How to Become a Nursing Assistant

Written by Sheryl Posnick

If you’re looking to start a career in the healthcare industry, you have lots of options. Patient care! Tech! Administration! The entire field is growing, and with it grows the demand for qualified health care professionals. But no matter how many new jobs open up in the trendiest areas, there will always be a huge demand for the “evergreen” medical jobs: for doctors, nurses, and medical staff who work on the front lines, helping patients. If you think you’d like to be one of these front-line healthcare staffers, working as part of a patient care team, then becoming a certified nursing assistant (CNA) just might be the right path for you.

What Does a Nursing Assistant Do?

CNAs work directly with patients under the direction of physicians and nurses, providing basic care. CNAs work virtually anywhere there are healthcare facilities, including hospitals, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, and doctors’ offices. CNAs may work with a variety of patients during a shift, or they may have a more one-on-one relationship with a smaller group of patients. CNAs are often a liaison for the patient, making sure that they have everything they need or working with a team of other medical professionals to ensure that a patient is receiving a particular level of care.

A CNA’s tasks may include:

  • Assisting patients with everyday tasks like eating, bathing, and dressing
  • Taking vital signs
  • Helping to prepare patients for surgery
  • Checking and emptying catheters
  • Making beds and cleaning patient rooms
  • Setting up medical equipment
  • Administering prescribed medication
  • Assisting physicians and nurses with medical procedures
  • Observe and record patient status and changes

Nursing assistants are responsible for meeting the most basic needs of patients, and for providing a high level of personal care.

What Skills Do Nursing Assistants Have?

Because nursing assistants are one of the primary caregivers for their patients, they need to have very strong skills and bedside manner.

Patient Care Skills

In addition to the medical know-how necessary to do the job, nursing assistants also need to have strong customer care and service skills. The nursing assistant will be working with a range of patients, and potentially interacting with families as well, so it’s important to have a calm, caring, and understanding professional game face.

Attention to Detail

If things are missed, it can have serious consequences for a patient. Nursing assistants needs to have an eagle eye for detail, and a passion for making sure everything is done correctly and on time, whether it’s administering medication or feeding a patient her meals.

Communication Skills

Nursing assistants need to be able to communicate with a number of different people: patients, other staff members, and patient families. Being able to understand what’s going on, and communicate to others as necessary, is essential.

Teamwork Skills

Nursing assistants are key members of a patient care team. That means being a lone wolf just won’t work in this job. It also means a nursing assistant has to be able to work well (and take orders when necessary) from other members of the healthcare team, all in the interest of the patient.

Organizational Skills

Because nursing assistants often spend the most time directly with patients, keeping everything moving along on schedule is key. Many nursing assistants are juggling a number of patients at a time, so keeping patients and information organized is key so that there are no mistakes disruptions to care.

What Education Do Nursing Assistants Need?

At a minimum, nursing assistants typically need a high school diploma (or equivalent). Beyond that, they will need to complete a Nursing Assistant course from an accredited school, which typically lasts from 4 to 16 weeks.

Once you have your Nursing Assistant program diploma, you’ll need to be certified by your own state. Requirements vary by state, so be sure to see what’s required in your state if you’re interested in pursuing this path. Many states also require you to pass a certification exam before you can become a practicing CNA.

How Much Do Nursing Assistants Get Paid?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, medical assistants make a median salary of $26,590 per year, or $12.78 per hour, depending on location and experience. Many nursing assistants also go on to other, more advanced nursing or patient care roles as they gain more experience.

What’s the Outlook for Nursing Assistants?

This is definitely a promising field! The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the demand for nursing assistants will increase by 17% by 2024. That is much faster than average, compared to all other careers. Caring, compassionate professionals who can provide high-quality patient care will always be in high demand.

If you’re considering going into the healthcare field, and are ready for the challenges of providing hands-on care, then this could be the right choice for your career. Good luck!

About the author

Sheryl Posnick

Sheryl Posnick is an editor and writer living in Brooklyn, NY. She is the founder and president of Red Letter Content, an editorial company with a focus on educational, test preparation, and career readiness materials.