How Nursing Assistants are Helping to Raise the Line and Fight COVID-19

Patrick Bailey
Published on Dec 7, 2020. Updated on Dec 7, 2020.

Today on the Osmosis blog, we take a look at the role nurses are playing during COVID—and reasons why you should get involved.

When COVID-19 hit, essential workers far and wide, especially doctors and RNs, have been praised for working tirelessly to treat patients and clients and slow the spread of the pandemic however they can. However, physicians and nurses represent only a fraction—less than one-fifth—of all essential health workers. There are many more who help keep things running in hospitals, nursing homes, private residences, and more. 

Nursing assistants, maintenance workers, orderlies, housekeepers, janitors, cooks, phlebotomists, and home health aides all contribute in various ways, often putting themselves in danger of exposure to COVID due to their close contact with clients. 

In many ways, they’re the unsung heroes of the pandemic—and they deserve more recognition for their work. 

Nursing Assistant duties

Nursing Assistants alone handle a number of client care tasks, including:

  • Grooming and bathing 

  • Preparing a room with necessities like blankets and pillows

  • Helping them eat and drink

  • Monitoring their behaviors and moods

  • Communicating with medical staff about their progress

  • Assisting when they have mobility issues, including moving them in and out of wheelchairs

  • Turning them to prevent bedsores or alleviate discomfort

  • Helping them walk or move around

Nursing Assistants often fill both caregiver and nursing roles. The same goes for other healthcare workers like the cooks who prepare food for clients or the home health aides who help with all aspects of day-to-day living. What’s more, these home health aides, personal care aides, and Nursing Assistants represent the biggest slice of healthcare workers in the United States, with nearly 5 million workers tending to clients in hospitals, nursing homes, homes, apartments, and more.

Osmosis illustration of a nurse and an older adult sitting in a wheelchair.

Nursing Assistants tend to do a lot of heavy lifting (literal and metaphoric) on the healthcare team, and when the system gets strained in times of crisis (like flu or COVID), they’re lifting even more. They’re helping clients who may be dying, or who have disabilities, chronic illnesses, or cognitive impairments, often averaging $29,640 a year, or $14.25 per hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Home health aides average slightly less—$25,280 annually or $12.15 hourly. That said, with the aging population, the projected growth rate is healthy for both professions—8% for nursing assistants and 34% for home health aides over the 2019–29 period. If you’re looking for a career track where you’ll get hired quickly, this is one to think about.

6 qualities of the Nursing Assistant career track 

In some cases Nursing Assistants—especially during the COVID pandemic—have become a lifeline for their clients. Not only do they feed, bathe, clothe, or turn them so they don’t get bedsores or their lungs won’t collapse, but often they serve as a vital human connection to clients, especially when an ailing parent or grandparent isn’t allowed visitors at the hospital or nursing home. That’s a bittersweet reward that’s difficult to put a price on.

That’s far from the only benefit, however. Besides being able to make a difference in a competitive, stable, and growing field, choosing the Nursing Assistant career path has other appeals, too. Here are six qualities that make this career path worth consideration:

1. It’s affordable 

A four-year degree (or higher) takes time and money. Especially money. Getting certified to work as a Nursing Assistant is a quick way—in sometimes as little as six weeks—to enter the health field. Many classes can be taken online or at a local college or school, and in some cases courses are free. Some classes may transfer over, too, should a person want to further education, which, let’s be honest, can be much more appealing than starting over from scratch.

2. It’s versatile

For some, becoming a Nursing Assistant is only the first step of many. A lot of Nursing Assistants continue with their education, going on to become an LPN or RN, or specialize in neonatal, oncology or pediatrics (to name a few possibilities). 

3. It’s varied

For the person who wants a job where they’ll encounter all kinds of people in all sorts of situations, being a Nursing Assistant is a good way to go. It’s also not just hospital work either: Nursing Assistants can work in retirement and nursing homes, clinics, hospitals in both small and large communities, or by caring for people at their homes.

4. It’s flexible

Being a Nursing Assistant is not just 9-to-5 work, though that’s available as an option if you want it. There’s such a strong need for Nursing Assistants that there rarely is a shortage of options. Also, if you’re considering a move, a Nursing Assistant is likely to find work much faster than someone in a less in-demand field.

5. It’s a great opportunity to network

Working in the field is a great way to build connections and network. You’ll be able to keep current on procedures and be exposed to more cutting edge technology, too. 

6. It offers good pay and benefits

Let’s be honest: a person isn’t going to strike it rich working as a Nursing Assistant, but when you consider that a person can be certified in as little as a few weeks and go on to earn pay that outpaces the federal minimum wage, and possibly qualify for benefits and bonuses, that adds to the appeal.

Even though Nursing Assistant work can be more physically demanding and sometimes emotional in nature, those are also among the benefits. A job that requires some physical activity is healthier than a desk job, and along with the sad moments that may come with illness and even death, there are the highs that come with helping others in need. 

A note on mental health for Nursing Assistants during COVID

The COVID pandemic has brought about a number of stresses for healthcare professionals at all levels, for reasons that include everything from shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) to escalating caseloads. And there’s another danger that the lack of PPE means for Nursing Assistants, nurses, and other medical professionals. The higher risk of infection, and an intimate view of death and suffering, can put a severe strain on mental health. Such workers risk depression, anxiety, or burning out, and unhealthy coping mechanisms can lead to addiction issues. 

Fortunately, there are ways to mitigate these risks, including:

Osmosis illustration of mental health tips for Nursing Assistants.

Focusing on self-care and maintaining one’s own health benefits not only the practitioner but also the patient and community at large. Consider this career a small investment with vast rewards.

About Patrick

Patrick Bailey is a professional writer mainly in the fields of mental health, addiction, and living in recovery. He attempts to stay on top of the latest news in the addiction and the mental health world and enjoys writing about these topics to break the stigma associated with them. You can find Patrick on Twitter and LinkedIn.