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How to Become a Nursing Assistant

Do you consider yourself patient and personable? Do you enjoy helping others? If your answer is yes, then you may be the perfect candidate to become a nursing assistant. Nursing assistants ensure that the patients are safe, comfortable, and more importantly, that their personal care needs are being met. It is extremely important that nursing assistants know the HIPAA regulations to protect the patients’ information at all costs.

The goal of nursing assistants is to make sure the patients are taken well care of physically and emotionally. A nursing assistant is tasked with building rapport and aiding patients with daily tasks like personal hygiene, brushing teeth, and physical therapy. Also called nursing aides, it is their job to make sure the patients are taking their proper medications and being fed while documenting patient information and behavior. They need to have the ability to empathize with others and need to understand certain medical terms.

Sample job description

[Your Company Name] is seeking a friendly and experienced nursing assistant. We are in need of heartwarming employees who have a desire to care for others. In order to be successful as a nursing assistant, you need to be patient, efficient in problem-solving, organized, have stamina to assist in physical activities, ability to work under pressure, be a team player, be detail-oriented, and have great communication skills. Nursing assistants are responsible for aiding patients with their daily needs. In this role, you will work with doctors and registered nurses. Your duties will include feeding patients, making sure they are taking their medications, helping patients with bathing, brushing teeth, and going to the bathroom, and helping them physically with exercise or therapy.

Typical duties and responsibilities

  • Sterilizing medical equipment
  • Help set up medical equipment
  • Assist registered nurses with taking vitals and their routine rounds 
  • Prepare food and feed the patients
  • Dress the patients 
  • Document information based on patients’ behavior
  • Assist the patients with walking to and from destinations
  • Help the patients with hygiene needs, like brushing teeth, showers, bathroom, and/or diaper changes 
  • Keep the patient’s room neat and clean 
  • Change the patients’ sheets 
  • Maintain bandages when needed 
  • Inform registered nurses if a patient’s condition changes

Education and experience

  • State-approved nursing aide education program

Required skills and qualifications

  • Compassionate
  • Strong communication skills 
  • Attentive with patients
  • Work well under pressure
  • Detail-oriented 
  • Strong written skills
  • Familiarity with medical terms
  • Patient and have the ability to de escalate situations, especially when working with memory loss or mental health patients
  • Empathetic
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Physical stamina to lift up to 50 pounds
  • Follow HIPAA regulations
  • Efficient computer skills 
  • Proficient listening skills

Preferred qualifications

  • Ability to speak multiple languages fluently
  • A year-plus experience
  • Nursing assistant certification is a plus

Typical work environment

The work environment for nursing assistants can vary between hospitals, home healthcare agencies, clinics, private practices, assisted living facilities, and in-home care. Nursing aides spend quite a bit of time on their feet and a portion of their time at their desks documenting patients’ information. Some facilities may require traveling nurses that will work at various locations.

Typical hours

Nursing assistants commonly work full time and average 40 hours a week with 8 to 12-hour shifts. Each workplace can vary, and nurses typically have to alternate to work weekends. This is a constant job, meaning nursing aides will be working at least some holidays and night shifts.

Available certifications

Nursing aides are often entry-level positions, but there are some certifications that can set you apart and help you to secure a job quicker. Here are some of the most common:

  • Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA). This certificate shows employers you are knowledgeable and have the skills needed in nursing assistance. It can put you ahead of other candidates. With this certificate, you can do more than a regular nursing assistant, like take the patient’s vitals. You’ll often earn a bit more by becoming a CNA, but it will require you to go through a training program that can take anywhere from four weeks to six months.
  • Certified Patient Care Technician (CPCT). This shows employers you’re continually updating your knowledge in this field to be more successful. This authenticates your patient care skills. You’ll need to take an exam to receive this certification.
  • National Nurse Aide Assessment Program (NNAAP). This certificate measures how proficient your skills are that are required to be successful in this field. This includes you passing a written exam and a skills evaluation. Many employers look for this certification before hiring.

Career path

In order for you to become a nursing assistant, you need to pass a state-approved education program. Experience is not required, but a year or more of experience can put you ahead of other candidates and is always a plus. You also need to be literate and numerate.

Nursing aides work in a variety of facilities and typically have on-the-job training. It is not uncommon for nursing assistants to pursue a degree in nursing as a licensed practical nurse (LPN), registered nurse (RN), or licensed vocational nurse (LVN) in the future. Students who want to become a nursing aide should graduate from high school and complete a state program.

US, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job outlook

SOC Code: 31-1131

2020 Employment1,396,700
Projected Employment in 20301,512,000
Projected 2020-2030 Percentage Shift 8% increase
Projected 2020-2030 Numeric Shift115,300 increase

As time passes, the need for nursing assistants will continue to increase. This is especially true as there are more baby boomers requiring care. With the fallout from the pandemic, many will see an increase in health issues, and nursing aides will be in high demand.