How to Become a Home Health Aide in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become a home health aide. Learn about education requirements, job duties, average wages and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Medical Assisting degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Home Health Aide Do?

Home health aides work in private homes to assist patients who are too injured or unwell to care for themselves. An effective home health aide is caring, sympathetic, and dedicated to those in their care. Their specific duties vary based on the needs of their patients, such as bathing, feeding, dressing, cleaning, as well as basic human interaction. These professionals administer any daily medication their patients may need, as well as taking their vitals. With specialized training, they may also be qualified to operate specific medical equipment like ventilators. If necessary, they can also accompany and transport them to a doctor's office.

The following chart gives you an overview about entering this field.

Degree Required Some states require a postsecondary diploma or certificate
Training Required On-the-job training, which can substitute for formal education in some states
Key Responsibilities Assist client with hygiene and dressing; perform light cleaning, shopping, and cooking; monitor patient vital signs and medical status; assist with transportation, appointments, and basic medical care
Certification Certification is voluntary, but may be required by employers
Job Growth (2014-2024) 38%*
Median Salary (2015) $21,920*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What is a Home Health Aide?

A home health aide is a low-level medical assistant who helps disabled, recovering, and elderly people manage their day-to-day living needs. Your main duties include bathing and dressing patients, preparing meals, changing bed linens, cleaning, washing laundry, and providing social contact. Medical-related duties might include administering medication, taking, and recording temperature and pulse, accompanying patients to doctor appointments and reporting any unusual behavior or symptoms to your superiors. With special training you might be permitted to assist with the use of ventilators and other equipment.

Step 1: Undergo Training

Your training will typically take place on-the-job under the supervision of a nurse or an aide with seniority. At the entry level you don't even need a high school diploma or GED. Training should teach you the basics of housekeeping, food preparation for clients on special diets, sanitation, safety, and emergency response. You may also receive training in reading vital signs, infection control, and nutrition.

Step 2: Obtain State Certification

If you want to have the option of working for agencies that accept Medicare and Medicaid you will need a state certification. The federal government mandates that you have at least 16 hours of supervised training before you're allowed to care for residents. However, some states may require 75 hours and passage of a competency evaluation.

Step 3: Consider Professional Certification

While professional certification is voluntary, it can serve as proof of your ability to provide care in a home setting. It's available from at least one organization, the National Association for Home Care and Hospice. To be eligible you must complete 75 hours of training, demonstrate competency in 17 skill areas and pass a written exam. The exam is administered by Home Care University.

Step 4: Obtain a Job

About 913,500 people held positions as home health aides in 2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. From 2014-2024, employment is projected to reach nearly 1.3 million. Your job prospects will be driven by an expanding population of elderly people, many of whom will opt for home care. Hospice agencies and certified home health agencies are your most likely employers. As of May 2015, the median annual salary was $21,920.

Step 5: Advance Your Career

Unless you pursue further education your advancement opportunities with an employer are limited. You could move from performing housekeeping duties as a new employee to performing personal care duties as you gain experience. Alternatively, you could set up your own business and provide care to clients you locate yourself, unaffiliated with any agency.

If you've earned a high school diploma or GED you can become a nursing aide. A 1-year certificate from a vocational or technical school will enable you to become a licensed practical nurse. With a 2-year associate's degree in nursing you could become a registered nurse.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Childcare workers look after children in their homes when family and other caretakers are not available to watch them. They provide for children's basic needs and play with them. You must have at least a high school diploma to work in this profession.

Personal care aides provide a similar service to home health aides, assisting their clients with daily tasks and empowering them to interact with their communities, but cannot provide medical services. No formal education is required for this job, with workers receiving training after being hired.

Orderlies work in hospitals, nursing homes, and similar facilities attending to bedridden and elderly patients, assisting them in their daily needs and keeping their living spaces clean. These professionals must have a high school diploma and typically undergo training after being hired.

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