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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.
A nursing assistant can work in a variety of healthcare settings under the direct supervision of a qualified nurse or medical staff member. The work settings for a nursing assistant can include a nursing home, hospital, hospice, private residence, mental health facility, and nursing care facilities.
Online Nursing Assistant Program
Many colleges and universities offer nursing assistant courses online. With the technological advances of today, the quality of the nursing assistant program is more readily accepted than ever before. Both employers and students see the value in earning a quality online nursing assistant certificate program. The benefits of earning a nursing assistant certificate online include flexibility, independence, and autonomy of a self-paced program from a state-recognized, accredited college or university.
With dozens upon dozens of online learning opportunities for future nursing assistants, you will need to establish a framework for decision making to narrow down your college options. A decision tree to assist you in the process can look similar to the following:
- Establish a priority list – An example priority list of questions can be found on pages 3-4 of the MatchCollege Complete Guide to College Admissions Guide
- Request feedback – Ask counselors, teachers, family, school alumni, and friends for feedback on your priority list to elicit valuable input.
- Perform a self-assessment – By taking stock of your strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes you will more readily be able to winnow down school options leading to a nursing assistant certificate. From grades to work experience and from career goals to lifestyle objectives, a self-assessment will prove to be invaluable.
- Gather information – Gathering information from accredited colleges and universities will allow you to overlay their programs with your priorities. When you marry your priorities with the nursing assistant certificate programs available, decisions become much easier than without a priority list. Free services like MatchCollege will help you quickly get matched to a number of programs of interest to research schools offering on-site or online nursing assistant programs.
- Getting matched – Once you have received information from a handful of quality schools, you can then assess your likelihood of admissions. Knowing a school’s admissions policies, requirements, education parameters, work experience, cost, and program length is a must. Only then should you apply for admissions to a nursing assistant program.
- Financial aid – After your application for admissions is in queue, understanding your financial aid options is the next step in the process. Learn what options exist for grants, scholarships, work-study programs, and loans before committing to a nursing assistant program.
- Acceptance – Aligning your goals with the school’s offerings and overall cost will allow you to make a quality decision about a nursing assistant program. Once you accept a school’s offer of admissions, you will need to understand the timing, processes, and resources needed to begin matriculation.
Classes in an Online Nursing Assistant Program
While classes for online nursing assistant certificate programs will vary from school to school and state to state, we have created a list of typical classes to help you better understand the courses involved. A sample list of classes in an online nursing assistant course may include:
- Intro to Nursing Assisting
- Infection Control & Wellness
- Special Body Systems Care
- Patient Environment
- Home Healthcare
- Patient Safety & Controls
- Proper Patient Positioning & Transportation
- Patient Care Essentials
- Emergency Care
- Anatomy & Physiology
- Measuring Vital Signs
- The Long Term Care Patient
- Phlebotomy Lab & Injections
How Long Does It Take to Earn a Nursing Assistant Certificate?
A nursing assistant program will vary in length depending on the number of classes taken and the college or university requirements. Online nursing assistant certificates can last from 4-8 weeks of full-time matriculation while other programs may be closer to a year. While most accredited colleges and universities offer nursing assistant certificate programs, some schools offer transitional programs as a bridge to a Registered Nursing (RN) degree.
How Do I Become a Nursing Assistant?
In order to become a nursing assistant, students will need to have a high school diploma or GED plus qualified nursing instruction from an accredited, state-approved higher education institution. These institutions can be a college, university, community college, trade school, vocational school, technical college, career college, or hospital. The final step in the process after successful completion of the nursing assistant program is to pass an exam to earn a certificate of completion plus any state-required tests.
If you know where you would like to work after obtaining your nursing assistant certificate, make sure to connect with their human resources manager or hiring manager while you are in school. If the healthcare facility or hospital requires work experience plus a certificate of completion from a state-approved post-secondary institution, work towards meeting those requirements as soon as possible. Organizing tasks in this manner will help with the transition from school to work and allow you to more quickly make an impact in the lives of others.
What Does a Nursing Assistant Do?
According to a recent survey of current Nursing Assistants performed by the U.S. Department of Labor, a nursing assistant is busy with a number of different duties over the course of a day and work week. The common set of job responsibilities as provided by current nursing assistants include:
- Communication with Supervisors & Peers – Ongoing, daily communication with other nursing assistants and supervisors within a healthcare setting is mission critical. Communication may be face-to-face, over the telephone, written on a chart, or through email correspondence.
- Assisting & Caring for Patients – Caring for patients is at the heart of what a nursing assistant provides any healthcare facility. Job duties for a nursing assistant working in any healthcare organization may include: answering the phone, repositioning patients, answering call signals, providing physical support of daily activities, understanding patient allergies and dietary restrictions, measuring nutritional needs, and reporting any issues to related medical professionals.
- Obtaining Information – In order to obtain quality information from others, a nursing assistant must ask great questions. By asking quality questions, you will be able to better identify issues, categorize concerns, and recognize changes in circumstances more readily.
- Interpersonal Relationships – Nursing assistant find themselves establishing and maintaining relationships with patients and peers on a daily basis. These constructive and collaborative working relationships help to build trust between all parties involved.
- Reporting – A nursing assistant will need to be consistent and accurate when it comes to reporting changes in a patient’s health. While not tasked to diagnose a disease or illness, a nursing assist must carefully monitor patients and report changes to nurses and doctors accordingly.
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
Online Schools Other Students Requested Information From:
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:
Career Paths for a Nursing Assistant
Nursing assistants can take a number of different paths during their career in healthcare. As an entry-level position at most hospitals and healthcare organizations, a nursing assistant will typically look to advance their career in a number of different directions based on career objectives and opportunities within their organization or industry. A set of the most common career paths for a nursing assistant may include the following:
- Administrative Assistant
- Registered Nurse (RN)
- Medical Assistant
- Nursing Administrator
- Emergency Room RN
- Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)
- MDS Coordinator
- Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner (ARNP)
- Charge Nurse (RN)
- Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)
- Medical Executive Assistant
Online Degrees for Nursing Assistants
Employment: 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.
Careers similar to a nursing assistant that may be of interest to you include Medical Assistants, Licensed Nursing Assistant (LNA), Certified Medication Aides (CMA), Certified Nursing Assistants (CNA), Orderlies, Psychiatric Aides, Certified Nurse Aide (CNA), Certified Nurse’s Aide (CNA), State Tested Nursing Assistant (STNA), Geriatric Nursing Assistant (GNA), Nurses' Aide, and Nursing Aide, and Nursing Assistant.
The average salary for a nursing assistant is $27,650 per year, with a projected 17% growth adding approximately 267,800 jobs over the coming decade. 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.
Largest Employers of Nursing Assistants
- Skilled Nursing Care Facilities 602,630
- Medical and Surgical Hospitals 354,450
- Assisted Living Communities 161,130
- Home Health Care Services 77,360
- Employment Services 42,490
States with the Highest Number of Nursing Assistants
- California 99,140
- New York 98,040
- Florida 90,890
- Texas 87,930
- Pennsylvania 76,300
Top Paying States for Nursing Assistants
- Alaska $37,520
- New York $34,300
- Nevada $33,650
- District of Columbia $33,380
- California $32,770
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 more information about earning a Nursing Assistant degree, simply visit the accredited colleges and universities below or visit our online nursing resource page or career portal to learn more careers in nursing. Additional information about the nursing profession, read our Complete Guide to the Nursing Profession on our blog.