Nurse assistant

A nurse assistant


Healthcare assistants work in teams of nurses within the occupational fields of nursing, social care, clinical care and care of people of all age-groups. Healthcare assistants assist in the promotion and restoration of patients’ health by providing physical and psychological support to patients, friends and families.

Nurse assistants typically do the following:

  • Clean and bathe patients
  • 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
  • Help patients to move around the facility, such as by pushing their wheelchairs
  • Clean equipment and facilities
  • Change linens
  • Stock supplies
  • Dispense medication (depending on their training level and the country or state in which they work)

Other titles

The following job titles also refer to nurse assistant:

assistant nursing practitioner
healthcare nurse
state enrolled nurse
nurse auxiliary
nursing assistant
nursing auxiliary
assistant nurse
auxiliary nurse

Working conditions

The work of nurse assistants may be strenuous. They spend much of their time on their feet as they care for patients.

Injuries and Illnesses

Nurse assistants have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. These workers frequently move patients and have other physically demanding tasks. They typically get training in how to properly lift people, which can reduce the risk of injuries.

Work Schedules

Although most nurse assistants work full time, some work part time. Because nursing and residential care facilities and hospitals provide care at all hours, nurse assistants and orderlies may need to work nights, weekends, and holidays.

Minimum qualifications

Nurse assistants often need to complete an education program that includes both instruction on the principles of nursing and supervised clinical work. These programs are available in high schools, community colleges, vocational and technical schools, hospitals, and nursing homes.

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

Nurse assistants often need a state-issued license or certification. After completing an approved education program, nurse assistants often must pass a competency exam, which allows them to use state-specific titles. Those who have passed the competency exam are placed on a state registry. They 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.

ISCO skill level

ISCO skill level is defined as a function of the complexity and range of tasks and duties to be performed in an occupation. It is measured on a scale from 1 to 4, with 1 the lowest level and 4 the highest, by considering:

  • the nature of the work performed in an occupation in relation to the characteristic tasks and duties
  • the level of formal education required for competent performance of the tasks and duties involved and
  • the amount of informal on-the-job training and/or previous experience in a related occupation required for competent performance of these tasks and duties.

Nurse assistant is a Skill level 2 occupation.

Nurse assistant career path

Similar occupations

These occupations, although different, require a lot of knowledge and skills similar to nurse assistant.

healthcare assistant
hospital porter
sterile services technician
front line medical receptionist

Long term prospects

These occupations require some skills and knowledge of nurse assistant. They also require other skills and knowledge, but at a higher ISCO skill level, meaning these occupations are accessible from a position of nurse assistant with a significant experience and/or extensive training.

clinical perfusion scientist
respiratory therapy technician
maternity support worker
physiotherapy assistant
dental hygienist

Essential knowledge and skills

Essential knowledge

This knowledge should be acquired through learning to fulfill the role of nurse assistant.

  • Hygiene in a health care setting: The procedures related to maintaining a hygienic environment within a health care setting such as hospitals and clinics. It can range from hand washing to cleaning and disinfection of medical equipment used and infection control methods.
  • Health care legislation: The patients` rights and responsibilities of health practitioners and the possible repercussions and prosecutions in relation to medical treatment negligence or malpractice.
  • Disability care: The specific methods and practices used in providing care to people with physical, intellectual and learning disabilities.
  • Person centered care: The person centered care approach involves treating patients as equal partners in the planning and developing of care, patients and their needs being at the core of all decisions.
  • Nursing principles: The ethics, the codes of conduct, the philosophy of nursing, the philosophy of human rights and nursing theories and concepts.
  • Nursing science: The factors that influence human health and the therapeutic interventions that promote health with the purpose to improve individual`s mental and physical health.
  • First aid: The emergency treatment given to a sick or injured person in the case of circulatory and/or respiratory failure, unconsciousness, wounds, bleeding, shock or poisoning.

Essential skills and competences

These skills are necessary for the role of nurse assistant.

  • Respond to changing situations in health care: Cope with pressure and respond appropriately and in time to unexpected and rapidly changing situations in healthcare.
  • Provide professional care in nursing: Provide professional care, adequate to the health and nursing care needs of the individuals, families and groups, taking into account the scientific developments, as well as the quality and safety requirements established in accordance with the legal/professional conduct regulations.
  • Contribute to continuity of health care: Contribute to the delivery of coordinated and continuous healthcare.
  • Empathise with the healthcare user: Understand the background of clients` and patients’ symptoms, difficulties and behaviour. Be empathetic about their issues; showing respect and reinforcing their autonomy, self-esteem and independence. Demonstrate a concern for their welfare and handle according to the personal boundaries, sensitivities, cultural differences and preferences of the client and patient in mind.
  • Provide basic support to patients: Support patients and citizens with activities of daily living, such as hygiene, comfort, mobilisation and feeding needs.
  • Identify abnormalities: Identify what is normal and abnormal concerning the well-being of patients, through experience and instruction, reporting to the nurses what is abnormal.
  • Implement fundamentals of nursing: Implement the nursing theoretical and methodological fundamentals and principles, basic nursing interventions on scientific evidence and the resources available.
  • Support nurses: Support nurses with the preparation and delivery of diagnostic and treatment interventions.
  • Communicate with nursing staff: Communicate with nurses and other health professionals ensuring the delivery of quality and safe patient care.
  • Plan nursing care: Plan care, defining nursing objectives, deciding on nursing measures to be taken, paying attention to health education and preventative measures and ensuring continuity and fullness of care.
  • Communicate effectively in healthcare: Communicate effectively with patients, families and other caregivers, health care professionals, and community partners.
  • Follow clinical guidelines: Follow agreed protocols and guidelines in support of healthcare practice which are provided by healthcare institutions, professional associations, or authorities and also scientific organisations.
  • Apply person-centred care: Treat individuals as partners in planning, developing and assessing care, to make sure it is appropriate for their needs. Put them and their caregivers at the heart of all decisions.
  • Advise on healthcare users’ informed consent: Ensure patients/clients are fully informed about the risks and benefits of proposed treatments so they can give informed consent, engaging patients/clients in the process of their care and treatment.
  • Comply with quality standards related to healthcare practice: Apply quality standards related to risk management, safety procedures, patients feedback, screening and medical devices in daily practice, as they are recognized by the national professional associations and authorities.
  • Comply with legislation related to health care: Comply with the regional and national legislation that is relevant to one`s work and apply it in practice.
  • Listen actively: Give attention to what other people say, patiently understand points being made, asking questions as appropriate, and not interrupting at inappropriate times; able to listen carefully the needs of customers, clients, passengers, service users or others, and provide solutions accordingly.
  • Apply nursing care in long-term care: Enable the promotion and the development of nursing care in long term care, co-morbidity and in situations of dependency in order to maintain individuals’ personal autonomy and relationships with the environment in each moment of the health/illness process.
  • Solve problems in healthcare: Carry out actions, by previously identifying and analysing problems, that facilitate seeking the most beneficial solution for the patient, the family and the community, reaching objectives, improving outcomes and keeping the quality of their work.
  • Apply health sciences: Apply a broad range of bio-medical, psycho-social, organisational, educational, and societal aspects of health, disease, and healthcare to improve healthcare services and to improve quality of life.
  • Address problems critically: Identify the strengths and weaknesses of various abstract, rational concepts, such as issues, opinions, and approaches related to a specific problematic situation in order to formulate solutions and alternative methods of tackling the situation.
  • Work with nursing staff: Work together with nurses and other health professionals in supporting the delivery of basic patient care.
  • Promote inclusion: Promote inclusion in health care and social services and respect diversity of beliefs, culture, values and preferences, keeping in mind the importance of equality and diversity issues.
  • Interact with healthcare users: Communicate with clients and their carer’s, with the patient’s permission, to keep them informed about the clients’ and patients’ progress and safeguarding confidentiality.
  • Ensure safety of healthcare users: Make sure that healthcare users are being treated professionally, effectively and safe from harm, adapting techniques and procedures according to the person’s needs, abilities or the prevailing conditions.
  • Monitor basic patients signs: Monitor basic patient vital signs and other signs, taking actions as indicated by the nurse and report to her/him as appropriate.
  • Apply sustainability principles in health care: Take into account the sustainability principles in healthcare and strive for the rational use of resources.
  • Work in multidisciplinary health teams: Participate in the delivery of multidisciplinary health care, and understand the rules and competences of other healthcare related professions.
  • Accept own accountability: Accept accountability for one`s own professional activities and recognise the limits of one`s own scope of practice and competencies.
  • Implement nursing care: Implement nursing care when treating patients in order to improve professional practice.

Optional knowledge and skills

Optional knowledge

This knowledge is sometimes, but not always, required for the role of nurse assistant. However, mastering this knowledge allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

  • Medicines: The medicines, their nomenclature and the substances used in the manufacture of medicines.
  • Safe management of medicines: The methods and principles required to handle, store and prescribe medication with the aim of improving the safety and quality of medication usage.
  • General medicine: General medicine is a medical specialty mentioned in the EU Directive 2005/36/EC.
  • Human physiology: The science that studies the human organs and its interactions and mechanisms.
  • Adolescence medicine: Topics related to the adolescent period of development such as sexually transmitted diseases, unintended pregnancy, contraception, substance abuse, menstrual disorders, acnee, eating disorders.
  • Geriatrics: Geriatrics is a medical specialty mentioned in the EU Directive 2005/36/EC.
  • Pharmacology: Pharmacology is a medical specialty mentioned in the EU Directive 2005/36/EC.
  • Disability types: The nature and types of disabilities affecting the human beings such as physical, cognitive, mental, sensory, emotional or developmental and the specific needs and access requirements of disabled people.
  • Infection control: The routes of transmission and methods of preventing spread of common and important infecting organisms together with the methods available for sterilisation and disinfection of pathogenic organisms in the prevention of infection.
  • Paediatrics: Paediatrics is a medical specialty mentioned in the EU Directive 2005/36/EC.
  • Resuscitation: The emergency procedure applied to individuals with no pulse to restore them to consciousness.
  • Acute care: The type of care administered to patients for a brief and critical sequence of illness such as trauma or recovery from surgery.
  • Primary care: The regular, routine medical care provided to patients, usually performed by a physician or a nurse, that leads to a decision on the following course of action required to solve the health problem of the patient.
  • Human anatomy: The dynamic relationship of human structure and function and the muscosceletal, cardiovascular, respiratory, digestive, endocrine, urinary, reproductive, integumentary and nervous systems; normal and altered anatomy and physiology throughout the human lifespan.
  • Innovation in nursing: The methods and tools used to bring about innovative changes and quality improvement in the nursing field.
  • Palliative care: The methods of pain relief and quality of life improvement for the patients with serious illnesses.
  • Pathology: The components of a disease, the cause, mechanisms of development, morphologic changes, and the clinical consequences of those changes.

Optional skills and competences

These skills and competences are sometimes, but not always, required for the role of nurse assistant. However, mastering these skills and competences allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

ISCO group and title

5321 – Health care assistants

  1. Nurse assistant – ESCO
  2. Nursing Assistant and Orderlies : Occupational Outlook Handbook – U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
  3. Featured image: Photo by Kampus Production from Pexels
Last updated on November 3, 2022

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