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Nursing Aide

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(5.8 out of 10)

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Median Salary


Unemployment Rate

8.6 percent

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Nursing aides might not perform heart transplants like the surgeons on “Grey’s Anatomy,” but they still hold patients’ lives in their hands each day – literally. From bathing, spoon-feeding and toileting patients in hospitals to providing them with oral care and moving them from one operating room to the next, nursing aides, attendants and orderlies are actively involved in helping the frail and the elderly make it through the day. That’s why patience and endurance benefit those interested in pursuing a career in this field. “It’s a very labor-intensive and time-consumptive process,” says Lisa Cantrell, a registered nurse and co-founder and chief clinical officer of the National Association of Health Care Assistants. Nursing aides commonly work in nursing care facilities and hospitals, but some are employed by community care facilities for the elderly and home health care services. Unlike orderlies, who primarily transport patients to and from hospital operating rooms and sterilize medical equipment and facilities, nursing aides take note of a patient’s health problems and often take their blood pressure and temperature.

Between 2012 and 2022, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts employment of nursing assistants to grow about 21 percent, or increase by 312,200 positions, which is faster than average for all occupations. This is largely due to the aging baby boomer population, which will increase demand for patient care.


According to the BLS, nursing aides earned a median of $24,420 in 2012, or approximately $11.74 per hour. The best-paid earned about $35,330, while the lowest-paid earned about $18,300. Metropolitan areas in California, including San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland, compensate nursing aides especially well.

Salary Range

75th Percentile $29,450
Median $24,420
25th Percentile $20,940


Most nursing aide and attendant jobs require a postsecondary certificate or award that allows them to both learn the nuts and bolts of nursing and complete supervised clinical work. Prospective nursing aides and attendants don’t have to attend four-year universities or colleges to obtain this training. They can learn the necessary skills at community colleges, vocational and technical schools and in hospitals and nursing homes. Even some high schools offer nursing aide programs. For prospective orderlies, the training process is less rigorous: They only need a high school diploma, and those who aren’t actively involved in patient care may even be trained on the job.

States require nursing assistants to undergo at least 12 hours of in-service continuing education each year once they complete a nursing aide training program. Some states, according to Cantrell, have taken this a step further: “Florida requires 24 hours ... In Missouri, it’s only 12. Some states are 18.” Topics range from infection control to residence rights, abuse and neglect. Certain topics must be taken in-service every year, and the remaining hours are directed toward the focus of the skilled nursing facility. “For example, if they are a skilled nursing facility that specializes in wound treatment, then perhaps the nursing assistant would benefit from continuing education on positioning and skin care,” Cantrell says. The best way for someone to land a job as a nursing assistant or orderly is to gain training and then job placement through a long-term care facility or skilled nursing provider, Cantrell says. These venues either offer the Nurse Aide Training Program in-house or they work with a community college or vocational technical school that offers the course. “Most skilled nursing facilities will give the training to the newly hired person in exchange for a work commitment,” she says.

Upon earning their postsecondary certificates or awards, nursing aides and attendants must successfully pass a competency exam to gain access to state-specific titles and receive placement on a statewide registry. State registration is a necessity for those interested in working in nursing homes. And in certain states, a nursing aide or attendant is referred to as a Certified Nursing Aide, or CNA. All states require certified training courses, Cantrell says. “Every state requires at least a 75-hour training class that is mandated by the states. It has to require certain topics, and it has to be taught by a nurse that meets the criteria from the state to teach the class,” she says.

Reviews & Advice

Those interested in becoming a nursing aide should be compassionate, patient and have good speaking skills. It’s important for nursing aides to express compassion and empathy for the sick men and women they care for daily, maintain patience in the midst of stressful situations and be able to effectively share their patients’ concerns with doctors and other health care workers.

Job Satisfaction

Upward Mobility fair Average
Stress Level poor Above Average
Flexibility poor Low
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Last updated by Casey Quinlan.

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