Those working in healthcare support occupations provide essential care to patients in hospitals and long-term care facilities. Find out how you earn a career in a healthcare support occupation, as well as relevant salary and career data for the profession.

Nursing Assistant Careers

In order to provide proper care for patients in hospitals, nursing homes, and residential care facilities, nurses work extremely long and difficult hours. Fortunately, nurses and doctors can turn to individuals in healthcare support occupations in order to provide an additional set of hands. Nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants help provide basic care for patients who need a wide range of services. Those who work in healthcare support occupations can make a meaningful difference in patients' lives by providing them with basic services, and treating them with compassion and care.

What healthcare support occupations do

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, healthcare support professionals help patients complete essential tasks for living and provide them with basic care (BLS.gov/ooh, 2012). Although specific job tasks may vary, nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants typically perform these basic job responsibilities:

  • Help patients with basic hygiene, including bathing and dressing
  • Help patients use the toilet
  • Help patients reposition themselves, or move in and out of bed or into a wheelchair
  • Report information to nurses, including patient concerns and vital signs
  • Help patients prepare meals and eat

According to the BLS, some individuals working in healthcare support occupations are allowed to dispense medication depending on their level of training and the state in which they work (BLS.gov/ooh, 2012). Because those working in healthcare support occupations are often the primary caregivers in nursing homes, they often form close relationships with the patients they serve. Therefore, the BLS notes that nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants should have a high level of compassion and patience in order to work with patients who may be sick, injured, or elderly (BLS.gov/ooh, 2012).

How to become a nursing aide, orderly, or attendant

In order to become a nursing aide or attendant, students generally need to earn a postsecondary certificate or award (BLS.gov/ooh, 2012). According to the BLS, orderlies are generally only required to have a high school diploma and some experience. At healthcare support occupation schools, students learn the fundamentals of basic nursing care and complete supervised clinical work.

Once a student completes their healthcare support occupation education online (or at a traditional school), they may need to pass a competency exam. Some states required licensure as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), and students interested in healthcare support occupations should research their state-specific licensing requirements.

Healthcare support occupation salary trends

Salaries for healthcare support occupations can vary due to a wide range of factors. According to the BLS, the annual median wage for nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants was $24,420 nationally in 2012 (BLS.gov/oes, 2013). BLS data also noted that the top 10 percent of earners made an annual wage of $35,330 nationally in 2012, while the bottom 10 percent earned $18,300. The three industries reporting the highest mean salaries for nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants in 2012 were:

  • Federal Executive Branch: $35,930
  • Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools: $32,030
  • Scientific Research and Development Services: $30,840

In addition to industry, your geographic location can impact your earning potential as well. The BLS notes that the following states reported the highest mean nursing aide, orderly, and attendant salaries in 2012:

  • Alaska: $34,990
  • New York: $31,840
  • Connecticut: $31,660

Career outlook for healthcare support occupations

Because of projected population growth and an aging population in general, the need for healthcare support occupations is expected to increase in the coming years. According to the BLS, employment of nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants is expected to grow by 20 percent from 2010 to 2020, which is much faster than the average for all occupations (BLS.gov/00h, 2012).

Just like with earning potential, career opportunities for healthcare support occupations can vary according to where you live. In order to properly assess the career outlook in your area, make sure to research the U.S. Department of Labor's CareerOneStop. According to the most recent data, CareerOneStop projects the highest employment growth for nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants in these states from 2010 to 2020:

  • Colorado: 29.7 percent
  • Idaho: 29.4 percent
  • Virginia 29.1 percent

No matter where you live, the BLS reports that employment opportunities should be abundant for nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants with formal training, particularly in long-term care facilities (BLS.gov/ooh, 2012).