Nursing assistants and orderlies

What Nursing Assistants and Orderlies Do

Nursing assistants and orderlies help provide basic care for patients in hospitals and residents of long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes.

Duties

Nursing assistants, sometimes called nursing aides, provide basic care and help with activities of daily living. They typically do the following:

  • Clean and bathe patients or residents
  • Help patients use the toilet and dress
  • Turn, reposition, and transfer patients between beds and wheelchairs
  • Listen to and record patients’ health concerns and report that information to nurses
  • Measure patients’ vital signs, such as blood pressure and temperature
  • Serve meals and help patients eat

Some nursing assistants may also dispense medication, depending on their training level and the state in which they work.

In nursing homes, assistants are often the principal caregivers. They have more contact with residents than other members of the staff. Because some residents stay in a nursing home for months or years, assistants may develop close relationships with their patients.

Orderlies may do some of the same tasks as nursing assistants, although they do not usually provide healthcare services. They typically do the following:

  • Transport patients, such as taking a hospital patient to an operating room
  • Clean equipment and facilities

Nursing assistants and orderlies work as part of a healthcare team under the supervision of licensed practical or licensed vocational nurses and registered nurses.

How to Become a Nursing Assistant or Orderly

Nursing assistants must complete a state-approved education program and must pass their state’s competency exam. Orderlies generally have at least a high school diploma.

Education and Training

Nursing assistants must complete a state-approved education program in which they learn the basic principles of nursing and complete supervised clinical work. These programs are found in high schools, community colleges, vocational and technical schools, hospitals, and nursing homes.

In addition, nursing assistants typically complete a brief period of on-the-job training to learn about their specific employer’s policies and procedures.

Orderlies typically have at least a high school diploma and receive a short period of on-the-job training.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

After completing a state-approved education program, nursing assistants take a competency exam. Passing this exam allows them to use state-specific titles. In some states, a nursing assistant or aide is called a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), but titles vary from state to state.

Nursing assistants who have passed the exam are placed on a state registry. Nursing assistants must be on the state registry to work in a nursing home.

Some states have other requirements, as well, such as continuing education and a criminal background check. Check with state boards of nursing or health for more information.

In some states, nursing assistants can earn additional credentials, such as becoming a Certified Medication Assistant (CMA). As a CMA, they can give medications. Nursing assistants may also choose to become certified in a specialty area, such as geriatrics.

Orderlies do not need a license, however, many jobs require a Basic Life Support certification which shows they are trained to provide CPR.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Nursing assistants and orderlies must be able to communicate effectively to address patients’ or residents’ concerns. They also need to relay important information to other healthcare workers.

Compassion. Nursing assistants and orderlies provide care for the sick, injured, and elderly. Doing so requires a compassionate and empathetic attitude.

Patience. The routine tasks of cleaning, feeding, and bathing patients or residents can be stressful. Nursing assistants and orderlies must be patient to provide quality care.

Physical stamina. Nursing assistants and orderlies spend much of their time on their feet. They should be comfortable performing physical tasks, such as lifting or moving patients.

Job Outlook

Nursing Assistants and Orderlies

Percent change in employment, projected 2012-22

Nursing assistants

21%

Nursing assistants and orderlies

21%

Orderlies

17%

Total, all occupations

11%

 
 

Employment of nursing assistants is projected to grow 21 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations. Employment of orderlies is projected to grow 17 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations.

As the baby-boom population ages, many nursing assistants and orderlies will be needed to care for elderly patients in long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes. In addition, growing rates of several chronic conditions and of dementia will lead to increased demand for patient care.

Demand for nursing assistants may be constrained by the fact that many nursing homes rely on government funding. Cuts to programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid, may affect patients’ ability to pay for nursing home care. However, patient preferences and shifts in federal and state funding are increasing the demand for home and community-based long-term care, which should lead to increased opportunities for nursing assistants working in home health and community rehabilitation services.

Job Prospects

Job prospects for nursing assistants who have completed a state-approved education program and passed their state’s competency exam should be good, particularly in home health care services and community-based care settings. Because of the emotional and physical demands of this occupation, many nursing assistants and orderlies choose to leave the profession to get more training or another job. This creates opportunities for jobseekers.

Employment projections data for Nursing Assistants and Orderlies, 2012-22
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2012 Projected Employment, 2022 Change, 2012-22 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Nursing assistants and orderlies

1,534,400 1,855,600 21 321,200

Nursing assistants

31-1014 1,479,800 1,792,000 21 312,200  

Orderlies

31-1015 54,600 63,600 17 9,100  
  Occupation Description Entry-Level Education 2012 Median Pay
Licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses Licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses

Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) provide basic nursing care. They work under the direction of registered nurses and doctors. '

Postsecondary non-degree award $41,540
Medical assistants Medical assistants

Medical assistants complete administrative and clinical tasks in the offices of physicians, podiatrists, chiropractors, and other health practitioners. Their duties vary with the location, specialty, and size of the practice.'

Postsecondary non-degree award $29,370
Occupational therapy assistants and aides Occupational therapy assistants and aides

Occupational therapy assistants and aides help patients develop, recover, and improve the skills needed for daily living and working. Occupational therapy assistants are directly involved in providing therapy to patients, while occupational therapy aides typically perform support activities. Both assistants and aides work under the direction of occupational therapists.'

Associate's degree $48,940
Physical therapist assistants and aides Physical therapist assistants and aides

Physical therapist assistants (sometimes called PTAs) and physical therapist aides work under the direction and supervision of physical therapists. They help patients who are recovering from injuries and illnesses regain movement and manage pain.'

Associate's degree $39,430
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Psychiatric technicians and aides care for people who have mental illness and developmental disabilities. Technicians typically provide therapeutic care. Aides help patients in their daily activities and ensure a safe, clean environment.'

High school diploma $27,440
Registered nurses Registered nurses

Registered nurses (RNs) provide and coordinate patient care, educate patients and the public about various health conditions, and provide advice and emotional support to patients and their family members.'

Associate's degree $65,470
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