Become a Nursing Home Activity Director: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Research the requirements to become a nursing home activities director. Learn about the job description and duties, and read the step-by-step process to start a career in activity directing.

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Do I Want to Be a Nursing Home Activity Director?

Moving into a nursing home is often difficult for patients and their families. Facilities try to ease the transition and make life as fulfilling as possible for residents through planned activities. From outings and lectures to games, crafts and exercise programs, nursing home activity directors plan a full slate of activities to keep residents entertained. Some individuals find working with the elderly to be a negative experience, while others find this type of position to be deeply rewarding.

Job Requirements

While federal law doesn't require certification, some states do, and many facilities prefer to hire certified activity directors. Many activity directors, which are a type of recreation director, hold associate's or bachelor's degrees. The following table outlines common requirements to become a nursing home activity director:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Associate's or bachelor's degree*
Degree Field No specific area of study is required*
Experience 4,000-6,000 hours of work experience is required for certification, depending on degree level*
Licensure and Certification A state-issued license may be required depending on the state; most employers prefer candidates who are certified*
Key Skills Strong communication skills, leadership skills, problem-solving skills, speaking skills**
Computer Skills Ability to use word processing, record keeping, spreadsheet and database software***

Sources: *National Certification Council for Activities Professionals (NCAAP), **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), ***O Net Online.

Step 1: Investigate State Requirements for Becoming an Activity Professional

While not all states require a license or certificate to plan and lead activities in nursing homes, some do, and most states and employers have minimum qualifications for age and training. Aspiring activity directors should contact the state licensing board or a local agency on aging to confirm the requirements in their area.

Step 2: Earn a College Degree

While a college degree is not necessarily required to work in an activity department, most employers require a degree or a minimum number of college credits before they hire an aspiring activity director. To earn the Activity Director Certified (ADC) credential from the National Certification Council for Activity Professionals (NCCAP), which is often required for employment as an activities director, candidates must hold either an associate's or bachelor's degree, or complete a minimum number of credit hours at the college level, in addition to meeting additional work experience requirements.

Some schools offer programs in leisure management, recreation management or other related fields, but the NCCAP does not require a specific major for the ADC. To apply for certification, though, candidates must complete coursework in English and several other subjects, including education, social work and business.

Success Tip

  • Volunteer. Aspiring activity directors can gain valuable first-hand experience working with the elderly by volunteering at nursing homes. Students may even be able to find volunteer opportunities assisting in activities or performing other tasks within the activities department of a nursing home.

Step 3: Complete Training Workshops

To earn the ADC credential, all candidates must complete a training workshop through the NCCAP. The training program includes the 2-part Modular Education Program for Activity Professionals and 180 hours of practicum experience. Some states require the completion of other training workshops to earn an activity professional license or certification.

Step 4: Gain Work Experience

Prospective nursing home activities directors must complete a minimum number of hours working with people over age 55 to be certified. Those who have a bachelor's degree need a minimum of 4,000 contact hours within five years, while those with an associate's degree or less need 6,000 contact hours. The bulk of these hours need to be earned through paid work experience, although some volunteer experience counts toward meeting the minimum requirement.

Step 5: Continue Education

Before applying for the ADC credential, prospective activity directors need at least 30 hours of continuing education (CE) credit. The NCCAP designates particular study areas for the CE credits, including regulations, public relations, interpersonal relationships, health, public speaking and aging issues that pertain to spirituality, psychology, biology and sociology.

Step 6: Get Certified

Once all certification requirements have been met, those who wish to obtain the ADC credential can apply for the credential and take the national exam through the NCAAP. Certification must be renewed every two years and CE credit is required for renewal.

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