Working as a nursing assistant before nursing school

October 16, 2014

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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Students finished at the hospital for the day. Working as a nursing assistant, also know as a nurse’s aide, before nursing school can be a great introduction to a nursing career. Before you decide to give it a shot, you should understand what a nursing assistant does and does not do, as well as the requirements involved.

What does a nursing assistant do?

As a nursing assistant, you will perform a wide variety of duties depending on where you work. Typically, nursing assistants measure a patient’s vital signs, such as blood pressure, respiratory and heart rate, as well as temperature and oxygen level. They may also monitor fluid intake and urine output.

In some facilities, nurse’s aides will assist patients in mobility activities, such as moving from the bed to a chair or walking. Depending on the patient’s needs, they may assist with bathing, dressing and toileting. Certain patients may also require help with meals, which may involve feeding the patient.

Nursing assistants also help the nurse with various activities, such as repositioning the patient, changing bedding and other tasks as needed. Similar to other medical professionals, nurse’s aides chart on a patient’s conditions and provide information to oncoming staff.

Understanding what you would do as a nursing assistant is essential when making the decision to pursue it, but knowing what you will not be doing is equally important. Nursing assistants will not provide the same level of care as a licensed practical nurse or a registered nurse. For example, nursing assistants do not administer medication or perform comprehensive patient assessments.

Nursing assistants will not perform wound care, dressing changes or start IVs. They also do not draw blood or monitor advanced equipment, such as respirators.

Jobs are available for nursing assistants in various types of healthcare settings. Assistants work in acute care hospitals in many different patient care areas, such as the medical floor, oncology and telemetry. Hospital policies vary on whether nursing assistants can work in critical care areas, such as the intensive care unit. In addition to an acute care hospital, nursing assistants also work in sub-acute facilities, rehabilitation hospitals and nursing homes.

How to become a nursing assistant

In the United States, nursing assistants need to pass a state test and become licensed in the state they will be working in. In order to be eligible to take the state exam, applicants will need to complete a state approved nursing assistant training program. Requirements to get into training classes are usually minimal. In most cases, applicants need to be 18 years of age and have no felony convictions.

Although program length can vary, many nursing assistant programs are between one and three months long. Full-time and part-time programs are often available. Nursing assistant programs can usually be found at adult education schools, community colleges and private technical schools. Some nursing homes also offer nurse’s aide training classes.

If you are thinking about working as a nursing assistant, you may want to consider several options. For instance, after high school you could complete a nursing assistant class and work as an aide for a while before applying to nursing school.  Another option is to take a nursing assistant class during summer break and work as an aide part-time while you are in nursing school.

Are you cut out to work as a nursing assistant?

There are several skills that are helpful to have if you are going to work as a nursing assistant. They are also some of the same skills you will need if you go on to become a nurse. It’s nice to find out if you are cut out for the field before you attend nursing school for a few years. Nursing assistants need to have some of the following skills:

– Empathy

– Patience

– Time management skills

– Good communication

– Be a team player

Stepping stone to a nursing career  

Working as a nursing assistant before you attend nursing school is helpful for several reasons. One major benefit is working as a nurse’s aide allows you to try a career in healthcare before committing to several years of nursing school. After all, most people may have an idea of what a nurse does from their experience or by watching television, but seeing the day-to-day job responsibilities first-hand is different. Working as a nursing assistant may save you from pursuing a career that is not the right fit.

On the other hand, working as an aide may only confirm you want to become a nurse. If this is the case, it provides a great stepping stone to a nursing career. It provides you with practical, hands-on patient care experience.

During nursing assistant training and on the job, you will learn a lot about patient care, effective communication and medical terminology. All of this information will be beneficial when you start nursing school. It gives you a head start on your education.

You will also get a chance to learn about the profession. You may get the opportunity to work with different types of nurses in various specialties, which may help you figure out what type of nursing you are interested in.

Getting accepted into a registered nursing program can be competitive. Working as a nursing assistant before nursing school can also help you get into a nursing program. Having patient care experience may give you the edge on your application.   

There may also be financial benefits to working as nursing assistant. Although salaries will vary, aides often make more per hour than other jobs you may get right out of high school, such as food service or retail. Some healthcare facilities may also offer tuition reimbursement or assistance to employees who are trying to further their careers. 

Although working as a nursing assistant before pursuing a career as a registered nurse may not be the path everyone should take, it can be the right choice for some. If you plan to take a year or two off before college or you are on the fence about a nursing career, working as a nursing assistant may be the perfect choice.