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Considering Work as a Psychiatric Assistant?

Nature of the Work

Nursing and psychiatric aides assist in caring for physically or mentally ill, injured, disabled, or ailing individuals in hospitals, nursing care facilities, and mental health settings. Nursing aides and home health aides are one of the jobs usually referred to as direct care workers, because of their part in working with patients who require long-term care. The particular care they offer relies on their specialty.

Nursing aides, also known as nurse aides, nursing assistants, certified nursing assistants, geriatric aides, unlicensed assistive personnel, orderlies, or hospital attendants, offer hands-on care and carry out routine jobs under the guidance of nursing and medical staff. Particular assignments differ, with aides managing many sides of a patient's care. They frequently assist patients to eat, dress, and bathe. They also handle calls for help, deliver messages, serve meals, make beds, and tidy up rooms. Aides sometimes are in charge for taking a patient's temperature, pulse rate, respiration rate, or blood pressure. They also may help bring care to patients by assisting them to get out of their beds and walk, accompanying them to operating and examining rooms, or giving skin care. Some aides help other medical staff by preparing equipment, keeping and moving supplies, and helping with some procedures. Aides also monitor patients' physical, mental, and emotional conditions and report any change to the nursing or medical staff.

Nursing aides hired in nursing care facilities often are the key caregivers and have more contact with residents than do other members of the staff. Since some residents may remain in a nursing care facility for months or even years, aides foster positive, caring relationships with their patients.

Psychiatric aides, also called mental health assistants or psychiatric nursing assistants, look after mentally impaired or emotionally disturbed individuals. The team they work with may include psychologists, psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses, therapists, and social workers. Apart form assisting patients to bathe, dress, groom themselves, and eat, psychiatric aides mingle with them and guide them in educational and recreational activities. Psychiatric aides may engage in a card game or other games with patients, join them in watching programs on television, or participate in group activities, like playing sports or go on field trips. They monitor patients and report any physical or behavioral signs that might be crucial for the professional staff to learn about. They escort patients to and from therapy and treatment. Since they have such close contact with patients, psychiatric aides can have a huge influence on their mind-set and treatment.

Work environment

The duties an aide will perform can be physically demanding. They are exposed to many hours of standing and walking, and they are frequently confronted by heavy workloads. Aides must be wary of back injury, since they may have to assist patients into and out of bed or help them stand or walk. It is crucial for aides to be trained in and to follow the appropriate procedures for raising and moving patients. Aides also may confront dangers form minor infections and major diseases, like hepatitis, although can evade infections by adhering to proper procedures. Nursing aides, orderlies and attendants and psychiatric aides have some of the highest non-fatal injuries and illness rates for all occupations, in the 98th and 99th percentiles in 2007.

Aides also carry out duties that some may think disagreeable, like emptying bedpans and changing soiled bed linens. The patients they attend to may be irritable, disoriented, or perverse. Psychiatric aides must be inclined to look after patients whose illnesses may bring about violent behavior. However their work can be emotionally arduous, a lot of aides obtain satisfaction from helping those in need.

Nearly all full-time aides work approximately 40 hours per week, but since patients require care 24 hours a day, a number of aides work evenings, nights, weekends, and holidays. Around 24 percent of nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants and psychiatric aides worked part-time in 2008.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

Education and training. Nursing and psychiatric aide training is available in high schools, vocational-technical centers, some nursing care facilities, and some community colleges. Curricula cover body mechanics, anatomy and physiology, nutrition, infection control, resident rights, and communication skills. Personal care skills, like how to help patients bathe, eat, and groom themselves, also are imparted. Hospitals may demand previous experience as a nursing aide or home health aide. A few States also demand psychiatric aides to finish a formal training program. On the other hand, nearly all psychiatric aides acquired their skills on the job from experienced workers.

A few employers offer classroom instruction for newly employed aides, while others depend entirely on informal on-the-job instruction by a licensed nurse or an experienced aide. Such training may last from several days to a few months. Aides also may go to lectures, workshops, and in-service training.

Licensure and certification. Federal Government demands exist for nursing aides who work in nursing care facilities. These aides must finish a minimum of 75 hours of State-certified training and pass a competency evaluation. Aides who finish the program are known as certified nurse assistants (CNAs) and are placed on the State registry of nurse aides. Further requirements may exist, although differ by State. Hence, individuals should communicate with their State board directly for applicable information.

Other qualifications. Aides must be in good health. A physical examination, involving State-regulated disease tests, may be demanded. A criminal background check also is generally demanded for employment. Applicants should be considerate, patient, emotionally stable, understanding, and dependable and should have a passion to help people. They also should be able to work as part of a team, have excellent communication skills, and be willing to perform repetitive, routine tasks.

Advancement. Opportunities for stepping up within these occupations are limited. Aides generally require further formal training or education to go into other health occupations. The most usual healthcare jobs for former aides are licensed practical nurse, registered nurse, and medical assistant.

For a few individuals, these serve as entry-level jobs. For example, some high school and college students gain experience working in these occupations while attending school. And experience as an aide can help individuals decide whether to pursue a career in healthcare.

Employment Opportunities

Nursing and psychiatric aides held about 1.5 million jobs in 2008. Nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants held the most jobs—approximately 1.5 million, and psychiatric aides held about 62,500 jobs. About 41 percent of nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants worked in nursing care facilities and another 29 percent worked in hospitals. About 50 percent of all psychiatric aides worked in hospitals. Others were employed in residential care facilities, government agencies, outpatient care centers, and individual and family services.

Job Outlook

Employment change. Total employment of nursing and psychiatric aides is assumed to increase 18 percent between 2008 and 2018, quicker than the average for all occupations. On the other hand, growth will differ for individual occupations. Hiring of nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants will increase 19 percent, faster than the average for all occupations, in most cases in response to the long-term care requirements of a growing elderly population. Financial pressures on hospitals to release patients as soon as possible should advance admissions to nursing care facilities. As a consequence, new jobs will be more numerous in nursing and residential care facilities than in hospitals, and increase will be particularly strong in community care facilities for the elderly. Modern medical technology will also influence requirement for nursing aides, and as the technology saves and prolongs more lives, it advances the requirement for long-term care supplied by aides. On the other hand, employment increase is not assumed to be as quick as for other healthcare support occupations, hugely due to nursing aides are focused in the proportionately slower growing nursing and residential care facilities industry sector. Furthermore, increase will be slowed down by nursing facilities’ dependence on government financing, which does not increase as quick as the cost of patient care. Government financing restricts the figure of nursing aides nursing facilities can spare to have on staff.

Psychiatric aides are assumed to increase 6 percent, a lot slower than average. Psychiatric aides are a small occupation compared to nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants. Nearly all psychiatric aides presently work in hospitals, however, the industries most likely to witness development will be residential facilities for people with developmental disabilities, mental illness, and substance abuse problems. There is a long-term trend toward treating psychiatric patients outside of hospitals, since it is more economical and permits patients greater independence. Requirement for psychiatric aides in residential facilities will grow in response to escalations in the number of older persons, a lot of whom will require mental health services. Requirement for these workers will also increase as an escalating number of mentally disabled adults, previously attended to by their elderly parents, will need care. Job increase also could be influenced by adjustments in government funding of programs for the mentally ill.

Job prospects. High substitute requirements for nursing and psychiatric aides indicate modest entry requirements, high physical and emotional demands, low pay, and restrained opportunities for progress within the occupation. For these same reasons, the number of people thinking of entering the occupation will be restricted. Many aides leave the occupation to go through training programs for other healthcare occupations. As a result, people who are interested in, and suited for, this work should have excellent job opportunities.


In May 2008, average hourly wages of nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants were $11.46. The middle 50 percent gained between $9.71 and $13.76 an hour. The lowest 10 percent took home less than $8.34, and the highest 10 percent got more than $15.97 an hour. Average hourly wages in the industries hiring the biggest numbers of nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants in May 2008 were:

Employment services


General medical and surgical hospitals


Nursing care facilities


Community care facilities for the elderly


Home health care services


In May 2008, average hourly wages of psychiatric aides were $12.77. The middle 50 percent made between $10.00 and $15.63 an hour. The lowest 10 percent took home less than $8.35, and the highest 10 percent gained more than $18.77 an hour. Average hourly wages in the industries hiring the biggest numbers of psychiatric aides in May 2008 were:

Psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals


General medical and surgical hospitals


Nursing care facilities


Individual and family services


Residential mental retardation, mental health and substance abuse facilities


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