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Nurse Assistant Careers

Nurse assistants usually perform hands-on care for patients, such as cleaning and bathing them, helping them eat or feeding them, or aiding them with daily necessities such as using the toilet or dressing. In addition, these caregivers may help patients move from beds to wheelchairs or the like, turn bedridden patients to help avoid bedsores, measure vital signs and pay attention to patient concerns so that they can be relayed to nurses or physicians. Depending upon state regulations, there might be other duties, such as administering medications. Nurse assistants work closely with nurses to care for patients in healthcare facilities. In settings such as nursing homes, nurse assistants might be the primary caregivers for patients. The majority of nurse assistant jobs are in nursing and residential care facilities, while other employers include hospitals and home healthcare services. Nurse assistants often work full time and are on their feet for the majority of a shift. Moving and lifting patients might potentially lead to injury, and injuries are more common than in most other occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov, 2012). Nurse assistants can find great satisfaction in helping those in need.

How to Become a Nurse Assistant

Nurse assistants must earn a postsecondary certificate or award in order to demonstrate proficiency in nursing care and related activities. The following steps can help individuals prepare for nurse assistant jobs:

  1. Complete a high school diploma or equivalent.
  2. Earn a postsecondary award or certificate in nurse assisting. Programs are available at community colleges, technical and vocational schools, nursing homes, hospitals and some high schools.
  3. Pass a competency exam for nurse assistants or aides. This exam is offered by the state and completion allows individuals to use state-specific titles in relation to their job. In some states nurse assistants are called CNAs, or Certified Nurse Assistants.
  4. Check into state requirements, such as supervised clinical hours, continuing education, inclusion in nursing home registries, or background checks. Some or all of these might be necessary before or during employment.

Post-Education Requirements: Certifications and/or State Licensing

Those who earn their Certified Nurse Assistant or similar certification might choose to go further with their education and earn other credentials, such as the Certified Medication Assistant, or CMA. These additional credentials and awards can open up new job responsibilities. For instance, some states might not allow CNAs to dispense medications, but CMAs are allowed to do so.

Nurse Assistant Job Growth and Average Salary

As the elderly population in the U.S. grows, demand for help in nursing homes, rehabilitation centers and assisted-care facilities is expected to increase as well. The BLS projects that employment of nurse assistants will expand by 20 percent nationally from 2010 to 2020. Growth in healthcare services in general could spur employment in hospitals, clinics and similar settings, and candidates who have formal nurse assistant training are likely to be in demand (bls.gov/ooh, 2012).

The BLS offers salary data for nursing assistants. The median nurse assistant salary was $24,420 per year as of May 2012. The lowest 10 percent of earners in the profession made less than $18,300, while the top 10 percent brought home over $35,330 (bls.gov/oes, 2013). Nurse assistant salary data can vary based on location, years of experience, certifications and place of employment.

List of Related Careers

Nurse assistant training can be a stepping stone to other positions in the healthcare field, some of which may require additional training, certification or experience. Potential career options to explore include the following:

  • Home Health Aides: Offer assistance with day-to-day activities such as bathing, dressing or eating. These aides may work with seniors or individuals who are disabled, ill or with other special needs.
  • Medical Assistants: Work in healthcare offices, including chiropractic clinics, private physician offices and more. Duties could span administrative tasks or basic clinical patient care, depending on qualifications and the work environment. Employers may prefer formal training in this field.
  • Licensed Practical or Licensed Vocational Nurses: Work closely with registered nurses to provide patient care, including checking vitals, administering medications (in some states) and keeping track of patient progress.
  • Registered Nurses: Oversee patient care, including diagnosing and treating illness or injury, running and interpreting tests, and working closely with physicians to create patient care plans. Formal nursing training is required.

Links to Sources and Associations

The following websites offer more information about becoming a nurse assistant:

American Red Cross: Nurse Assistant Training and Caregiving

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages - May 2012, Nursing Assistants

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Nursing Aides, Orderlies and Attendants, 2012

National Associate of Health Care Assistants

National Network of Career Nursing Assistants