Although they share some of the same core responsibilities and are all front-line healthcare providers, Nursing Assistant, Nursing Aide and Orderly careers are not totally identical. Ultimately, they differ in terms of educational requirements, assigned tasks, amount of interaction with patients and salary.
What do you want to become?
Certified Nursing Assistant
Alternate Career Titles: CNA
Certified Nursing Assistant Job Description: Nursing Assistants help a Registered Nurse or Licensed Vocational Nurse by obtaining vital signs, organizing medical equipment, administering personal hygiene, and completing other basic healthcare tasks
Certified Nursing Assistant Salary (Annual): $26,590
Certified Nursing Assistant Salary Range: $20,040 to $37,900
How Long To Become a Certified Nursing Assistant: 5 to 20 weeks
Certified Nursing Assistant Requirements: State-approved educational program and competency exam
Become a Nursing Assistant
Nursing Assistants provide patients with basic care, and help them complete daily activities. CNAs are also responsible for cleaning and bathing patients, helping them use the bathroom, dressing them, serving them meals and helping them eat. They may also assist patients by monitoring their vital signs, helping them turn or reposition themselves, dispensing medication and transferring patients to beds or wheelchairs as needed. Furthermore, Certified Nursing Assistants (CNA) often listen to and record patients’ health records or concerns, and report this information to a nurse for practitioner.
“Working as a CNA is a very fulfilling career, and the best way to test how you will do in the medical field if that is your desired job choice,” Amy Maw, CNA, a Certified Nursing Assistant practicing in Utah, said.
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Education & Training
To become a Nursing Assistant, professionals must complete a state-approved education program in addition to passing a state-designated competency exam. After passing this exam, CNA’s are placed on a state registry, which is a requirement to work in a nursing home setting. Typically, Nursing Assistant programs can be pursued through community colleges, technical schools, hospitals and nursing homes. Thus, this career in healthcare is perfect for someone who is not interested in pursuing lengthy periods of schooling!
“In Utah you are required to take a certification class that has both written assignments and skills labs, with over 30 skills you must have memorized and clinical hours. This is so you can see how the career actually is,” Maw explained. “I think the most challenging part for me was clinical hours because before the hours you feel like you know it all. Then they throw you in with real patients and the work can get overwhelming.”
There are many ways for CNAs to advance in their career paths, including the pursuit of more schooling to become Licensed Practical/Vocational Nurses for Registered Nurses. Alternatively, Nursing Assistants may choose to take additional courses to earn more advanced credits. By taking additional courses, professionals may become eligible to progress to more technical positions. Other fields within the realm of healthcare that Nursing Assistants may choose to pursue involve administration and research/education. There are many different paths a Nursing Assistant can take, the right one is truly up to the individual and their interests!
“Some CNA careers will let you become a coordinator, or even an administrator for the building, but you must be willing to work hard so leadership knows you are serious about advancing,” Maw confirmed.
Experience & Skills
Pertaining to the care of patients and residents, Nursing Assistants should possess physical stamina, allowing them to lift, transition or move their patients. Additionally, this endurance can be critical as CNAs may spend much of their workdays on their feet, and moving from patient to patient.
“Physically, you need to be able to move people,” Maw stated. “This is not a sitting job, you need to be able to be on your feet 8 to 12 hours a day. A part of the job may be repositioning and moving patients. You will need to learn how to safely move patients so you do not become injured yourself”
“Mentally, to become a CNA you need compassion and empathy, Maw stressed. “This a field that is so vastly different than any other career field. You need to not only know what they train you to do, you need to know things that no one can ever train you to do.”
Furthermore, to be successful as a Nursing Assistant, professionals should possess a number of other characteristics including strong interpersonal skills. Effective communication skills are essential because Certified Nursing Assistants must determine and address a patient’s or resident’s needs and concerns. They must also be able to relay this information to other healthcare professionals who work first-hand with a patient. Additionally, because the role of a Nursing Assistant may include some more mundane and routine tasks, such as cleaning, feeding and bathing patients, they must possess they must possess a high level of patience.
Patience may also be needed when particular patients or residents present challenging circumstances (i.e. a reluctance to be bathed). Lastly but by no means least, Nursing Assistants should have a caring disposition and a commitment to the patients in their care. The scope of the position, including tending to the sick, injured and elderly, can be emotionally demanding, and thus these professionals must be able to complete their tasks while maintaining composure and exhibiting compassion and empathy.
“You also need to be kind, thoughtful and have a sense of humor, because some of the stuff you see, you just have to laugh off,” Maw said.
“Above all, this career is both physically and emotionally strenuous, but very rewarding” Maw shared.
As a Nursing Assistant, most professionals are employed full-time, yet their hours will vary. This is because both hospitals and nursing homes have a need for Nursing Assistants throughout all hours of the day. For this reasons, Nursing Assistants may be asked to work evenings, nights, weekends or holidays. Also, because these professionals are asked to lift, transition and move patients, their work tends to be more physically demanding. To help eliminate the risk of injury due to these oftentimes strenuous physical demands, Nursing Assistants normally receive training on how to properly adjust patient positions as needed. Do you enjoy helping others? This career in healthcare could be the perfect match for you!
There is no better time than now to begin a career as a Nursing Assistant! Why? Employment of Nursing Assistants is projected to grow 11 percent from 2016 to 2026, a rate much faster than the average for all occupations. Ultimately, this growth can be attributed to an aging baby-boom population which today has an increased need for nursing home services and long-term care facilities.
In terms of Nursing Assistant positions, nursing case facilities tend to hire the greatest number of these employees, followed by state, local and private hospitals. Other employers of Certified Nursing Assistants include retirement homes, assisted living facilities, home health services and the government. Also, the state with the highest employment levels in this occupation is California, followed by New York, Florida, Texas and Pennsylvania. There are so many opportunities within this rewarding career in healthcare!
“My first CNA position was through a friend, the second and third I secured through my local classifieds application. As for my current employment that I have held since 2015, my boss found my resume on Indeed.com,” Maw explained.
“Earnings really depend on your experience and where you will work. Hospitals and home care/hospice are usually the highest paying, and hospitals usually come with the best benefits,” Maw advised.
As of 2016, the median annual wage for Nursing Assistants rested at $26,590. While the lowest 10 percent of these professionals earned less than $20,040, the highest 10 percent were recorded to have earned more than $37,900. Furthermore, the highest paying employer of CNAs was the government, followed by hospitals, nursing care facilities, retirement homes/assisted living facilities and lastly home healthcare services. The top paying state for this occupation is Alaska, followed by New York, Nevada, District of Columbia and California.
Unions, Groups, Social Media, and Associations
The National Association of Healthcare Assistants (NAHCA) is an organization designed with the purpose of elevating the professional standing and performance of caregivers through recognition, advocacy, education and empowerment while building a strong alliance with health care providers to maximize success and quality patient care.
The National Network of Career Nursing Assistants is an organization which promotes recognition, education, research, advocacy and peer support development for nursing assistants in nursing homes and other long-term care settings.
“Also, Facebook has a page titled ‘Certified Nursing Assistant’ that I find to be very comforting. You can message the page and they will post it for everyone to comment and discuss,” Maw noted. “The page can really be validating, and you get a lot of opinions you wouldn’t otherwise hear.”
- Research the career of a Nursing Assistant
- Look into possible program options
All statistics are provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Meet the professional: Amy Maw
Practice: Assisted Living Facility
Location: Farr West, UT
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“Have patience and compassion.”
What’s the number one mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“The number one mistake is that people are only in this field for an above minimum wage paycheck.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“How do I handle the losses?”
Why did you choose to become a Certified Nursing Assistant?
“I come from a family of very sick people. I had a sister who died when I was 8 years old, grandparents who died when I was 9 years old and 14 years old and my mom died when I was 18 years old. I knew I had what it took to help even more people in the last stages of their life.”
*Credentialing organizations vary depending on the state
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