5 Key Skills You Need as a Nursing Assistant

Nursing assistants play a valuable role in providing quality patient care. Given the need for good healthcare and the growing demand for nurses, now is a great time to consider starting a career as a certified nursing assistant (CNA).

Nursing assistants work under the direction of Registered Nurses to assist in providing care for patients. Their main duties involve offering physical assistance to patients as well as carrying out administrative tasks.

Indeed, it takes some training and a combination of hard and soft skills to succeed as a nursing assistant. Therefore, if you are looking for a job as a CNA or are considering training as one, here are some of the essential skills you must have in order to work in the field and carry out your tasks confidently.

Skills of a nursing assistant

1. Empathy and compassion

As a nursing assistant, you will be dealing with people who are in some sort of pain or discomfort every day. For that reason, a compassionate spirit is needed. Practising empathy is a soft skill that will beneficially impact your patients. Being patient and understanding and carrying everything out in a caring manner will help your patient feel comfortable and at ease. It’s also a good way to emotionally connect to patients who are distressed.

2. Strong attention to detail

Working as a nursing assistant, you will be having to read patient charts and deal with all sorts of data that you need to be able to understand and transcribe. In many working environments, you won’t be the only one looking after a single patient. Therefore, it’s important that all patient records are kept accurate. As a CNA, you will also need a keen eye when it comes to patient behaviours. Looking for nonverbal cues and noting differences in a patient’s sleep pattern, appetite or personality can hint that something may be off and require further inspection. High attention to detail is critical in this field, as it can save patient’s lives.

3. Great work ethic

While flexible work arrangements are one of the benefits of being a nursing assistant, shifts can be long and tiring. It isn’t unusual to be working 12-hour shifts back to back, sometimes overnight. If you are serious about becoming a nursing assistant, then you need to have a strong work ethic and be prepared to have a big schedule – especially if your workplace is experiencing staff shortages. A degree of physical strength is also needed, as you will be spending a great deal of your shift on your feet. You may also be required to lift patients in and out of beds/chairs, assist them when using the bathroom and have to complete other physically demanding tasks such as pushing a medicine cart.

4. Medical knowledge

Nursing assisting is often an entry-level job that doesn’t need extensive knowledge of medical issues. However, you do need a basic understanding of anatomy and physiology as well as common diseases and illnesses. Many employers will train you as you go, but it’s a good idea to get prior training and knowledge through a nursing assisting course or relevant health qualification. In Australia, to become a nursing assistant you will need to have completed a Certificate III level qualification or diploma/bachelor degree in nursing. Having prior training will be favourable to employers, as it shows them that you know the correct way to discuss medical terminology and can be trusted with safety protocols.

5. Ability to adapt 

Every day brings its own unique challenges and encounters for nursing assistants. One day, you might be working with just a couple of patients, the next you may have to assist nurses with dozens of patients all the while tending to clerical tasks like inpatient forms. Sometimes you will be assisting patients with their showering and hygiene, other times you will be following therapy plans to assist those living with dementia or behavioural problems all the while checking patient vital signs and making beds and keeping rooms and equipment clean.

Nursing assistants must be prepared to carry out several duties in one day. No two days in nursing is the same, so you will need to be able to adapt to changing schedules and environments in order to be successful in this role.

Provide patients with the care they need

Working closely with patients on a daily basis can be greatly rewarding. As a nursing assistant, you are a part of their recovery and rehabilitation. There is a sense of fulfilment when working as a nursing assistant, especially when you are directly responsible for a patient’s wellbeing and daily needs.

Getting certified as a nursing assistant is a great way to begin your career in this rewarding field. ICI provides a Nursing and Patient Care Assisting Course that will give you the training you need to become a certified nursing assistant. Contact us with any questions or for information on how to enrol.

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Gladys Mae


Gladys Mae serves as the General Manager and Head of Student Services at the International Career Institute. Gladys holds a degree in Mass Communication - Broadcast Media from the University of San Jose-Recoletos. She joined ICI in 2010 and has over the past 12 years been instrumental in providing leadership and guidance to staff and students alike. Prior to joining ICI Gladys led a multifaceted career with key roles in the banking and business process outsourcing industries.