Pros and Cons of Becoming a Nurse Technician
Nurse technicians, also known as nursing assistants or nursing aides, assist registered nurses with patient care in hospitals, nursing homes and outpatient care facilities. Check out some of the pros and cons of this career path to consider whether the job is right for you.
|Pros of a Nurse Technician Career|
|Excellent job prospects (projected 21% growth during 2012-2022)*|
|Minimum education requirements*|
|Can be rewarding to help patients*|
|Minimal postsecondary education requirements*|
|Cons of a Nurse Technician Career|
|Pay is low (median hourly wage was $12 in 2014)*|
|May have to work nights, weekends and holidays*|
|Emotionally and physically demanding work*|
|High rate of on-the-job injury*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Job Description and Duties
The majority of nursing aides work in residential care facilities, such as nursing homes; the second largest employer is hospitals. In nursing homes, where patients often stay for extended periods of time, you would likely be your patients' principal caregiver. In fact, nursing aides generally have more contact with patients in such settings than do nurses and doctors.
Typical duties include caring for patients' personal hygiene, serving meals, monitoring vital signs, transporting patients, cleaning facilities and equipment and relaying valuable patient information to registered nurses and physicians. In some states you can also dispense medication.
You can expect to work full-time, with some shifts taking place on weekends, holidays and at night. Due to the active nature of this job, the rate of on-the-job injury is high. You will be expected to physically move patients, lift heavy items and spend a considerable amount of time on your feet.
According to the BLS, in May 2014, the median annual wage for a nursing aide was roughly $25,000. The bottom ten percent of these workers earned an annual wage of less than $18,000, while the top ten percent earned a salary greater than $36,000. The BLS predicted that employment in this field would grow by a faster-than-average rate of 21% from 2012-2022. This is most likely due to the increased demand for nursing assistants in nursing homes and long-term care facilities.
In order to become a nurse technician, you will need at least a high school diploma and a postsecondary certificate from a community college or technical school in basic nursing principles. Programs should offer supervised clinical work so that you can get valuable hands-on experience. After completing your education, you will need to follow your state's licensing and certification requirements. Most states require that nurse technicians become Certified Nursing Assistants (CNA) by passing a comprehensive examination. Some states also require a background check and continuing education.
Recommended Skills and Abilities
This position requires a considerable amount of patient interaction, so you will need patience, compassion and strong communication skills in order to comfort patients and their families. Physical stamina is also important because of the physical nature of the job.
What Employers Are Looking For
Advertisements for certified nursing assistants typically call for candidates who are reliable, energetic and able to collaborate with others in a professional environment. It's common for employers to prefer candidates with at least a year of experience. Other desired qualities include strong communication skills and the ability to empathize with patients. Here are examples of what some real employers looked for during April 2012:
- A medical center in Miami, Florida, advertised for a nurse technician to assist registered nurses with basic functions, such as feeding patients and comforting families. Requirements were a high school diploma, the successful completion of a nursing assistant program and certification as a CNA.
- A hospital in Texas advertised for a CNA who could manage the emotional, mental and physical needs of patients. This job required at least one year of work experience and CNA certification.
- A medical center in Indiana advertised for a CNA who could help with patient admissions and perform standard patient care activities to maximize patient comfort. Candidates were required to have one year of work experience.
How to Stand Out in the Field
The BLS notes that nursing aides can take the Medication Aide Certification Examination offered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. Passing this exam will allow you to dispense medications as a CNA. Certain employers also require current CPR certification.
Alternative Career Paths
Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)
If you'd rather spend a few more months in school and make a higher salary, you might want to consider becoming a licensed practical nurse. To become an LPN, you'll need to complete a one-year training program and become licensed. Working under a registered nurse, you would administer basic nursing care such as checking blood pressure or changing bandages. Depending on the state where you work, you may also be allowed to start an IV drip or dispense medication. You could work in a hospital, nursing care facility, physician's office or other type of setting. In May 2011, the median annual wage for an LPN was roughly $41,000; the expected rate of job growth for 2010-2020 was 22%.
Home Health Care Aide
If you like the idea of direct patient care but don't have time to attend a training program, you could consider becoming a home health care aide. In this position, you would be responsible for helping disabled or chronically ill patients within their homes. Home health care aides are expected to enjoy an increase in employment opportunities of 69% during the 2010-2020 decade. A high school diploma and on-the-job training is the minimum requirement, but the salary is low. In May 2011, the median annual wage was approximately $21,000.
If you'd prefer a job with a combination of administrative and patient care duties, such as scheduling appointments, taking patient histories, filling out insurance forms, taking vital signs and giving injections, you might want to explore becoming a medical assistant. You could work in a variety of health care settings, such as clinics and the offices of private physicians, chiropractors and other practitioners.
Although no formal education is required beyond a high school diploma, there are certificate and associate degree programs in medical assisting. Medical assistants were expected to see a 39% increase in job opportunities throughout the 2010-2020 decade. In May 2011, the median annual wage for this job was about $29,000.