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How to Become a Nursing, Psychiatric, and Home Health Aide

Home health aide works with an elderly woman.

Many individuals cannot undertake simple everyday tasks independently. Individuals need a trained professional to provide quality healthcare. That is where nursing, psychiatric, and home health aides step in. If you love to help people and desire to work in the medical field, this career pathway might be ideal. In this comprehensive guide, we explore the steps on how to become a nursing, psychiatric, and home health aide, along with the salaries, skills, and work environment for each profession.

What is a Home Health Aide?

A home health aide is a qualified professional who cares for people suffering from challenges such as:

  • Severe disabilities
  • Injuries
  • Chronic illnesses
  • Cognitive impairments
  • Advanced age

Home health aides typically work in their patients’ homes. Sometimes they provide care in dedicated facilities. While working, aides often form a tight-knit, personal relationship with their patients. This intimate relationship allows them to monitor the evolving situations of their patients and send reports to the patient’s physician.

Duties of a Home Health Aide

A home health aide helps people with needs to lead normal lives. They provide routine healthcare and help with daily tasks and activities.

Home health aides also serve as companions and oversee the patient’s general well-being. The role demands that they help maintain their patients’ quality of life and provide personal care that may be difficult to access in care facilities.

Home health aides carry out a lot of different tasks daily. The duties vary from one patient to another. Some general duties of a home health aide include:

  • Helping patients with therapy and exercises
  • Dressing the patient
  • Administering first aid for injuries
  • Making meals
  • Bathing patients
  • Monitoring and reporting patients’ conditions to a nurse or physician
  • Ensuring that patients take prescribed medications
  • Assisting with some housekeeping duties.
  • Helping with toilet use
  • Accompanying patients to healthcare facilities

Steps to Becoming a Home Health Aide

There are slight variations in the requirements for home health aides in different states. You can check the state-by-state requirements in education, experience, and certification for home health aides. The general steps to becoming a home health aide include:

Step 1. Earn a High School Diploma

The first step to becoming a home health aide is earning a high school diploma or its equivalent. However, it is essential to note that becoming a home health aide without a high school diploma is possible. Some employers do not demand a formal education credential.

Step 2. Complete a Training Program

Candidates can also check out vocational schools, private schools, and community colleges for postsecondary non-degree programs. In some instances, employers also provide training. It takes around one year to complete a community college program. Programs at private institutions require at least 75 hours to complete.

Employers that provide hands-on training usually offer education in an informal style. Candidates can complete the training in as little as 4-7 weeks. On the other hand, institutions provide both clinical and classroom training. Applicants must ensure that the state accredits the program. Candidates can expect to pay anywhere between $400-$800 as tuition for these programs. One accredited option is the Home Health Aide Diploma from Penn Foster, which can be completed primarily online along with a 40-hour externship in the student’s local area.

The minimum requirement for these programs is 75 training hours, with at least 16 hours of clinical training or supervised practice. However, the requirements differ in various states. Some clinical training requires up to 120 training hours.

Step 3. Apply for Certification

After meeting the program and training requirements, the next step is applying for certification through the state. Applicants have to pass tests, which often involve skills evaluation and a written exam.

Step 4. Gain Experience

After completing the needed education and clinical experience, prospective home health aides can put all they’ve learned into practice. There are many ways to gain experience. One way is by volunteering for a family member or close friend. This experience can prove to be valuable in future job searches. Alternatively, you can join a home health agency or any agency that provides care. Most of these agencies will require a background check, proof of certification and training, and an interview.

What is a Psychiatric Aide?

A psychiatric aide is a trained professional who provides care to emotionally and mentally impaired patients. These patients might not be able to carry out routine tasks such as getting dressed, bathing, eating, etc. A psychiatric aide helps prepare meals, personal hygiene, transportation, recreation, and socialization. They also provide basic medical care under a psychiatric technician or nurses’ supervision.

It is important to note that a psychiatric aide is different from a psychiatric technician. Aides assist patients in daily activities and provide clean and safe environments. On the other hand, psychiatric technicians have more education and responsibility. They monitor the condition of patients and provide therapy.

Duties of a Psychiatric Aide

A psychiatric aide is a member of a team of clinical staff who provides care to individuals with emotional or mental health issues. Other team members include psychiatric nurses, psychiatrists, social workers, therapists, and psychologists.

Psychiatric aides are at the forefront of patient care as they implement the treatment procedures outlined by a psychiatrist. Apart from assisting patients with meals, bathing, and dressing, psychiatric aides also perform housekeeping duties. Some of the daily tasks of a psychiatric aide include:

  • Maintain a safe and clean environment for patients
  • Assist patients with meals
  • Supervise and report the behavior and location of patients
  • Organize and join in group activities
  • Restrain physically violent patients
  • Help in transporting patients
  • Change bedpans and bed linens

Steps to Becoming a Psychiatric Aide

Becoming a psychiatric aide is straightforward. There are very few formal education requirements. Below are the steps you need to become a psychiatric aide:

Step 1. Complete High School

The minimum requirement to become a psychiatric aide is a high school diploma or equivalent. However, those with a postsecondary degree in mental health technology or psychology make better candidates in the eyes of employers. Occasionally, a valid driver’s license is also required when the role involves transporting patients.

Step 2. Get Trained

Psychiatric aides typically get trained on the job. The job location can also determine how long the training lasts. Training can take from just a few days to several months—nurses and others in healthcare monitor psychiatric aides during the training period.

The training involves seminars, workshops, observing other aides, and in-service duties. They may also be required to take an online course that covers the duties they would perform or work with a training manual. A number of good paying careers exist for those who go on to pursue a degree in Psychology.

Step 3. Get Licensed

Generally speaking, there are no requirements for licensure for psychiatric aides. Notwithstanding, in four states – Colorado, California, Arkansas, and Kansas — you need a license to practice. Psychiatric aides in Washington D.C. and the other 46 states in the U.S. can get certified via the American Association of Psychiatric Technicians. This professional organization offers four certification levels which include:

  • Level One: Candidates need a high school diploma or GED.
  • Level Two: At this level, professionals require at least 30 credit hours of college coursework and one year of working experience.
  • Level Three: Here, candidates need at least two years of relevant work experience and 60 credit hours of college coursework.
  • Level Four: People applying for level four certification must have at least three years of working experience in a psychiatric setting.

What is a Nursing Aide?

A nursing assistant or nursing aide is a trained healthcare professional. They provide support and basic nursing care to patients in settings such as:

  • Nursing homes
  • Hospitals
  • Independent living communities
  • Assisted living facilities

Nursing aides are members of a medical team that includes physical therapists, technicians, nurses, and doctors.

Duties of a Nursing Aide

Nursing aides perform a lot of duties and often work under the supervision of a nurse. They help with patient care, performing tasks such as:

  • Collecting medical supplies
  • Grooming patients
  • Documenting patient data
  • Moving or turning patients
  • Checking signs such as heart rate and blood pressure
  • Bathing patients
  • Feeding patients and recording liquid and food intake
  • Answering calls from patients
  • Cleaning rooms
  • Helping nurses and doctors with certain medical procedures
  • Assisting to transport patients
  • Dressing wounds

Steps to Becoming a Nursing Aide

Compared to other medical professions, the pathway for becoming a nursing aide is much simpler and faster. It is one of the most attractive entry-level positions through which people enter the medical field. This is because one can become a nursing aide in less than one year. These are the steps you need to become a certified nurse assistant:

Step 1. Get a High School Diploma

Many states only require a GED or high school diploma to become a nursing aide. If you don’t possess either of these, it isn’t easy to get into a Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA) program.

Step 2. Join a Certified Nursing Assistant Program

After high school, candidates can jump into a state-approved CNA program. The duration of the program differs from state to state. However, most states require at least 75 hours of classroom learning in addition to time spent shadowing a nurse caregiver. The program includes multiple assessments to test students’ skills and knowledge.

Students can expect to learn physiology, anatomy, medical terminology, and pharmacology. These courses prepare professionals to provide primary healthcare to patients and interact with nurses and doctors.

Step 3. Complete Clinical Training

After a CNA training program, the next step involves completing an in-person clinical training. This education can be at a hospital or any other healthcare facility. In some states, a 16-hour training session is a minimum requirement. However, most states go above this minimum. The session demonstrates a candidate’s ability to handle the role’s demands and knowledge of current nursing principles. The clinical training period allows candidates to practice administering medication and taking vital signs.

Step 4. Pass the CNA Certification Exam

After the in-person clinical training session, candidates can sit for a state-approved CNA exam. The exam tests your knowledge and skills in nursing care. Up to 20 states in the country use the National Nurse Aide Assessment Program (NNAAP), administered by the National Council of States Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), to test eligibility for certification. Other states have different exams that test the candidate’s eligibility. These exams cover nursing topics such as physical care skills, physiology, psychosocial care skills, and the like.

Skills for Nursing, Psychiatric, and Home Health Aide

Nursing, psychiatric, and home health aides must possess vital skills to succeed in their careers. Some of these essential skills include:

  • Compassion

A psychiatric or home health aide needs compassion as they typically deal with patients in long-term care. Compassionate professionals find it easier to assist patients with essential tasks that help them live independent lives. Additionally, home aides spend a lot of time with their patients and provide emotional support in many ways.

  • Observation Skills

Psychiatric and home health aides must be able to observe and pick out subtle changes in a patient’s condition. Since they serve as the ears and eyes of the nurse or doctor in charge of the patient, their ability to notice the slightest of changes can help avert potentially risky situations. Their work plays a big role in the overall quality of the patient’s life.

  • Communication Skills

Nursing, psychiatric, and home health aides are members of a team of caregivers for patients who might not be able to care properly for themselves. As a result, they must have solid communication skills. This involves excellent written and verbal communication, as they have to share information with the attending physician, supervising nurse, the patient’s family, and, more importantly, the patient themselves.

  • Medical Acuity

Professionals who become psychiatric and home health aides often undergo training as medical assistants before specializing. All of this training would come to the fore while providing care for patients. They must change wound dressings, check vital signs, administer medication, and communicate the patient’s symptoms, condition, and behaviors to medical professionals.

  • Adaptability

Conditions for many patients can change drastically without any warning signs. Professionals need to be emotionally strong to deal with ever-changing scenarios and learn to adapt to various situations. Apart from just adapting, they must exercise sound judgment on every turn to provide the best care for patients.

  • Patience

Caring for people with mental challenges or physical disabilities can prove challenging and test patience. Psychiatric and home health aides must remain calm even in the most challenging scenarios to avoid aggravating volatile situations.

  • Physical Stamina

Home health and psychiatric aides must move and lift objects and even restrain patients when necessary. Physical stamina is important for these tasks, as they also spend a lot of time on their feet.

  • Detail Oriented

Psychiatric and home health aides need to pay attention to specific protocols and rules for each patient. They must follow detailed instructions, such as meal preparations from the patient’s family.

  • Integrity

This applies mainly to home health aides who must be trustworthy and dependent on gaining the trust of their patients and their families. They must also be respectful when carrying out personal tasks such as bathing a patient.

Work Environment for Nursing, Psychiatric, and Home Health Aides

Working as a nursing, psychiatric, and home health aide can be demanding, but it is also satisfying.

Home Health Aide Work Conditions

Home health aides get to spend a lot of time with one patient and serve as companions as they go through some of the most challenging phases of their lives. Most home health aides work in their patients’ homes, while others work in care communities or group homes. While working for a particular patient, they may be the sole caregiver or work in shifts to provide 24/7 care. Additionally, they may have to travel to help patients with disabilities in their communities or work life.

The job can be emotionally and physically demanding. Aides often have to stand for long periods and help patients get in and out of bed. Professionals must learn proper lifting methods to avoid back injury.

Sometimes they have to work with patients with mental health issues or cognitive impairments who may be uncooperative or even violent. Professionals also face the risk of infectious diseases and minor infections. However, they can minimize the risks by following proper procedures. They often work full-time, and schedules vary from one client to another. It is also common to see part-time home health aides.

Psychiatric Aides Work Conditions

Psychiatric aides carry out a lot of unpleasant tasks and often spend the majority of their shifts standing. They provide care for patients whose conditions may result in violence, willful behavior, or disorientation.

According to a Bureau of Labor Services (BLS) report, psychiatric aides stand a greater risk of illnesses and injuries than their counterparts in the medical field. The work is also physically demanding and involves a lot of lifting.

Professionals here often work full-time. Part-time work is also common. Since most of them work in residential facilities and hospitals that operate round the clock, they work “shifts” during the weekend, nights, and holidays.

Nursing Assistants Work Conditions

Like their counterparts working in home health and psychiatric care, nursing assistants have demanding jobs. They have to stand for long periods and lift or move patients frequently.

Most nursing aides work full time, while others take on part-time roles. Since they work in hospitals, residential care, and nursing facilities that operate 24/7, nursing aides may work during the holiday, weekend, and night shifts.

Certifications for Nursing, Psychiatric, and Home Health Aide

Although there are no certification requirements for psychiatric and home health aides, possessing one can help applicants stand out to employers. On the other hand, nursing aides need a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) certification to practice. These are some of the more common credentials for nursing, psychiatric, and home health aides:

Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA)

Certified nurse assistants work with doctors and other healthcare professionals to care for sick or older people in hospitals, nursing homes, and residential homes. Applicants need over two years of postsecondary education or training to qualify for the exam. The National Council of States Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) and the American Red Cross administer the CNA exam.

Medical Assistant (MA)

The American Society of Phlebotomy Technicians (ASPT) provides the Medical Assistant (MA) credential. Professionals with this credential possess skills that make them an asset to physicians.

Advanced First Aid & CPR

The National Safety Council offers the Advanced First Aid and CPR certification. This credential demonstrates that holders have the proper skills and knowledge to provide cardiopulmonary resuscitation and first aid to patients. Applicants need at least two years of training or education to qualify for the exam after high school.

Salary/Job Outlook for Nursing, Psychiatric, and Home Health Aide

The path to each of these careers is similar. However, the pay and job outlook varies with each of these jobs.

Nursing Aide

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for nursing assistants as of May 2020 was $30,850. Those in the top 10% earned above $44,550, while those at the bottom 10% earned below $22,260.

The profession will see an 8% growth in overall employment between 2020 and 2030. And in that period, there should be an estimated 192,800 job openings for nursing aides every year.

Psychiatric Aide

The BLS reports that the average salary for psychiatric aides as of May 2020 was $31,570. Those working in psychiatric and substance hospitals earned above the national average with an estimated $33,530. In contrast, those working in residential mental health and substance abuse facilities earned $28,080.

Psychiatric aides should see an 11% growth in overall employment between 2020 and 2030 — higher than the national average. The estimated number of openings per year is 15,200.

Home Health Aide

According to BLS, home health and personal care aides earned an estimated $27,080 as of May 2020. The lowest 10% had an estimated $20,130 pay packet annually, while those in the top 10% took home an average of $36,990 annually.

The BLS also predicts that there should be an estimated 33% growth in employment of home health aides between 2020 and 2030. That figure is much higher than the national average for all occupations. The growing population of elderly patients accounts for this increase. There’ll be around 599,800 job openings yearly for home health aides in that period.

Next Steps

The benefits of becoming a nursing, psychiatric, or home health aide are numerous. Individuals who enjoy assisting people will find these professions hugely satisfying. The most significant gratification for professionals here is the knowledge of helping the quality of a patient’s life in their most vulnerable moments. As aides continue to be in high demand, employment opportunities will abound. But of course, this is after undergoing all the required training.

Please visit our educational resources to learn more about these careers and similar occupations.

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