Pros and Cons of a Resident Care Assistant Career
Resident care assistants, also referred to as nurse's aides or nurse's assistants, help with essential daily tasks, such as bathing, grooming, eating, dressing and cleaning of residents in long-term care facilities, hospitals or nursing homes. To determine whether this is the right career path for you, explore the follow pros and cons:
|Pros of a Resident Care Assistant Career|
|Good preparation for nursing career (many of the tasks and duties that you'll have as a resident care assistant are similar to those of nurses)*|
|Solid employment outlook (overall employment of individuals in this profession is projected to grow by 21% from 2012 through 2022)*|
|Low barrier of entry (some employers may require as little as a high school diploma and several months of relevant professional experience)*|
|Emotionally fulfilling (you may derive immense satisfaction from knowing that you're helping people with tasks that are extremely important to their everyday lives)*|
|Cons of a Resident Care Assistant Career|
|Physical labor (resident care assistants must stand for long periods, as well as kneel and lift heavy patients)*|
|Workplace hazards (resident care assistants must deal with such hazards as airborne pathogens and infections on a daily basis)*|
|Low pay (compensation for the physical toil and workplace risks is rather low)*|
|Limited advancement opportunities (unless you have aspirations to go into other fields, such as nursing and medical assisting, there aren't many opportunities for promotion down the line)*|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics*
Job Description and Duties
As a resident care assistant, you'll be helping patients maintain their daily hygiene, transporting them from place to place, administering meals to those who are unable to feed themselves and maintaining their living space under the supervision of registered nurses. Outside of these general duties, specific tasks may vary depending on where and by whom you're employed.
If you're employed by a hospital, for instance, you may be required to collect feces, urine or sputum specimens used for diagnostic tests. Some specific tasks that you may confront in almost all work settings include documenting patient behaviors, mopping rooms, applying bandages, administering medications and changing beds.
Job Prospects and Salary Info
Analysis by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) suggested that the demand for resident care assistants could grow rather quickly from 2012-2022 due to the growing population of senior citizens (www.bls.gov). The median salary for the average resident care assistant was approximately $23,500, as of August 2015, according to Salary.com.
Career Paths and Specializations
Resident care assistants may go by several titles, depending on their place of employment and the specific services they offer. Assistants who work in hospitals and focus on transporting patients, supplies and specimens throughout the facilities may be referred to as orderlies or hospital attendants. Those assistants who work exclusively with the elderly may be referred to as geriatric aides. And those assistants who work exclusively in psychiatric facilities are called psychiatric aides.
Career Skills and Requirements
Many resident care assistants acquire their training on the job and are only required to hold a high school diploma. Higher restrictions, however, may apply to hospitals and long-term care facilities. Hospitals may prefer applicants with prior professional experience and who hold the CNA (Certified Nurse's Assistant) credential. In order to receive CNA certification, assistants are required to complete at least 75 hours of state-authorized continuing education and pass an examination.
A resident care assistant may need to summon a variety of skills to execute their daily tasks. They may be required to employ computer literacy skills for administrative tasks, such as documenting patient behavior. Transporting patients, whether by wheelchair or other means, requires coordination. Assistants may also need a lot of patience when dealing with elderly and disabled people. Perhaps most important, though, is having the type of personality that thoroughly enjoys helping people.
Job Postings from Real Employers
A March 2012 employment search on CareerBuilder.com turned up several listings that advertised for resident care assistants with at least a high school diploma or GED. Some listings also required prior experience. Many of the postings advertised the need for individuals with specific character traits, such as punctuality, organization and diligence. The following summarizes several of these real job postings:
- A healthcare company advertised for a resident care assistant with at least a year of relevant experience to work in its North Carolina senior living facility. The successful applicant's duties would include recording residents' eating habits, serving meals and assisting with hygiene tasks.
- A senior living facility in Alabama advertised for a resident care assistant who would assist with new employee training, prepare residents' laundry and record any changes in residents' behavior, among other tasks.
- An Ohio retirement community advertised for a resident care assistant to deliver routine care to the senior citizen inhabitants. CNA certification and prior gerontology experience was preferred, but not required.
How to Stand Out
Resident care assistants who are formally trained may have a competitive edge over those who aren't. In addition, employers may be more likely to hire applicants who are certified than ones who aren't. There are numerous ways to acquire these credentials, some more costly than others.
You may acquire formal training through high school vocational programs, technical colleges, nursing care facilities and community colleges. One of the more effective ways to acquire formal training is by enrolling in a nursing certificate program at a local junior college. Before enrolling, students will typically need to undergo a thorough medical evaluation and criminal background check. In addition, students are typically required to hold at least a high school diploma or its equivalent.
Graduates of certificate programs receive extensive instruction in a variety of basic nursing assistant tasks. These may include operating a catheter, bathing patients, properly administering range of motion exercises and providing proper postmortem (after death) care. Graduates will also be prepared to take the CNA certifying examination.
As mentioned, resident care assistants who work in nursing homes, or long-term care facilities, are required by most states to obtain a CNA license. But this isn't the only credential available. You may also obtain other licenses, such as the Certified Registered Medication Aide designation, in addition to the CNA designation. Multiple licenses may enhance your career prospects by not only establishing your legitimacy, but also by increasing the employment opportunities available to you.
Other Careers to Consider
If you've concluded that a career as a resident care assistant is not for you, but still want to think about going into careers with similar functions, you may consider becoming either an occupational therapy assistant or a nurse. Occupational therapy assistants perform many of the same tasks as resident care assistants. They assist patients with everyday activities, such as paying bills, eating and exercising, under the supervision of an occupational therapist. Unlike resident care assistants, however, occupational therapy assistants may hold associate's degrees in occupational therapy assistant programs that usually include classes in areas such as psychology and pediatric health. According to the BLS, the median annual wage for occupational therapy assistants was around $52,000 in May 2011.
Registered nurses also have job tasks that are similar to those of resident care assistants, but their tasks are typically much more comprehensive and advanced. The duties of nurses include administering treatments, performing diagnostic tests and making records of medical histories. Nurses are also required to at least hold diplomas from registered nursing programs, if not associate's or bachelor's degrees in nursing. The BLS estimated that, in May 2011, the median annual wage for registered nurses was close to $66,000.