Patient Care Aide: Job Description, Salary and Career Info
Patient care aide is one of many titles referring to a worker in a medical facility whose job is basic patient care. By assisting medical staff and taking responsibility for all of a patient's basic needs, the patient care aide is the first and most frequent provider of assistance for anyone undergoing medical treatment.
Patient care aides--often referred to as nursing aides, nursing assistants, patient care assistants and various other titles--provide basic care to patients in hospitals or other medical facilities. They work under advisory from a nursing staff and usually have a great deal of direct contact with patients. According to the National Network of Career Nursing Assistants, aides working in long-term care facilities may be responsible for 80-90% of all personal care that a patient is provided (www.cna-network.org).
Patient care aides help feed, bathe and dress the medical patients in their charge. Depending on the patient's condition, the aide may assist with moving and transporting them; this may include helping them walk or assisting them with exercise and physical therapy. Aides answer patients' calls for assistance and help prepare them for surgery. They can also be responsible for tracking vital signs, checking blood pressure, temperature, nutritional intake and heart rate. They may collect specimens and assist in other medical procedures, as well as generally observing the patient's condition and reporting any changes to physicians and nursing staff. In addition, aides are usually responsible for changing linens, replacing bedpans and cleaning a patient's room.
As of May 2012, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lists a mean hourly wage of $12.32 for nursing assistants. This translates to an average annual salary of $25,620. In the lowest ten percent of the pay range, hourly earnings are $8.80, equating to $18,300 annually; the highest ten percent earns $16.99 hourly or $35,330 in a year. The BLS also reports that while there are a great deal more nursing aides working for nursing care facilities, those who work at general medical and surgical hospitals are better paid; they make $27,690 annually on average, compared to the mean $24,650 salary of those who work at a nursing care facility (www.bls.gov).
While some patient care aides make the transition to a higher level of medical service, such as a registered nurse, others remain in the aide capacity for a number of years. The National Network of Career Nursing Assistants provides data from a 1997-98 study that 28% of nursing assistants stay on in that capacity for at least five years, while 12.6% stay for 10-55 years (www.cna-network.org). Often, the longevity of patient care aides helps them in their work, as their continued presence is comforting to patients and helps them to feel at ease when undergoing treatment.
Some states differentiate between various levels of patient care aide qualification. In Oklahoma, for example, patient care assistants with no experience begin at the lowest level, which consists mostly of on-site training and learning from co-workers who have been there longer. After a year, the patient care assistant is approved to perform the full range of duties involved in the job description. After three years of patient care experience, the aide is considered qualified to provide training to new assistants.
Additionally, the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) administers a voluntary exam to assess the competency of nursing aides and provide a credential to demonstrate qualification. The National Nurse Aid Assessment Program (NNAAP) is available through the NCSBN in 19 states and Washington, D.C.
The NNAAP consists of a written or oral examination combined with a demonstration of relevant skills. Those who pass both parts of the exam are entered into the state nurse aide registry, which is used by employers to determine the full extent of a nurse aide's qualifications. As a result, patient care aides seeking to practice in states where the NNAAP is recognized should seriously consider taking the exam to increase their chances of employment.
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