- Nursing Degrees Explained
- What It's Like to Be a Nurse
- What to Expect in Your First Year of Nursing School
- Choosing Nursing for the Right Reasons
- Becoming a Certified Nurse Assistant
- Is Nursing a Good Career Choice for Moms?
- Accelerated BSN and MSN Programs
- Career Opportunities for Nurses
- NLN Accreditation: Does it Really Matter?
- How to Become a CRNA
- Which Doctorate is Right for Me? DNP vs. PhD
- Is Distance Education Right for You?
- Nursing School Study Tips
- Critical Care Nursing Careers
- Medical Surgical Nursing Careers
- Home Health Nursing Career
- Perinatal Nursing Careers
- Perioperative Nursing Careers
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If you are looking for an entry level job in the growing healthcare field, or if you need experience to decide whether to pursue another healthcare career, becoming a nursing assistant may be a good place to start.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nursing assistant jobs are expected to grow 18 percent between 2008 and 2018 because of the healthcare needs of an aging population.
What Is It Like to Work as a Nursing Assistant?
Most nursing assistants (NAs) are employed by nursing facilities (also called nursing homes) that offer rehabilitation services, assisted living, and long-term care. The work involves basic patient care such as feeding, bathing, dressing, grooming, transporting, and other duties such as vital signs and some paperwork—all under the supervision of nurses or doctors. NAs can also work in hospitals, doctor’s offices, correctional facilities, or in home care.
You must be in good health and undergo a criminal background check prior to employment. Having a desire to help people, being dependable, and being able to work as part of a team are essential qualities for NAs.
For a detailed overview of a career as a nursing assistant, check out the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook.
Nursing Assistant Education
NA training programs are typically four to 18 weeks in duration, after which you are given a certificate of completion or a diploma. Shorter programs are ideal for people with healthcare experience or for those who want to qualify for the state certification exam in a short amount of time. Longer programs are good for those who need more hands-on care experience. Classes teach patient care skills and how to measure vital signs such as temperature and blood pressure. Expanded programs may include courses in body mechanics, nutrition, anatomy and physiology, infection control, and communication skills.
You can take NA courses if you are already working or in school. Training programs can be found in high schools, vocational-technical schools, and community or junior colleges. Some American Red Cross chapters and nursing care facilities also offer courses. Many programs offer evening and weekend classes. Some have an online component.
In many cases, you do not need a high school diploma to enter an NA training program. To become certified or find a job, however, you may need a high school diploma or equivalent.
Certified Nursing Assistant Programs
Certified nursing assistants (CNAs) undergo about 75 hours of additional training and pass a state competency exam. Most nursing facilities require you to be certified. Contact your state’s board of nursing to find out about certification requirements and examinations.
If you want to take care of people but don’t want to undergo classroom training or testing, consider becoming a home care or personal aide. These positions do not usually require a high school diploma, and you are trained on the job in tasks such as cooking, light housekeeping, personal care, and emergency and safety precautions.
To move on to other healthcare fields, you will need additional training. The most common careers for former nursing assistants are medical assistants, licensed practical nurses, and registered nurses. For any of these positions you need a high school diploma and additional education. To be a nurse you also need to pass a state licensing exam. For more information about requirements for these careers, check out the American Association of Medical Assistants, the National Federation of Licensed Practical Nurses or the American Nurses Association.
Becoming a CNA
For bed-bound patients, CNAs perform total care: giving bed baths, feeding them, and changing their position every two hours to prevent bedsores. This can be a very physical job because CNAs are on their feet for many hours of the day, and must be strong enough to turn or help move patients.
While not formally allowed to assess their patients, CNAs are often the first to notice that something may be wrong. This is simply because the CNA gets to know her patients very well. Caring for people the way that they do allows nursing assistants to develop strong and caring relationships with their patients. Due to the intimate nature of their work, nursing assistants must be sensitive, trustworthy and compassionate.
Nursing assistants frequently work in hospitals, long-term care facilities and in homecare. They work with all ages and all patient populations, although in very critical situations, the CNA may need to perform patient care with the nurse present.
Their facility’s policies will dictate a lot of what CNAs are allowed to do. Some hospitals will allow them to take vital signs or blood glucose readings; others will not.
To become a CNA, you must attend a training program that may last four to sixteen weeks. The training consists of time spent in the classroom, clinical setting and laboratory. A practical and written exam is given at the end of the training program. After passing the exam, candidates must submit all of their paperwork directly to the State Board of Nursing, who will issue the certification. Once certified, the CNA must complete a certain number of continuing education credits each year to stay in good standing. Check with your state nursing board for more information about their requirements.