How to become a certified home health aide: training, pay and job outlook
If you’re looking for a career working hands-on with patients in the medical field, but you don’t have the time or money to train to become a nurse, one option is to become a certified home health aide. Many aging seniors prefer the comfort of staying in their homes to a nursing home, and home health aide services allow them, or anyone else with chronic illnesses or impairments, to remain safe and healthy at home.
“A lot of people don’t want to go to other places besides their homes nowadays,” says Debra Blank, a certified home health aide with Right at Home in Frederick, Maryland. Blank, who has been named Right at Home's Caregiver of the Year, says she got into the field 13 years ago because she wanted to be able to help people and make them smile.
“Even if I only change one person’s life, it makes me feel so good to know I’ve done something to help someone, because there are so many people out there who need help,” she says. Blank also appreciates getting to work out of patients’ homes; unlike a sterile hospital environment where people constantly come and go, you get the continuity of working with the same patients over a long period, she says. You get to know their habits and routine, and you also develop close bonds. “I’ve had about four or five patients for three years at a time, and not only do I become family to them, but it’s like I have a second family, because they take you in and make you feel like you’re part of the family,” she says.
Certified home health aides like Blank help with basic tasks such as bathing, dressing, basic hygiene and transfers. You may sometimes be asked to do light housekeeping and errands. In some states, you can also help administer medication and take vital signs under direction of a healthcare practitioner. While some tasks are similar to those performed by nurses, there are fewer medical duties as a home health aide due to fewer training and education requirements. Your responsibilities are more focused on helping your patient get around, maintain hygiene and be comfortable.
How to get trained and certified as a home health aide
To become a certified home health aide, you don’t necessarily need education beyond a high school diploma or equivalent, though you must get certified through a training program. Andrea Devoti is the Executive Vice President of the National Association for Home Care & Hospice, and she’s also a nurse who ran a home care agency in Westchester, Pennsylvania, for 18 years. Devoti says that while state laws vary on exact requirements, the industry standard for certification programs is 120 hours of classroom training and 40 to 60 hours of clinical work.
You can get certified by the National Association of Home Care and Hospice, but many community colleges offer their own home health aide certification, Devoti says, as do some nonprofit organizations, home health agencies and skilled nursing facilities. You may also find certification programs at vocational schools. Tuition for a home health aide certification program typically ranges from $300 to $650.
While many hospitals also offer basic aide training, Devoti says, be cautious since these programs don’t always meet the requirements to get certified by a state.
What you will learn in training
“The classroom work is training on basic personal care needs: how to give all kinds of baths and showers, as well as other personal care, including mouth care and all those things that we normally take for granted and do for ourselves,” Devoti says.
She adds that certification training also teaches you basic medical signs and symptoms, how to take temperature and pulse and how to tell when someone appears flushed, which can indicate a fever or other health issue. “Some schools teach how to do blood pressure as well, and then how to report those things to a higher level clinician, as well as basic transfers in and out of bed and chairs,” she says. It’s a detailed program that prepares you to work with patients, she explains.
At the end of your training, you will sit for a certification exam. In addition to being tested on your knowledge, you also have to demonstrate what you’ve learned. “In some cases it can be a full day where they’re observed doing various baths, making a bed and transferring a patient, and they’re given scores on how they’ve done to get certified,” Devoti says.
Pay and outlook for certified home health aides
According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the 2017 median pay for a home health aide was $11.12 per hour or $23,130 per year.
However, Devoti says pay can vary greatly depending on location and your state’s wage laws. She says depending on the geography, home health aide pay can be anywhere from $9-18 per hour.
Here’s the good news: home health aides can obtain additional certifications that can increase pay. “They can get other certificates in things like geriatrics, cardiac patients or behavioral issue patients so they can actually specialize and get recognition, and many places will pay more for that,” Devoti says. She’s found that additional certifications typically allow aides to command from 50 cents to a $1/dollar an hour more.
There are also plenty of job opportunities in this field. “With the aging Baby Boomers, more and more people are wanting to be at home,” Devoti says. “So they’re asking for certified home care aides, and it’s just a booming part of the industry. We get calls every week asking if we know where there are people who want to be certified home health aides.”
According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the future job outlook for certified home health aides is excellent and will continue to grow. The projected percent change in employment from 2016 to 2026 is 41%, which is far faster than the average growth rate for all occupations, which is only 7%.
Not only is this a field where there’s ample work, but if you love your job as a certified home health aide and want to get paid more, Devoti says the occupation is a great launching pad to become another type of clinician. For example, you could get more training and become a physical therapist, respiratory therapist or even a registered nurse.
Plus, you get to make a difference in people’s lives every day. “I’ve always felt that giving makes you feel so much better than taking,” Blank says. “This work just makes you feel so good about yourself, and you’re showing other people that you care about them and you’re compassionate for them.”