rather than enter assisted living or nursing facilities (bls.gov/ooh, 2012). The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that the median national annual wage of home health aides was $20,820 in May 2012, with the highest 10 percent earning more than $29,250 and the lowest 10 percent earning less than $16,600 (bls.gov/oes, 2013).
List of Related Careers
Work as a home health aide might spur individuals to seek out similar career avenues in the healthcare profession. These can include the following:
- Childcare Workers: Care for children of all ages, whether in established care centers or private homes. May require up to an associate degree in some work settings, as well as national certification.
- Medical Assistants: Handle administrative tasks in the offices of physicians, dentists and the like. Employers may prefer those with postsecondary education.
- Licensed Practical/Vocational Nurses: Work closely with patients to provide nursing care under the supervision of registered nurses and physicians. Requires formal postsecondary training and state licensure.
Links to Sources and Associations
The following websites offer more information about home health aides careers: