Being a nursing assistant is more than just a job. It's an important role in patient care, and it's essential to the operation of hospitals, private healthcare clinics, nursing homes, and other facilities.
Nursing assistants work every day to demonstrate compassion for their patients and give them the best care they can. Nursing assistants personally care for patients on a daily basis — which means you'll have the opportunity for a lot of personal patient interactions.
There are a wide variety of tasks involved in the nursing assistant position. They typically provide basic care for patients, which can include assisting patients with dressing, feeding, grooming, repositioning, and more.
Between now and 2026, employment for nursing assistants was projected to grow by 11%. That means it’s a good time to consider becoming a nursing assistant.
If you're interested in this career field, you'll need to know all about the day-to-day work involved in the position, as well as the qualities you'll need to be a successful employee. Here's how a nursing assistant spends an average day.
What Does Being a Nursing Assistant Entail?
While the specific role and responsibilities depend on where you're working, nursing assistants typically assist patients with day to day health and activities. Some of the tasks they handle on the job include:
- Administering medication
- Bathing and cleaning patients
- Dressing patients
- Serving meals
- Repositioning patients regularly
- Emptying bedpans
- Changing bedsheets
- Taking vital signs
- Answering patient calls/requests
- Sanitizing patient rooms
- Recording information about condition
The main role of a nursing assistant is to act as a bridge between patients and doctors. Their job is to communicate issues or concerns to medical staff and act as a voice for the patients' needs.
There may also be additional tasks involved, like setting up medical equipment, conducting examinations, or transporting patients to other locations within the facility. Depending on the medical facility, you may also be able to shadow other nurses or doctors while they work.
While the job can be very rewarding, it isn't always easy. Whether it's cleaning up after patients or working with distressed patients and family members, this jobs can include difficult tasks. However, you may find that helping people is worth the tough experiences.
A Day in the Life of a Nursing Assistant
To give you a better idea about what to expect, let's break down some of these tasks. Here's an overview of an average day in the life of a nursing assistant.
Start of the Shift
A nursing assistant's day usually kicks off in the morning, although it depends on the assigned schedule. At the start of the work shift, the nursing assistant reports to the head nurse, physician, or another staff member in charge of supervision.
They then typically receive a list of all the patient assignments for the day. These can vary from day to day, and you may get different patients each time. There may also be some variation in terms of tasks. Nursing assistants may attend to different departments within the care facility, or stick with one.
At the beginning of the shift, nursing assistants typically review notes on each patient. These note are often written by a nursing assistant or other healthcare provider during the previous shift. This will help prepare the nursing assistant prepare for the day ahead.
During the Shift
Throughout the day, a nursing assistant usually cycles through the list of tasks and patient assignments.
They might help patients move around the facility, reposition them in a way that allows them to be comfortable, or assist them with dining or other daily functions.
They may also be involved in some administrative duties. For example, checking vital signs, testing blood sugar, taking blood samples, or monitoring intake of food and output of waste.
Providing care to patients is all about helping them maintain their dignity. Patients rely on the nursing assistants to help them with moving, feeding, and using the restroom. By keeping a professional attitude and fostering a personal connection with the patient, nursing assistants can make this process smoother and more comfortable.
One of the most important parts of the job is being attentive to the individual needs of the patient. Some might have different emotional dispositions, physical difficulties, or special needs.
Becoming a nursing assistant gives you a unique opportunity to create an emotional connection with patients and help them through their condition or treatment. As a nursing assistant, it would be your job to keep patients both physically comfortable and mentally at ease.
At the End of the Shift
Even as the end of the shift draws closer, the work for a nursing assistant doesn't slow down. The end-of-the-day activities can include serving dinner, doing cleanup, and getting patients ready to sleep.
By the end of the shift, the nursing assistant will typically make notes about the care provided to each patient. They may also add information about any incidents that occurred, as well as the overall mental, emotional, and physical health of each patient. This will help the next nursing assistant on shift to anticipate patients' needs and provide the best care.
Every workday as a nursing assistant can be different. But each shift will likely have its fair share of triumphs and rewards—as well as challenges.
What Education is Required?
Unlike other jobs in the medical field, becoming a nursing assistant doesn't require a bachelor’s degree. However, you will need to go through state-approved formal training and pass your state’s competency exam in order to work in this field.
This training can be more shorter and affordable than 2-year or 4-year programs, and it typically features a mix of both basic education and hands-on clinical work. Depending on the program, you should also be able to practice your craft under the supervision of an experienced professional.
You can get training or an associate degree from a community college, vocational college, or technical school. Once you've done so, you'll be prepared to sit for the Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) exam in your state.
If you successfully pass the exam, you'll become a certified nursing assistant and be listed in your state’s registry. Depending on the state, you may need to pass a background check or fulfill other education requirements.
What is the Job Like?
Beyond the day to day activities, there's a lot more that goes into the nursing assistant job. The facilities where nursing assistants work can vary widely. Common workplaces include a state, local, or private hospital, or a nursing or long-term care home.
When you're working at a medical facility, you’re likely to work irregular hours. You may work late at night, early in the morning, on the weekends, or over the holidays.
Keep in mind, many nursing assistants don't work in this position over the long term. About 28% of nursing assistants stay for five or more years in their role, and only 13% work for more than 10 years. While many find the job extremely rewarding, it can also take a physical and emotional toll. With long hours and the stress of day to day activities, many nursing assistants move on to different roles in the healthcare industry. But the nursing assistant role can be a great stepping stone in a wider healthcare career.
In terms of a salary, this can vary depending on where you live and work. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median earnings for nursing assistants was $27,520 as of May 2017.
The Bottom Line
While the role of a nursing assistant is a lot of work, it can be very rewarding work. You'll be challenged to overcome new obstacles every day and develop relationships with your patients built on trust and care.
This guide should give you a basic overview of what it's like to be a nursing assistant, but there is no average day. If you're looking for a fast-paced and energetic job that can give you unique insight into the workings of a medical facility, this just might be the job for you.
Are you curious about other jobs in healthcare? Check out the career section of our blog to learn more. You can also visit our Nursing Assistant program page to learn more about UMA’s on-campus training in Clearwater, FL.