How to Become a Home Health Aide
Home health aides make a remarkable difference in the lives of the sick, disabled and elderly. By assisting with personal tasks such as dressing and bathing, and helping to keep homes safe and clean, they allow those who would otherwise need a higher level of care the opportunity to live on their own. They also arrange leisure activities and transportation for clients so that they can remain engaged in their communities. Some states also allow home health aides to administer medication or check vital signs under the supervision of a healthcare practitioner. The opportunity to improve the quality of life for those in need through hands-on care and contact is rare indeed, particularly with the low educational threshold required to enter this rewarding field of work.
Working as a home health aide (HHA) does not always mean working in a private home. Clients may reside in retirement communities, assisted living facilities, group homes, or other transitional housing. Regardless of where they work, most HHAs care for a single client at a time, but may have several clients to visit in one day. They are usually supervised by a patient’s healthcare provider and sometimes by a patient’s family members. Case length may vary from a few weeks to many years. Shift work is sometimes necessary.
There is no standardized educational requirement for HHAs. In some states, not even a high school diploma or equivalent is required. Other states require HHAs to take preparation classes (usually offered at community colleges or vocational/technical schools) before they begin working.
HHAs are taught by other HHAs, healthcare professionals, or family members, and learn their skills on the job. Each client has unique needs, so HHAs may have to train for a few hours or several days, depending on the complexity of the case. Some employers, such as government-certified home care agencies, provide training classes and require employees to pass a test before starting their first assignment.
Licensing and/or Certification
HHAs do not hold licenses but many employers prefer them to be certified. The certification process requires passing an exam after 75 hours of training and skills testing; more about the certification process can be found at the National Association for Home Care and Hospice.
Necessary Skills and Qualities
Home health care labor can be physically difficult, so strength and good health are necessary. HHAs must have patience, dependability, good interpersonal skills, and be able to manage their time efficiently. According to the US Department of Labor (DOL), HHAs sustain on-the-job injuries and illnesses at a higher-than-average rate than people in other occupations.
Opportunities for Advancement
Those HHAs with many years of experience and a wide variety of skills can move into positions supervising or educating other HHAs. Those with a high school diploma can further their education and training to become medical assistants, nurses, or other health professionals. A non-certified HHA with less than a high school education will have fewer opportunities for advancement.
The median annual salary reported by DOL for HHAs in 2010 was $20,170, which is equal to over $9.00/hour. Certified HHAs may make more. Legislation is under way to put universal wage protection measures (including guaranteed minimum wage and overtime pay) into place, as currently only about half of US states offer it.
There will be no shortage of jobs for HHAs in the near future. Government projections are for about a 70% job growth over the next ten years, mainly due to an increasing number of elderly citizens who will need services. Jobs are more readily available for certified HHAs.