Introduction to Nursing Assistant Programs
A nursing assistant (NA)—otherwise known as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), Patient Care Assistant (PCA), or a State Tested Nurse Aid (STNA)—is an entry-level health professional who provides routine daily care to patients. They provide healthcare and perform their duties under the supervision of a registered nurse (RN) or a licensed practical nurse (LPN). NAs need a strong work ethic and ability to do heavy lifting. Becoming a nursing assistant will usually require you to have at least an associate’s degree and possibly LPN/LVN licensure.
||Kaplan University — Kaplan offers an associate's degree in medical assisting designed to cover a variety of subjects, including community nursing care, health informatics, management, and more.
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Becoming a Nurse’s Assistant
Completion of a certificate program in nursing assistance is required to enter this profession. Issues of liability and legality prevent NAs from performing certain procedures. There are many online medical assistant certification programs available for you to receive your NA, CAN, PCA, or STNA certification to become a practicing nurse’s assistant.
Responsibilities of an NA depend on where you work and live, and the type of patients you’re working with. You could work in nursing homes, hospitals, adult day care centers, personal homes and assisted living facilities, or other healthcare facilities. Many facilities require nursing assistants to act as a liaison between the RN and the patient, relaying information the patient said to the RN. NAs usually take a patient’s vitals, and therefore have daily contact with patients and are gatherers of important information about the patients’ conditions. The workload for NAs can be intense and fast paced, but the work is rewarding. A desire to help people and compassion for patients can help you through difficult days.
What is the Training for Nurses Assistant?
There are different ways in which you can become an NA. There are trainings offered by the Red Cross, community colleges, medical facilities, and through online schools and programs that are easy to complete due to their flexibility and ease of fitting in with your schedule. Usually training courses take anywhere from four to six weeks. You then get licensed in the state where you wish to work. All NAs must take an examination before they become qualified nursing assistants as well as complete 75 hours of state-approved training. This is a competency exam that tests both your book knowledge and practical skills that were taught during training. Practice tests and study guides are freely available online.
NA training programs can cost several thousand dollars, but it is possible to get financial aid to help with the cost. The federal government, military, and hospitals offer financial assistance for students. It’s worth doing research to find scholarships and grant opportunities for an NA education. The knowledge and skills you’ll learn in NA training include nutrition, anatomy and physiology, infection control, and personal care for others (including feeding and bathing residential patients). After you receive your NA training you can move into a new career. This may take at least two more years of additional education, but you’ll see a significant increase in pay and benefits. You’ll also have previous experience in a hospital or healthcare setting, which will help improve your experience in your future education. The courses you take in NA training may even be applicable if you decide to pursue a nursing degree and become an RN later on. There are online programs that allow NAs to easily get their LPN or BSN degree.
Since there are a variety of different training options it may seem overwhelming to decide how you want to go about obtaining education to become a nurse’s assistant. If you have a job or a family to take care of, then most likely you have a busy schedule that won’t allow classes throughout the day. Taking classes online will give you more schedule flexibility and is also less expensive than attending classes on campus.
Through online coursework you’ll receive the same certification you would through an on campus class, but you’ll be able to do so on your own time. You’ll save money in travel costs as well as eating out on campus. You’ll also be able to continue your current job while working towards certification to become a NA. Online training will allow you to become familiar with how online coursework is done. This will be helpful if you decide to go back to school for a RN degree while continuing to work as an NA.
Responsibilities of Nurse’s Assistants
The day to day activities of a given job can be the defining factor in whether you enjoy the job or not. Some of a NA’s daily duties include:
- Administer medications or treatments, such as catheterizations, suppositories, irrigations, enemas, massages, or douches, as directed by a physician or nurse
- Clean and sanitize a patient rooms, bathroom, examination rooms, or other patient areas
- Document or report observations of patient behavior, complaints, or physical symptoms to nurses
- Apply clean dressings, slings, stocking, or support bandages, under direction or nurse or physician
Typically NAs work 40-hour work weeks, although sometimes there are part-time positions available at some healthcare locations. When a NA begins their shift they’re usually informed of the room numbers they have been assigned to. They will then go on rounds with the NA they are relieving from duty, and learn which RN they will be working with. The leaving NA gives the new NA a report on the patient’s current conditions, as well as a more in depth medical report explaining what is needed for each patient and how they’ve already been cared for.
NAs are responsible for taking vital signs throughout their shift and recording them on a board provided by the nurse in charge. NAs are also in charge of assisting with toileting patients by using a bedpan or helping them to the bathroom. Sometimes patients need help with hygiene, too, which includes bathing, hand- washing, and other hygiene maintenance. One must be aware of special circumstances for each patient, such as food allergies or diabetes, which influence what a patient can eat and other behaviors. NAs also clean a room once the patient has been discharged, providing clean linens and hospital gowns.
If you’re interested in helping to cure illness, mitigate misery, and generally add to the wellbeing of other people at the time that they need it most, then becoming a NA would be a great position for you.
Industry Outlook for Nurses Assistants
Typically, NA positions aren’t desired for long-term work. Many people go into these positions as a stepping-stone towards other healthcare careers and as a way to break into the healthcare industry. If you’re looking to become involved in the diagnosis and treatment of illness and injury then a NA position may not be a long-term career choice for you, either.
The statistics collected by The Bureau of Labor Statistics show an expected increase in job availability and pay. Employment is supposed to grow 19%. Job opportunities are also great due to the high turnover rate in this position. Because this industry has low pay, high physical and emotional demands, and limited opportunity for advancement, there is a high turnover rate, which means job opportunities are excellent.
The median hourly wage of nursing aids was $11.46 in May 2008, with the middle 50% earning between $9.71 and $13.76 per hour. Location can be a major influencing factor in how much you earn, and how many jobs are available to you.
There are other careers that are very similar to nurse’s assistant positions. The following are brief descriptions of some similar positions so you can understand the variations and pick the career path that fits you best:
- Orderlies: This is a hospital attendant charged with non-medical patient care and general maintenance of systematic operations. Orderlies do not need a degree or certificate, and their interactions with patients are limited to non-treatment activities.
- Psychiatric Aides: This position is similar to a NA/CNA, except for the work environment. Mental health wards and psychiatric hospitals have different routines than regular hospitals, and psychiatric aides have to be familiar with the unique privacy concerns and treatment needs of mental health patients.
- Medical Assistants: A medical assistant does not need a degree or certificate, and their main responsibilities are to help doctors and nurses with routine tasks. Medical assistants have less authority to participate in patient treatment than NA/CNAs. Medical assistants can earn $28,300 annually.
- Certified Nurse Assistants/Aides: NA/CNAs can take vital signs and gather other patient data as well as administering basic care and tending to the hygiene needs of patients. Because of their state approved training and certification, NAs and CNAs have more authority and tend to be paid a bit better than medical assistants.
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