Nursing Assistant

How to Become a Nursing Assistant

Duties, Responsibilities, Schooling, Requirements, Certifications, Job Outlook, and Salary

Nursing Assistant

Medical assistants (MAs) play essential roles within many healthcare teams. The training they receive qualifies medical assistants to perform essential clinical and administrative tasks, including the nursing assistant’s duty to administer, monitor, and record a patient’s vital signs. By starting your career as a Medical Assistant, your broad base of skills and knowledge can make you a valued nursing assistant who is primed for success from day one.

If the idea of steering your career toward becoming a nursing assistant appeals to you, earning your MA diploma could be a great place to start your journey. Your knowledge and skills as an MA can set the stage for success as Nursing Assistant.

(Click here to read our comprehensive guide on how to become a Medical Assistant)

Nursing Assistant is one of many healthcare career options for graduates of a qualified Medical Assisting program. Other career paths include medical office assistant, medical claims examiner, EKG technician, and home health aide. Click here to explore our full list of alternative jobs for Medical Assistants.

Nursing Assistant Definition

What is a Nursing Assistant?

Nursing assistants help people of all ages who can’t help themselves perform basic, everyday tasks. Nursing assistants work under the supervision of a licensed nurse and provide personal care for the elderly, those with special needs, hospice patients, people recovering from extensive injuries. They are also responsible for monitoring their patients’ medication intake, vital signs, and treatment progress.  Nursing assistants play a significant , positive role in the lives of their patients and serve as the first point of contact when new medical concerns arise.

Nursing Assistant: Job Description

What Does a Nursing Assistant Do?

Nursing assistants work under an RN’s supervision to provide care to those in need of assistance with everyday tasks. These tasks include helping patients with their daily routines, assisting and documenting their medical care, and providing help with their personal needs.

Nursing assistants are also tasked with monitoring the health and well-being of the patients they serve. They spend many hours with their patients, accompanying them for much of their healthcare journey. The intimate knowledge gained as the primary caregiver for these patients enables nursing assistants to provide vital updates to the supervising nurse and have a significant and lasting impact on each patient’s quality of life.

Nursing Assistant Duties

Nursing assistants perform various tasks each day, and those tasks can vary with the needs of the patient under your care. The typical day-to-day responsibilities of nursing assistants include:

  • Taking and monitoring vital signs
  • Assisting with range-of-motion exercises
  • Dressing, bathing, and feeding the patient
  • Reporting patient condition to the supervising nurse
  • Assisting with toilet use
  • Helping with walkers, canes, and other mobility devices
  • Light housekeeping
  • Transferring wheelchair-bound patients safely
  • Turning and positioning bed-ridden patients regularly

Medical receptionist helping a male patient

Nursing Assistants Skills

In addition to the education required for certification, there several skills a nursing assistant needs to be happy and successful at their job. These skills include:

  • Sharp observational skills. Of the many tasks of a nursing assistants must perform, one of the most important is observing the patient’s condition. Nursing assistants are the eyes and ears of doctors and RNs in charge. As such, the ability to note subtle changes in the patient’s behavior, symptoms, or environment can be vital.
  • Excellent verbal and written communication. When you’re a part of a team responsible for caring for someone in need, having strong communication skills is very important. The ability to effectively share information between yourself and the supervising doctor/nurse, the patient, and the patient’s family cannot be overstated.
  • Adherence to protocols. Nobody has to tell you about the importance of following protocols in the healthcare industry. Patients that require nursing assistants will undoubtedly have a detailed care plan that must be followed precisely or the health of the patient can be put at unnecessary risk. Not adhering to protocols could expose you, your coworkers and employer to potential liability.
  • A caring heart. Nursing assistants are most often caring for people who can’t – for any number of reasons – care for themselves. Many of these patients are proud, formerly independent individuals who can be sensitive about the changes they’ve had to make to their everyday lives. Nursing assistants need to display compassion and empathy toward their patients to put them at ease and help manage their life-change with grace.
  • Disciplined time management. Nursing assistants need to be self-starters. They need to structure their days to efficiently conduct a wide range of clinical and administrative duties without prompting or supervision. Like any nurse, they need to be agile enough to manage the inevitable off-script situation while not allowing it to adversely affect the care they give or other work responsibilities.

Where Do Nursing Assistants Work?

Nursing assistants can find employment in a number of different settings where people need professional care on a daily basis. These locations include:

  • Nursing homes
  • In-home care
  • Assisted living facilities
  • Hospice facilities
  • Hospitals
  • Long-term care facilities
  • Correctional institutions

Nursing Assistant School & Certification

Educational Requirements for Nursing Assistants

Medical assistants looking to become nursing assistants do not need a college degree, but they must have a high school diploma or its equivalent. Additionally, MAs will need to enroll in a state-approved training program and pass a certification exam in order to receive the required credentials to find work as a nursing assistant in your state. Most of the training you’ve received in your MA program can be applied directly to your nursing assistant career.

Nursing Assistant Certification Requirements

Certification requirements for nursing assistants vary by state, but the certification process is similar for all states. To earn your certification, you must first complete a state-approved certified nursing assistant program at an accredited institution. These programs will assure you have the necessary knowledge and skillsets for certification. Once the training program is complete, you will need to sit for the state’s certification exam.

There are two parts to the exam: the written/oral component and the clinical component. The written/oral portion will test your knowledge of medical terminologies, anatomy, physiology, and the duties/responsibilities of nursing assistants. A third-party proctor often conducts this component of the exam in a group setting. The clinical portion of the exam will be administered by a nurse or other practitioner who will have you demonstrate a number of the requisite skills covered in your training that nursing assistants need to master.

Nursing graduate in front of a blackboard

How Long Does it Take to Become a Nursing Assistant?

In general terms, it takes between four and 12 weeks to complete a state-approved certified nursing assistant program. Each state has different guidelines, but you can count on this time being divided between classroom instruction and a clinical setting for hands-on training.

From Medical Assistant to Nursing Assistant

There are a number of long-term career advantages to becoming a nursing assistant after first completing a Medical Assistant program.

Those with a medical assistants license are qualified to perform many clinical and administrative tasks under a variety of healthcare settings. These duties can include patient interaction, taking vital signs, the use of technology, medical and legal documentation, and electronic medical records. The diversity of knowledge and training can increase your appeal to prospective employers no matter which career path you ultimately choose. It can also serve as the basis for taking on greater responsibilities, career advancement, and higher pay.

Nursing Assistant Salary

How Much Do Nursing Assistants Make?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average annual salary* for a nursing assistant is about $32,000, which works out to be just above $15 per hour. Salaries for nursing assistants in the 90th percentile of income can reach as high as $42,000 per year or more.

Highest Paying Industries for Nursing Assistants

According to the BLS, these are the industries where you’re most likely to find the top-paying jobs for nursing assistants:

Industry Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Colleges & Universities $21.57 $44,870
Scientific Research & Development $19.05 $39,630
Outpatient Care Centers $18.47 $38,420
Specialty Hospitals $16.46 $34,240
General Hospitals $16.18 $33,660

Highest Paying States for Nursing Assistants

According to the BLS, nursing assistants earn the highest average wages in these states:

State Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Alaska $20.43 $42,500
New York $19.53 $40,620
California $18.89 $39,280
Hawaii $18.58 $38,650
Massachusetts $17.86 $37,160

Highest Paying Cities for Nursing Assistants

According to the BLS, nursing assistants earn the highest average annual wage in these cities:

City Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
San Francisco, CA $23.28 $48,420
Santa Cruz, CA $21.13 $43,960
Vallejo, CA $20.29 $42,200
San Jose, CA $20.18 $41,980
Sacramento, CA $20.17 $41,950
New York, NY $19.48 $40,520
Anchorage, AK $19.45 $40,460
Glen Falls, NY $19.44 $40,420
Napa, CA $19.43 $40,420
Salinas, CA $19.40 $40,350

Nursing Assistant Job Outlook

The BLS estimates that overall employment for nursing assistants is expected to grow 8% from 2019 to 2029, a rate that is much faster than the average growth across all other jobs during the same time period (4%). With the aging of the American population, the need for help with their daily care is only expected to grow. This growth will drive strong demand for nursing assistants for many years to come.

Teamwork between healthcare workers

About Brookline College

At Brookline College, our mission is to provide you with more than a degree or diploma. Our goal is to help you achieve your dreams for a brighter future. With both online and on-campus programs in Arizona and New Mexico, we offer an exceptional education in nursing and healthcare.

Our Medical Assistant Program can be completed in as little as 9 months and provides the necessary training for entry-level positions as a medical assistant in a healthcare facility such as a clinic, physician’s office, or urgent care facility.

At Brookline College, your future starts now.