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What is a Nursing Assistant?
Nursing assistants work alongside qualified nurses, performing tasks and activities as directed by their superiors. Nursing assistants are often responsible for the day to day care of patients, offering basic services and meeting their needs and reporting any changes or situations to nurses or other medical professionals when noted. Nursing assistants play an important role in hospitals and other care facilities, as they allow qualified professionals to deal with the most important problems without worrying about day to day care. The various tasks one may legally perform as a nursing assistant will vary based on regulations from state to state.
Nursing assistant programs offer individuals the education and experience necessary to assist nurses in treating patients and medical staff. Nursing aides are often responsible for the basic care of patients, assisting with the cleaning, feeding, and observation of patients within a given setting. Nursing assistant programs are generally short, often less than a year and cover the basics of nursing care. Programs are offered by vocational schools, community colleges, and some nursing care facilities. Some high schools may also provide nursing assistant programs, allowing graduates to immediately pursue work in the field after graduation. Programs will cover a variety of courses necessary to achieve certification and obtain the skills necessary to assist in patient care.
Courses a nursing assistant program may offer include:
- Infection Control
- Personal Care
Nursing assistants will typically work in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and other such facilities. Certification is necessary to work, and the requirements will vary from state to state. All states will require a minimum amount of practical hours before allowing entry into the certification exam. Practical hours may be obtained through educational programs as part of the curriculum or through internship and volunteer opportunities. Once passed, nursing assistants are placed on a state registry, often a requirement for employment in certain environments. Additional requirements may also be in place in certain states, such as criminal background checks or continuing education courses in order to maintain certification.
Nursing assistants are often the primary caregivers to patients, particularly long term patients. They are responsible for daily care as directed by a supervisor, and in some instances may be responsible for the administering of medication. Nursing assistants may also be responsible for clerical work, including documenting patient treatment and histories. Though the level of work is not particularly complex, and understanding of nursing health care practices and medical terminology is beneficial, if not necessary, for long term employment. The work is considered demanding, and often requires such unpleasant duties as emptying bedpans. The work environment can be hazardous as nursing assistants will be exposed to possible disease, but this is no more so than any other medical career.
Skills necessary as a nursing assistant include:
Job Growth, Salary and Related Fields
Due to high turnover and an increasing demand for medical care as the population grows older and life expectancy increases, job opportunities for nursing assistants is expected grow rapidly. The need for qualified assistants will increase as patient care comes into higher demand and the attention of nurses and physicians is spread across a larger number of individuals. This will particularly be true in large urban areas with a higher concentrations of people which require more resources for treatment.
The average salary for a nursing assistant is $24,000 per year, with a low of $17,400 per year and a high of 33,300 per year. Salaries increase with experience, though there is an upper limit due to the lack of career mobility. Supervisory positions are normally held by healthcare managers or nurses, and as such individuals seeking upward movement or career stability will pursue a degree in a related field in order to obtain increased responsibilities.
If you are interested in becoming a nursing assistant you may also want to look at a career as a medical assistant, physical therapist assistant or phlebotomist.
For additional information about the nursing profession, read our Complete Guide to the Nursing Profession on our blog.