What Is a Home Health Aide? A Career Guide

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Discover more about a career as a home health aide. Learn about the skills of home health aides and other details you need to know before getting started.

[Featured Image]:  A female home health aide, with long brown hair,  wearing a green uniform and a blue face covering, is taking care of a male patient in his home.

As a home health aide, you’ll engage in a variety of tasks that center around providing personal care and health-related services to patients who are unable to perform these tasks for themselves. You may also jump in to help with clients’ household chores, including laundry, light cleaning, and meal preparation. Registered nurses and/or social workers typically oversee and supervise the work of home health aides.

Although this isn’t an easy career, it can be very rewarding. Caregiving is a very demanding position, and as a home health aide, you'll be able to lighten the workload and burden that patients and their families experience. You'll be able to give them peace of mine and make a life-changing difference to people who need your help. 

Because it’s a rigorous and demanding job, it’s critical to understand what’s expected upfront. Learning about the requirements, including education and common duties, along with the earning potential can help you better decide if this is the right career for you. 

What is a home health aide?

Home health aides are health care workers trained to provide basic care to people who are unable to care for themselves. In fact, roughly eight out of 10 people who need long-term care can get it right at home with the care of a home health aide [1]. The role you play may help your clients stay at home and out of facilities longer. Some of the main tasks you’ll complete center around activities of daily living (ADL), which include things like eating, bathing, and dressing. You’ll also check their vital signs, and monitor their physical and psychological well-being.

Who do home health aides help?

Home health aides can help people of all ages, including the elderly. You may also help people with disabilities or chronic illnesses by providing specialized personal care services in the comfort of their homes.

Why are home health aides important?

Home health aides help people remain independent for as long as possible. You will provide assistance with daily activities that many people take for granted. Having a home health aide can also reduce stress and worry for family members and friends who are helping with care for patients.

What is a typical job description for a home health aide?

Helping your clients is at the heart of all of the tasks and duties you’ll perform during your career as a home health aide. Understanding everything that’s involved is an essential part of evaluating if this is the right job to pursue and if your strengths, skills, and interests align with what’s expected. 

Assist with activities of daily living

Part of your job as a home health aide is to provide assistance to patients who are not able to perform basic tasks of daily living on their own. Bathing, dressing, feeding, and grooming assistance fall under your duties as a home health aide. In addition, a home health aide may help with household chores, such as laundry and light cleaning, shopping, and meal preparation. Depending on the needs of your patient, you may also provide transportation to medical appointments or social events.

Check health vital signs

You will monitor the condition of the patient by taking regular blood pressure readings, checking pulse, respiration, and temperature. As a home health care aide, you may also be responsible for scheduling routine doctor appointments for the patient.

Monitor clients physical and mental wellbeing

In addition to physical care, you provide companionship and social interaction to elderly, disabled, or chronically ill patients, who are often isolated in their own homes. You track a patient's level of cognitive function and report to family members or other caregivers. Changes in behavior are also reported immediately to ensure that suitable treatment is provided when needed.

Here are some other responsibilities you may have in this role:

  • Ambulation, exercise, and movement

  • Medication management

  • Toileting, incontinence care

  • Skin care and dressing changes

  • Home safety evaluations and recommendations

  • Weight monitoring

Educational requirements for home health aides

Most home health aides learn the majority of their skills informally while working. Although training requirements vary by state and employer, many home health aides are required to enroll in formal training programs that last up to six weeks. Programs typically include both classroom instruction and supervised practical experience.

This can be a fulfilling career all by itself or a stepping stone for starting your career in the medical field. The educational requirements are minimal, and you can begin work as soon as you complete the required training.  However, once you get started you may want to continue your education and obtain further certifications in order to advance your career.

If you’re thinking about working in this field, start by checking the requirements for becoming one in your state and then determine which training programs satisfy those requirements. Once you enroll in a program, you will learn about medical terminology, basic anatomy and physiology, proper nutrition, and how to take vital signs.  

You will also learn about safety practices for lifting and transferring patients, and how to use assistive devices such as walkers and wheelchairs.  In addition, you will learn how to care for patients with various diseases and disorders that require special procedures or care.

How long does it take to become a home health aide?     

The length of time you need to gain skills or certification to become a health home aide varies. Some state governments require a certain amount of training and testing before they allow you to work as a home health aide. In many cases, this is just a few weeks. In other states, it can take a few months.

The amount of experience needed is usually determined by the state government, but also can be determined by the employer as well. When starting a position as a home health aide, you will likely have to undergo criminal background check. Other common requirements include providing proof of citizenship or legal residence in the United States, and successfully complete any tests required by the state or employer.

Some employers will provide the necessary training for a home health aide, while other strategies include attendance at technical training schools, community colleges and even online certification programs. Some home health aide positions require that you have a high school diploma or equivalent.

What skills are required for home health aides?

Within the next decade, there will be a huge influx of home health aides into the healthcare industry. Before you start applying to jobs as a home health aide, you should know the skills required for the job. It’s also useful so you can make sure relevant skills of home health aides are highlighted on your resume.

Physical stamina

Home health aides spend much of their day on their feet tending to client needs. You need the stamina to do chores and to help your clients move around.

Patience

Caring for other humans isn’t always easy. You may encounter clients who are confused or anxious, and you must react calmly in these situations.You’ll also be interacting with the friends and family members of your clients, who may also have questions or be confused. When you work in this role, you may find yourself in uncomfortable situations that require you to remain calm and patient.  

Compassion

Home health aides must be understanding and empathetic when working with clients and their families. You need to work with compassion and humility.

Time management skills

Home health aides are responsible for keeping track of the time allotted for each client's care and moving on to the next client accordingly. Clients count on you for support. Being late can cause worry. Some clients may not be able to bathe or eat if you do not arrive. 

Communication skills

You need the skills to communicate effectively with clients, family members, and other health care professionals. This includes passing on key information on the well being of the patient.

Interpersonal skills

You must be friendly, patient, compassionate, and sensitive to the needs of the people you assist. It’s helpful to be able to do so with a positive and supportive attitude, and it’s particularly helpful if you can bring a sense of humor to the mix.

Problem solving

You need to be able to identify problems and come up with solutions. For example, if a client does not get enough exercise because of lack of mobility, you may suggest an adaptive device for walking or moving around the house.

Adaptability

Your clients needs come first. That requires a degree of flexibility on your part and a willingness to adjust your schedule based on those needs. Your duties may even shift over time or from day-to-day. Remaining adaptable is critical for long-term success. 

Technical skills

The skills required of home health aides are diverse, and include having basic computer skills and know how to operate medical devices, such as blood pressure monitors.Depending on the company you work for, you may use a computer or mobile device to complete paperwork or send job-related emails. These skills can help improve efficiency.

Basic medical knowledge

You should have some basic knowledge about diseases and illnesses so that you can provide basic first aid or administer medication if required.This may include getting certified in CPR and first aid, knowledge of how to take vital signs and change bandages, ability to administer medication, and familiarity with basic terminology. 

Where do home health aides work?

As a home health aide, you’ll typically work in patients’ homes, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, group homes, and may accompany patients to outpatient clinics. You might work during the day, or you may be needed at night, on weekends, or on holidays if you assist patients who need around-the-clock care.

What is the job outlook for home health aides?

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the number of jobs will increase by 33 percent from 2020 through 2030, a rate that's substantially faster than the average of eight percent for all industries [2]. In part, this growth is driven by the aging of the population, and pressure on health care systems. In addition, new methods of providing home health aide services, such as remote patient monitoring, will lead to job growth.

Career opportunities for home health aides

Becoming a home health aide can be your first step in a rewarding career. With more education and training, you may advance to become a personal care aide or a registered nurse. You may also decide to pursue managerial opportunities within your current organization or work for another firm that offers services to the elderly population. Your dedication and commitment will often be rewarded with opportunities for advancement.

Registered nurse

As a registered nurse, you will perform many of the same tasks as a home health aide, but with additional responsibilities. These can include administering medications, treating wounds, and performing diagnostic tests. Registered nurses must have at least an associate's degree in nursing, which typically takes two years to complete. If you choose this path, you may be able to continue working while attending school part-time.

Case and social worker

If you enjoy working with seniors but want to move on from performing hands-on caregiving tasks, consider becoming a case manager or social worker for your agency or another organization that serves the elderly population. In this role, you would help seniors navigate the complicated healthcare process, and help them stay independent for longer.

Home health aide salary and outlook 

The amount you can expect to make as a home health aide varies depending on factors like the company you work for and your level of experience, but on average, home health aides make $49,738 per year [4].  Most full-time home health aides work about 40 hours a week, usually during the work week, but according to a patient’s need, aides may be asked  to work evenings, weekends and holidays. [5]

There are various roles you could choose as a health care support worker.  While some health care support jobs require formal training, others only need a high school diploma.

The following are some of the most popular career options for health care support workers:

  • Certified nurse assistant (CNA): As a CNA, you will assist nurses with patient care. You’ll help monitor patient vital signs, serve meals, and keep patient rooms clean. This position requires state certification, and a high school diploma or GED.

  • Medical assistant: As a medical assistant, you’ll be tasked with carrying out administrative tasks at doctors' offices or other medical facilities. You may schedule appointments, greet patients, handle billing, or keep medical records. Formal training may be required for this position.

  • Physical therapy assistant: In the role of a physical therapy assistant, you will help physical therapists with their daily duties. This includes helping prepare treatment areas, instructing patients on exercises, and recording patient progress notes. Most states require PTAs to complete an associate degree program from an accredited educational institution.

Home health aide training & certification

Many people choose to become home health aides (HHAs) because of their love for the elderly, and their desire to be of service. When you are looking for home health aide training and certification, it's important that you learn what kind of training is required by your state.

Training programs for home health aides vary in length from state to state. Many programs last about 75 hours, although some states may require up to 120 hours of training. You might find programs offered by community colleges, adult education programs, vocational schools, and nursing homes.

If you are interested in providing more medical services to your patients, you can consider becoming a certified nursing assistant (CNA). To become a CNA, you must complete at least 85 hours of training in a CNA-accredited state program. CNAs may assist patients with more complex medical needs than home health aides.

Ready to take the next step in your career? 

Home health is an industry experiencing strong growth with a positive outlook for the future. The number of older Americans with physical or cognitive disabilities is expected to grow from about 6.3 million in 2015 to about 15.7 million in 2065 [3]. The demand for qualified and trustworthy home health aid professionals is at an all-time high!

The self-study course Foundations for Assisting in Home Care. offered by the State University of New York, helps you to learn the knowledge and skills to be an effective home aide worker. The course is designed for anyone who is interested in working as a home care assistant, or anyone who is already working with clients in their homes.

FAQs

Article sources

1. Haven Healthcare. “A Home Health Aide Can Relieve Family Caregiver Stress, https://havenhome.us/a-home-health-aide-can-relieve-family-caregiver-stress/.” Accessed July 1, 2022.

2. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Home Health and Personal Care Aides: Occupational Outlook Handbook, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/home-health-aides-and-personal-care-aides.htm” Accessed July 1, 2022.

3.  Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. “An Overview of Long-Term Services and Supports and Medicaid: Final Report, https://aspe.hhs.gov/reports/overview-long-term-services-supports-medicaid-final-report-0.” Accessed July 3, 2022.

4. Glassdoor, “How much does a home health aide make?, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/home-health-aide-salary-SRCH_KO0,16.htm.” Accessed March 30, 2022.

5. ExploreHealthCareers.org. “ Home Care Assistant/Aide. https://explorehealthcareers.org/career/allied-health-professions/home-care-assistant-aide/.” Accessed August 17, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

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