How To Become a Nursing Assistant (With Salary)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 19 October 2022 | Published 14 July 2021

Updated 19 October 2022

Published 14 July 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Nursing is a trusted and valued profession. Nursing assistants can help others achieve better health. If you enjoy helping people, learning more about a career as a nursing assistant can help you decide whether to become one. In this article, we explore how to become a nursing assistant, what they do, how much they make a year and the most necessary skills for this career.

How to become a nursing assistant in 7 steps

Here are the basic steps detailing how to become a nursing assistant:

1. Complete a qualification in Health Assistance Certificate III

To become a nursing assistant, you don't need to earn a college degree, so you can become a nursing assistant in a very short period of time. First, you can complete a VET course in Health Assistance Certificate III. This certificate is the minimum qualification level you can earn in order to work as a nursing assistant. Besides learning how to assist nurses and other health professionals in treating patients, you can learn the following:

  • Develop the ability to communicate and build relationships with other health professionals and clients

  • Understand how the human body works

  • Perform general cleaning tasks in the clinical workplace

  • Help clients maintain oral hygiene

  • Provide transportation for clients who are unable to do it themselves

  • Assist clients with movement and social support needs

  • Facilitate responsible behaviour

2. Complete a mandatory work placement

The Health Assistance Certificate III, like many other certificates, includes a work placement consisting of around 120 hours in total. You can put into practice everything you learned in the VET course and gain practical experience working with patients while under supervision. You can also develop and expand the necessary skills to become a professional nursing assistant working in both public and private hospitals.

3. Take the competency certification exam

Once you complete your training program, you can pass a competency certification exam. After that, the state registry can recognise you as a Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA) or other similar denomination, depending on the state. This can allow you to officially work as a nurse assistant. The VET certificate and the completion of the competency exam tell employers that you have the correct knowledge and required skills for a nursing assistant role.

Read more: Nursing Skills (Definition and Examples)

4. Consider obtaining a bachelor's degree

A bachelor's degree is not required to become a nursing assistant. Still, individuals who enrol in an undergraduate nursing program may find available positions to work as nursing assistants while studying. The specialised skills you develop while working as a nursing assistant can also help you to achieve higher grades. This may raise your employability should you apply for a full-time nurse position. You can also apply the lessons learned from the course's core subjects to gain a better understanding of your role.

Here are some examples of nursing degrees that can complement the nursing assistant position:

  • Bachelor of Nursing

  • Bachelor of Nursing and Midwifery

  • Bachelor of Adult Nursing

  • Bachelor of Nursing - Creative Intelligence and Innovation

  • Bachelor of Nursing with Honours

  • Bachelor or Nursing Advanced

  • Bachelor of Paramedicine

  • Bachelor of Nursing Science

  • Bachelor of Dementia Care

5. Choose where you want to work

Nursing assistants can choose from a wide variety of facilities, including hospitals, palliative care providers, clinics and correctional facilities. You can identify industries you feel more comfortable or interested in working to select a work environment. In hospital settings, you can also choose a specialised field such as pediatrics.

6. Create your resume and a cover letter

A good resume and a cover letter can set you apart from other candidates. A resume can accurately highlight your abilities, skills and professionalism to a potential employer of your choice. The way you structure and design a resume, even if you don't have prior experience, can help you get your first nursing assistant job.

Use appropriate terminology and keywords for the sector you are looking to enter when creating your resume. This way, employers with open nursing assistant positions online can find your profile when looking for candidates who added those specific keywords. Specify the tasks you accomplished and the skills you developed in your work placement experience.

Read more: What Makes a Good Resume?

7. Apply for jobs

Once you have completed your resume and written your cover letter, perform a search for open nursing assistant Positions in the area of your choice. Then, apply your newly created resume and a cover letter that emphasises why you are a perfect fit for that role. Create different resumes and adapt each cover letter for every position you're interested in working in.

How long does it take to become a nursing assistant?

There isn't a single answer to know how long it takes to become a nursing assistant, since it depends on the state and the institution that offers the program. However, most n ursing assistant certification programs have a duration of between 4 and 12 weeks. Some of them may even take longer, up to six months or even more. These are some of the reasons that can determine the total amount of time needed to complete the Health Assistance Certificate III:

  • Flexibility: if the program offers the student flexibility to learn the materials wherever and whenever they like, they may take longer to complete their studies. Flexibility may be a solution for students that want to learn how to become a nursing assistant while working, volunteering or studying for other degrees.

  • Tutoring: some programs offer a more personalised learning path than others. For example, if you take an online course with in-depth assistance from Trainers and Assessors, it may shorten the time required to complete it.

  • Requirements: some of the program's requirements may be easier for some students, such as the use of the English language, industry experience or computing skills. In addition, institutions usually offer an assessment tool that can give you an idea of the literacy and numeracy skills needed to study a VET course.

Related: Learning Styles for Career Development

How much do nurse assistants make a year?

Nurse assistants are entry-level professionals in the nursing and healthcare field. Usually, employers don't require work experience aside from the practice hours needed to complete the CNA training program. According to Indeed Salaries, the average base salary for a nursing assistant is $73,378 per year. Salaries for this role may depend on factors like education level, experience and location.

What does a nursing assistant do?

A certified nursing assistant, also referred to as a nursing assistant, a Nursing Aide or an Assistant in Nursing, work under the supervision of other enrolled nurses or registered nurses. Working as a nursing assistant is a good way to quickly enter the sector and determine if a career in nursing or healthcare is right for you. Later on, you can gain more experience or continue studying to become a nurse or specialise in the healthcare profession.

A nursing assistant provides care to patients in hospitals or other care facilities. Their typical day is varied and busy, and their tasks depend on the patient's needs, their shift and the type of facility they work in. Here are some of their duties:

  • Moving and repositioning patients

  • Helping patients to get dressed

  • Changing patients' bedding

  • Assisting patients with prescribed exercises

  • Obtaining vital signs such as temperature and blood pressure

  • Bathing patients

  • Feeding patients and measuring their food and liquid intake

  • Combing hair, shaving, caring for nails and brushing patients' teeth

  • Making sure the patient's documentation is up-to-date

  • Preparing rooms for admissions

  • Helping with medical procedures

  • Applying simple wound dressings

  • Stocking of supplies

  • Answering call lights

  • Emptying catheters

  • Following therapy plans

  • Reporting changes in patient's condition

  • Delivering medications

Nursing assistants play an essential role in the wellbeing of healthcare organisations. They spend a significant amount of time with patients, sometimes developing a close bond with them. Since they also provide general support to patients who may feel uncomfortable or upset, these professionals are vital for a facility's atmosphere.

Related: Why Is Conscientiousness Important?

Skills needed to become a nursing assistant

There are a good number of soft skills and hard skills needed to be a nursing assistant. See the following:

  • Empathy: some patients' situations can be challenging due to sickness or injury. You can show compassion and empathy to provide emotional support and to cope with challenging situations.

  • Flexibility and resilience: it's not easy to plan your workday. You may need to adapt to constantly changing procedures and situations. Healthcare professionals also work in different and sometimes demanding shifts, including working at night or doubling them.

  • Organisational skills: the typical day of a nursing assistant is very busy, and they'll be attending to multiple patients. For this reason, organisational skills are crucial to keep things running smoothly and avoid rushing between tasks. They also focus on the task at hand not to miss anything important for their wellbeing.

  • Physical fitness: working as a nursing assistant means standing most of the day and lifting and moving patients. For this, you can develop physical fitness and have a reasonable level of strength.

  • Excellent communication skills: You can work under the supervision of other healthcare professionals and nurses. Active listening and transmitting accurate information is necessary.

Salary figures reflect data listed on the quoted websites at the time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organization and a candidate’s experience, academic background and location.

This article is based on information available at the time of writing, which may change at any time. Indeed does not guarantee that this information is always up-to-date. Please seek out a local resource for the latest on this topic.

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