How to Become an Orderly
Orderlies contribute significantly to the healthcare industry even though the care they provide is not medical. Orderlies provide basic assistance with everyday tasks such as eating, putting on clothes, shaving and bathing to patients in hospitals, nursing homes and other inpatient healthcare settings. Their help, reassurance and companionship make a significant difference in the patient experience.
Orderlies work under the supervision of nurses. In addition to assisting with everyday tasks, they help transport patients by wheelchair or gurney to the operating room, x-ray department, dining room and other locations around the facility. Orderlies listen attentively to patients' concerns and report these to the nursing staff. They work to maintain clean and safe environments for patients and staff alike, and are often seen mopping, disinfecting and changing soiled linens. Some also maintain the unit’s inventory of equipment and non-medical supplies. Where permitted by law, orderlies may even dispense medications.
For hands-on people who have compassion for the sick, injured and elderly, work as an orderly is extremely rewarding. When patients are at their most helpless—confined to a hospital bed—a few kind words or a helping hand can make a world of difference. Orderlies in long-term care settings have frequent contact with patients and often develop close, caring relationships with them. Working as an orderly also provides exposure to many kinds of healthcare professionals and is a great way to explore careers in the field.
Orderlies work in many settings, including:
- Nursing homes and long-term care facilities
- Assisted living facilities
- Home healthcare agencies
Orderlies spend much of the workday on their feet and the work itself is physically demanding, as they are frequently called on to move, lift or carry patients. Because the job involves exposure to hazardous substances such as blood and bodily fluids, orderlies must follow strict safety precautions and use protective clothing for some tasks.
Orderlies spend much of their time interacting with others. They must be comfortable helping patients with sensitive tasks such as bathing and toileting. They must also be able to communicate clearly with nurses and other healthcare professionals and follow directions carefully.
Most orderlies work full time. Since inpatient facilities are always open, many work evenings, nights and holidays.
Most employers require orderlies to have a high school diploma or GED. Certification in first aid, CPR and automated external defibrillator (AED) are also usually required. For course information, contact a local chapter of the American Red Cross.
Most orderlies are trained on the job. Nurses and senior orderlies teach new hires how to safely move and lift patients and provide respectful, compassionate personal care. New orderlies also take work-related classes in occupational safety, blood-borne pathogens and other healthcare-related topics. These courses are offered in-house or through a community agency such as the Red Cross.
Licensing and/or Certification
No licensing or certification is required to work as an orderly. However, because orderlies work with vulnerable populations, candidates must usually pass a drug test and criminal background check.
Necessary Skills and Qualities
Orderlies typically work with people who are ill, injured, elderly or otherwise vulnerable. As such, they should be compassionate and have a genuine desire to ease the suffering of others. They must be patient in dealing with frail people who have a great deal of difficulty with simple tasks. Because the job involves constant standing, lifting and walking, orderlies must be physically fit and in good health.
Finally, orderlies need good speaking and listening skills in order to communicate patients’ concerns to the nursing staff and follow directions from the patient care team.
Opportunities for Advancement
For many people, their experience as an orderly serves as a jumping-off point for another medical career. Some orderlies go on to train as certified nursing assistants (CNAs), licensed practical nurses (LPNs) or allied health professionals. This career path typically involves completing a state-approved training program through a career center or community college and passing a certification exam. Experienced orderlies sometimes advance to management positions and train, evaluate and supervise the work of other orderlies.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for nursing assistants, orderlies and attendants was $24,010 in May 2010. The lowest paid 10% made $17,790 and the highest-paid 10% made $34,580. Experienced orderlies who hold a CNA credential generally earn the most.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of nursing assistants, orderlies and attendants is expected to grow by 20% between 2010 and 2020, which is considered faster than average for all occupations. This is largely due to the aging of the baby boomer generation, which is increasing the demand for long-term care and other healthcare services. Job prospects are best for experienced orderlies who hold a CNA credential.