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What Nursing Assistants and Orderlies Do About this section

Nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants
Nursing assistants help patients with activities of daily living like eating and bathing.

Nursing assistants, sometimes called nursing aides, provide basic care and help patients with activities of daily living. Orderlies transport patients and clean treatment areas.

Duties

Nursing assistants and orderlies work as part of a healthcare team under the supervision of licensed practical or licensed vocational nurses and registered nurses.

Nursing assistants provide basic care and help with activities of daily living. They 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

Depending on their training level and the state in which they work, nursing assistants also may dispense medication.

Nursing assistants are often the principal caregivers in nursing and residential care facilities. Nursing assistants often develop relationships with their patients because some patients stay in these facilities for months or years.

Orderlies typically do the following:

  • Help patients to move around the facility, such as by pushing their wheelchairs
  • Clean equipment and facilities
  • Change linens
  • Stock supplies

Work Environment About this section

Nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants
Orderlies are responsible for keeping hospitals and other facilities clean and tidy.

Nursing assistants held about 1.5 million jobs in 2019. The largest employers of nursing assistants were as follows:

Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities) 37%
Hospitals; state, local, and private 27
Continuing care retirement communities and assisted living facilities for the elderly 11
Home healthcare services 5
Government 4

Orderlies held about 50,600 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of orderlies were as follows:

Hospitals; state, local, and private 78%
Ambulatory healthcare services 5
Government 2

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

Injuries and Illnesses

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

How to Become a Nursing Assistant or Orderly About this section

Nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants
Nursing assistants must be able to communicate effectively to address patients’ or residents’ concerns.

Nursing assistants typically must complete a state-approved education program and pass their state’s competency exam. Orderlies typically have at least a high school diploma or equivalent.

Education and Training

Nursing assistants often need to complete a state-approved 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, nursing assistants typically complete a brief period of on-the-job training to learn about their specific employer’s policies and procedures.

Orderlies typically have at least a high school diploma or equivalent and receive a short period of on-the-job training.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Specific requirements for nursing assistants vary by state. Nursing assistants often need a state-issued license or certification. After completing an approved education program, nursing assistants often must pass a competency exam, which allows them to use state-specific titles. In some states, a nursing assistant is called a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), but titles vary by state.

Nursing assistants 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. Check with state boards of nursing or health for more information.

In some states, nursing assistants may earn additional credentials, such as Certified Medication Assistant (CMA). As a CMA, they may dispense medications.

Orderlies do not need a license; however, jobs might require certification in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or basic life support (BLS).

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Nursing assistants and orderlies must listen and respond to patients’ concerns. They also need to share information with other healthcare workers.

Compassion. Nursing assistants and orderlies help and care for people who are sick, injured, or need aid for other reasons. They need an empathetic attitude to do their work.

Patience. The routine tasks of cleaning, feeding, and bathing patients may be stressful. Nursing assistants and orderlies must be able to complete these tasks with professionalism.

Physical stamina. Nursing assistants and orderlies spend much of their time on their feet. They must be able to perform tasks such as lifting or moving patients.

Pay About this section

Nursing Assistants and Orderlies

Median annual wages, May 2020

Total, all occupations

$41,950

Nursing assistants

$30,850

Nursing assistants and orderlies

$30,830

Orderlies

$30,030

Home health and personal care aides; and nursing assistants, orderlies, and psychiatric aides

$28,270

 

The median annual wage for nursing assistants was $30,850 in May 2020. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $22,750, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $42,110.

The median annual wage for orderlies was $30,030 in May 2020. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $22,260, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $44,550.

In May 2020, the median annual wages for nursing assistants in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Government $37,240
Hospitals; state, local, and private 32,160
Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities) 30,120
Continuing care retirement communities and assisted living facilities for the elderly 30,020
Home healthcare services 29,210

In May 2020, the median annual wages for orderlies in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Government $33,920
Ambulatory healthcare services 32,450
Hospitals; state, local, and private 30,070

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

Job Outlook About this section

Nursing Assistants and Orderlies

Percent change in employment, projected 2019-29

Home health and personal care aides; and nursing assistants, orderlies, and psychiatric aides

25%

Nursing assistants and orderlies

8%

Nursing assistants

8%

Orderlies

5%

Total, all occupations

4%

 

Employment of nursing assistants is projected to grow 8 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. Employment of orderlies is projected to grow 5 percent from 2019 to 2029, faster as the average for all occupations.

As the baby-boom population ages, nursing assistants and orderlies will be needed to help care for an increasing number of older patients in nursing and residential care facilities. Older people are more likely than younger people to have disorders such as dementia, or to live with chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. More nursing assistants will be needed to care for patients with these conditions.

Demand for nursing assistants may be constrained by the fact that many nursing homes rely on government funding. Cuts to programs such as Medicare and Medicaid may affect patients’ ability to pay for nursing home care. In addition, patient preferences and shifts in federal and state funding are increasing the demand for home and community-based long-term care, which should lead to increased opportunities for nursing assistants working in home health and community rehabilitation services.

Job Prospects

About 174,000 openings for nursing assistants and 5,600 openings for orderlies are projected each year, on average, over the decade.

Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who leave the occupations, often because of their low pay and high emotional and physical demands.

Employment projections data for nursing assistants and orderlies, 2019-29
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2019 Projected Employment, 2029 Change, 2019-29 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Nursing assistants and orderlies

1,579,100 1,698,600 8 119,500

Nursing assistants

31-1131 1,528,500 1,645,500 8 116,900 Get data

Orderlies

31-1132 50,600 53,100 5 2,500 Get data

Contacts for More Information About this section

For more information about nursing assistants and orderlies, visit

National Network of Career Nursing Assistants

For more information about state requirements, visit

National Council of State Boards of Nursing

CareerOneStop

For a career video on nursing assistants, visit

Nursing Assistants

O*NET

Nursing Assistants

Orderlies

Video