What is a Nursing Assistant?

Also called nursing aide, the nursing assistant is a trained professional who provides basic care to patients in nursing home, long-term care facilities and hospitals. As the number of elderly people entering nursing homes and other long-term healthcare facilities increases, so does the demand for nursing assistants. Nursing assistants can expect to see a job growth of 11 percent between 2016 and 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

What a Nursing Assistant Does

A nursing assistant is healthcare professional who works under the supervision of a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or a registered nurse (RN) and provides care to patients in long-term care facilities like nursing homes or hospitals. After all required training, the candidate is typically called a certified nursing assistant or CNA. Nursing assistants have many responsibilities throughout the course of their day. Their duties may include the following:

  • Answering patient calls
  • Getting supplies or the doctors or nurses
  • Taking vital signs as required
  • Bathing patients
  • Feeding patients and recording dietary intake
  • Turning patient or repositioning them as required
  • Stocking supplies
  • Providing personal care such as shaving, combing hair or brushing teeth
  • Cleaning rooms and changing bed linens
  • Preparing rooms for patients’ admissions
  • Dressing wounds
  • Helping patients go to bathroom
  • Assisting with medical procedures

There were approximately 1.4 million individuals employed as nursing assistants in 2016 according to the BLS. The states with the highest number of nursing assistants employed are California, New York, Florida, Texas and Pennsylvania.

What It Takes to Become a Nursing Assistant

Nursing assistants are required to complete a formal training program approved by that state. CNA programs are usually found at vocational colleges, technical schools, community colleges or hospitals. The programs generally last anywhere from four to eight weeks. According to Nurse.org, some nursing assistant programs are also offered online, but students will be required to complete clinical education in an actual healthcare facility.

Although this may vary by program, students may be required to satisfy these prerequisites:

  • Attend an orientation session
  • High school diploma or equivalent
  • Pass criminal background check
  • Pass physical examination and TB screening

Nurse assisting programs consist of both classroom assignments and clinical education. The number of clinical hours that must be completed is different in each state, but they must be completed to be eligible for certification.

Once the student has completed the training program, the individual must pass a nurse aide competency exam. This two-part exam includes both a written portion and a practical skill-based exam. When the individual passes this exam, his or her name is added to the state’s registry, and the individual has earned the title of certified nursing assistant.

Career Outlook for Nursing Assistants

As stated above, CNAs continue to be in demand in many healthcare facilities. As of a May 2016 report by the BLS, the annual median wage earned by nursing assistants was $26,590 with wages ranging from $20,040 to more than $37,900. Factors like CNA work experience, type of employer and geographic location all play roles in determining the CNA’s wages.

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Although nursing assistants are not required to complete as much training as RNs and LPNs, their work load is equally as full. In addition to being a rewarding career, nurse assisting can also lay the groundwork for the individual who wants to advance his or her education and become a nurse.