Watching earnest, attractive doctors and nurses struggle to save lives makes for great television. Long-term care is a lot less dramatic, which is why you don't see prime-time shows about nursing homes. Still, if you want your work to make a difference in someone's life, working as a nurse's aide or nursing assistant in a nursing home or similar facility will fill the bill. Your job title will vary depending on which state you live and work in, but you'll play a central role in the life of your patients.
Each state has its own title for nurses who care for the elderly or physically challenged. If you're in Michigan or New York, you'll be called a Certified Nurse's Aide, or CNA. Other states, including Delaware and Maine, also use the CNA acronym, but the job title is Certified Nursing Assistant. The term Nurse Aide is used in some states, including Tennessee and Connecticut, while Maryland and West Virginia refer to these caregivers as nursing assistants. In Ohio, they're known as State Tested Nurse Aides or STNAs. Although the terminology varies between states, the job duties are much the same everywhere.
Most CNAs work in nursing homes or extended-care facilities, with smaller numbers in hospitals or doctors' offices. Regardless of where you work, you're the primary caregiver for your patients or residents. You'll help them bathe and dress, go to the bathroom, and attend to their personal hygiene. You'll monitor their health and vital signs, reporting to a nurse if there are signs of mental or physical deterioration. You'll also clean catheters, change bandages and help residents with daily activities or exercise programs. Your attitude can play a large role in your residents' quality of life, so a warm and empathetic personality is a big career asset.
It's important not to confuse CNAs with medical assistants, though their roles overlap to a small degree. Nursing assistants mostly work in extended care, while medical assistants are primarily used in doctors' offices. Medical assistants can also take vital signs and collect specimens for laboratory testing, as CNAs do, but their involvement with patients is limited. Medical assistants primarily record patient information so doctors can see as many patients as possible without being delayed by routine note-taking. Medical assistants also have an administrative role, performing tasks such as answering the phone, scheduling appointments and maintaining patient files.
Each state sets its own training and certification requirements, so it's important to check with your own board of nursing before you plunk down your money for a training course. Some care facilities offer in-house training designed to let you pass seamlessly from learning to working. You can also train at a technical or community college, if that's more convenient. Training typically takes two months or less, divided between classroom time and supervised clinical practice. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects high demand for CNAs between 2010 and 2020, with the number of jobs expected to increase 20 percent over the decade. That's above the 14 percent average for all occupations.
Fred Decker is a trained chef and certified food-safety trainer. Decker wrote for the Saint John, New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal, and has been published in Canada's Hospitality and Foodservice magazine. He's held positions selling computers, insurance and mutual funds, and was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.