Nursing Assistant

Birth Attendant, Certified Medication Aide (CMA), Certified Nurse Aide (CNA)   More Names
Certified Nurses Aide (CNA), Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), Certified Nursing Attendant, Certified Residential Medication Aide, Clinical Assistant, Competency Evaluated Nurse Aide (CENA), First Aid Attendant, First Aid Nurse, Geriatric Aide, Geriatric Nursing Assistant (GNA), Gericare Aide, Health Aide, Health Care Aide, Health Care Assistant, Health Service Worker, Hospice Aide, Hospital Aide, Hospital Attendant, Hospital Corpsman, Hospital Medical Assistant, Infirmary Attendant, Inpatient Nursing Aide, Institutional Aide, Licensed Nursing Assistant, Licensed Nursing Assistant (LNA), Medical Aide, Medical Attendant, Medication Aide, Nurse Aide, Nurse Assistant, Nurse Sitter, Nurse Technician, Nurse's Assistant, Nursery Technician, Nurses' Aide, Nursing Aide, Nursing Assistant, Nursing Assistants, Nursing Attendant, Nursing Care Attendant, Nursing Home Aide, Nursing Technician, Patient Care Assistant (PCA), Patient Care Associate, Patient Care Technician (PCT), Patient Sitter, Practical Nurse, State Tested Nursing Assistant (STNA), Student Nurse, Surgical Aide, Unlicensed Assistive Personnel, Ward Aide, Ward Attendant, Ward Helper

Perform basic nursing tasks and provide hands-on care to patients, or residents in a variety of long-term care settings, under the direction of supervisory nursing and medical staff. Tasks vary, but usually include feeding, bathing, and dressing, grooming, and moving patients.

Nursing Assistants help patients to walk and exercise as well as transfer to and from bed or wheelchair, and move around in bed. They provide special skin care to prevent skin breakdown or bedsores, take and record the patient's temperature, pulse and respirations and blood pressure. They answer patients' call signals and provide needed assistance, including getting help from supervisors and doctors when required. They may transport patients to treatment units such as radiology and to and from surgery using a wheelchair or stretcher. In some situations, other duties include cleaning rooms and changing bed linens. During a single eight hour shift, they may be responsible for basic care for 8 to 16 patients.

Many nursing assistants work for privately-owned hospitals, nursing homes, residential assisted living facilities, hospice, or in home care. Others may be employed by local or state medical and nursing facilities or correctional facilities. When working in hospitals, they usually are part of an overall patient care team that also includes regular and specialty registered nurses as well as assigned physicians or surgeons. In these settings, they are usually supervised by one or several licensed practical nurses (LPNs), registered nurses (RNs), or other medical staff.

When employed in nursing homes or assisted living facilities, nursing assistants may be the primary caregivers who have more contact with residents than any other staff members. Because some residents will stay in long-term care facilities for months or years, nursing assistants may develop particularly caring relationships with their patients. Nursing assistants work a set or rotating shift, since their patients require round-the-clock care and monitoring. As a result, some nursing assistants work evenings, nights, weekends, and holidays. Their care and monitoring tasks can include observing patients' conditions, measuring and recording food and liquid intake, watching and recording vital sign readings, and alerting professional staff about any changes and special needs.

On a day-to-day basis, nursing assistants serve meals and assist the patient to eat at meal time, assure adequate fluid intake, make occupied as well as unoccupied beds, and assure the safety and infection control of patient areas. They also help other medical staff to set-up equipment, storing and moving supplies, and assist with other similar requests.

Nursing assistants also perform tasks that some may consider unpleasant, such as emptying bedpans and changing soiled bed linens. Nursing assistants must be able to perform these procedures with dignity, respect and assurance of privacy and with attention to good infection control and safety practices. The people in their care may present a myriad of different cultures, personalities, disorders, strengths and skills. Some also may have problems of orientation or be irritable or uncooperative.

Nursing assistants who choose to work with emotionally-disturbed patients as psychiatric aides must be prepared to care for patients whose illnesses may cause violent behavior. Although this work can be emotionally demanding, many psychiatric aides gain satisfaction from assisting those in need.

To be a successful nursing assistant, an individual must be a team player who is able to take orders well and be able to adapt to the personal preferences and needs of the individual patient. They must also be emotionally stable.

Nursing assistants and orderlies often may perform the same or very similar tasks and duties. The difference in the exact job description between these two occupations is decided by the particular needs and requirements of each employer.

Advancement opportunities for nursing assistants include receiving more education and training to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or registered nurse (RN), or pursue other training, such as in imaging to become a radiologic technician or technologist. Many nursing assistants, however, prefer to remain at the patient bedside, concentrating their skill development to become advanced nursing assistants. These advanced nursing assistants may choose to become specialists, in areas such as Alzheimer's care, Hospice care, or Restorative care, as well as mentors for new nursing assistants.

Credentials Needed: Nursing assistant trainees must complete a minimum of 75 hours of state-approved training and pass a state-approved competency exam. Those who complete this training and pass the exam are eligible to become state-licensed as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), STNA (State Tested and Approved Nursing Assistant.) Some states specify "licensure" or "registration" as their registry titles for nursing assistants.

The federal Omnibus Budget and Reconciliation Act of 1987 requires specified training and testing for nursing assistants who work in nursing homes. OBRA 87 also includes requirements for the training of trainers and establishes a State Registry for nursing assistants. Facilities may only use state trained and approved nursing assistants to provide care to their patients.

Nursing assistants also are required to meet other qualifications, which can vary from state-to-state. Such other state qualifications typically include a criminal background check and a medical physical exam to ensure that the candidate is in good health.

There also are a number of industry-based skill certifications which individuals may choose to obtain to help demonstrate their skill competencies in this career.

Some Key Things to Remember: Nursing assistants may be employed by private, for-profit or non-profit hospitals, nursing homes, or residential assisted living facilities. Employers require a minimum of a high school diploma or General Educational Development (GED) equivalent to obtain an entry-level job as a nursing assistant. Those who want to work in a nursing care facility must complete a state-approved program of study that leads to licensing as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA).

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Job Growth and Wages
Percent Job Growth:  
18% - Faster than average
Typical Wages (National):  
Annual: $22,470 - $31,370    Hourly: $11 - $15
Physical/Medical/Health Requirements

Work as nursing assistants can be physically demanding. Nursing assistants spend many hours standing and walking, and they often face heavy workloads. They also must guard against back injury and repetitive injuries from repeated stains to joints and muscles, in part because they may have to move patients into and out of bed or help them stand or walk.

Nursing assistants need to be trained in and to follow proper procedures for "safe handling" when lifting and moving patients. They also may face hazards from minor infections and major diseases, such as hepatitis, but can avoid infections by following proper infection control procedures.

Nursing assistants, orderlies, and attendants as well as psychiatric aides have some of the highest non-fatal injury and illness rates for all occupations (in the 98th and 99th percentiles in 2007).

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Legal Requirements

Career Snapshot

Typical Education:

High School or GED (HS)
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Percent Job Growth:

18% - Faster than average
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Typical Wages:

Annual: $22,470 - $31,370

Hourly: $11 - $15