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What is a Nursing Assistant?

By S. Rosier
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A nursing assistant works under the supervision of a nurse or other medical staff. They can work in a variety of settings, such as a hospital, nursing home, a mental health facility, or private residences. Typically, they assist patients or clients with their activities of daily living (ADLs) and complete other bedside and nursing tasks. The duties of a nursing assistant are usually hands-on and routine.

A nursing assistant can help clients with many different ADLs. They may assist patients in and out of bed and help them to different areas, such as an exam room or to the bathroom. Simple activities such as getting dressed can be difficult for some patients. As a result, nursing assistants may help their patients change clothes or complete other grooming tasks like brushing their hair, shaving, and bathing. Assistants might also serve patients food and help feed them if necessary.

In addition to helping with ADLs, nursing assistants also perform basic medical tasks to measure vital functions, such as taking a temperature, pulse rate, blood pressure, respiration rate, and answering any patient calls. They may collect samples such as urine or blood samples. Routine tidying tasks may also be performed, such as straightening up and cleaning a patient’s room, changing bed sheets, cleaning and preparing equipment, and prepare dressing packs and treatment trays.

Nursing assistants can be invaluable to the medical care process because they can monitor a patient’s daily activities and report any abnormalities to their health care provider. A nursing assistant also records physical details, such as how much the patient is eating and how often. They can also report back on a patient’s mental state, due to the close relationship they may develop with the patient that the doctor or nurses just don't have the time for.

A nursing assistant most often becomes certified as Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA). In the United States, to become a nursing assistant you must complete 75 hours of state approved training and pass a competency exam. This training can be completed through a number of programs, usually at community colleges or medical facilities, which usually run for about six to twelve weeks. There may also be some state-imposed requirements that vary by state. Requirements among countries vary as well.

The demand for nursing assistants is very high, and will likely continue to stay high. One factor influencing this demand in the US is an increasing aging population, which is constantly creating jobs in the field of gerontology. Additionally, as costs are increasingly cut in the field of medicine, lower level health care professionals are often being hired in greater numbers than higher level physicians.

In the US, the average salary of a nursing assistant is about $25,000 US Dollars (USD) a year, but this is greatly influenced by experience, the type of facility, and location. Due to the low pay and high demands of the job, there is generally a high turnover rate for employees. That high turnover rate, however, may also be influenced by the many people who work as a nursing assistant to help them decide if they want to pursue a career as a health care professional.

TheHealthBoard is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By winnie03 — On Sep 04, 2014

Does being a Medical Assistant cover being a certified caregiver?

By anon166236 — On Apr 07, 2011

Can a Medical Assistant be hired as a patient care tech or CNA

By anon165597 — On Apr 05, 2011

Can you clarify whether a Medical Assistant needs to be a CNA or if the MA Certification will cover both careers?

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