The Beginner's Guide to Working in a Nursing Home

If you are fortunate enough to lead a long life, it is inevitable that one day you will be considered a "senior citizen." Don't worry, it happens to us all. While it’s nice to think that our loving families will care for us until our final days, sometimes, for whatever reason, they’re unable to do so. That’s why many older Americans end up in nursing homes.

America’s 16,593 nursing homes had 1.73 million beds in 2011. Each and every one of those people need caregivers. Those caregivers often have nursing credentials. In fact, nursing homes care for residents with complex needs, so all types of caregivers are necessary—nursing homes need everyone from certified nursing assistants to LPNs to RNs.

And they need them now.

Jobs at nursing and residential care facilities are expected to grow 29.8 percent through 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Nursing home work can be seen in one of two ways—as something you’d like to do as a career or as a starting point for another career in the medical field, says Karla Erickson, author and associate professor and chair of sociology at Grinnell College (Iowa).

Erickson has special insight into the world of nursing homes—she interviewed patients and caregivers during a two-year stint in which she shadowed a long-term care facility in the Midwest for her book How We Die Now.

Based on her experience, Erickson is acutely aware of the need for nursing home workers. “A lot of people are aware that the boomers are aging, but this is going to continue,” she says. “We’re becoming a very old culture.”

So you know that you want to help people. Maybe you want to give back to the generations of people that helped you as a youngster. If you’re trying to decide if working in a nursing home is right for you, here’s everything you need to know to get started.

Working in a nursing home: Skills needed

To ensure success, some basic skills are needed for nursing home work. After all, caring for people at the end of their lives isn’t easy. An analysis of 68,092 online job postings* shows the top 10 skills employers are looking for when they assess job candidates.

Top 10 skills you need to work in a nursing home

As expected, most of the top 10 deal with patient care and treatment management. Keep in mind that nurses who deal with long-term care versus acute care will need a slightly different skill set because dealing with the same patients day after day brings both rewards and challenges.

Pros and cons of working in a nursing home

You’ll have good and bad days no matter what kind of job you have. But if you’re aware of the pros and cons of your future job you’ll be more prepared to deal with the challenges that come your way.

Let’s start with all the good things about working at a nursing home:

  • You’ll work one-on-one with the same patients on a daily basis, forming a closer bond and learning about their lives and families.
  • You’ll earn the gratitude of patients and the families who are unable to take care of their loved ones.
  • If you want to move up in the medical field, some nursing homes will help pay your education costs.
  • The personal satisfaction that comes with knowing you’re taking care of previous generations of patients.

Of course, nursing home work isn’t easy. Here are some disadvantages you can expect:

  • Some patients aren’t able to care for themselves, so you’ll need to help them walk or move from their beds; this can take a physical and emotional toll.
  • Like hospitals, nursing homes are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so you’ll likely work some long shifts and you will sometimes be required to work holidays or weekends.
  • Though the CNAs Erickson spoke to said they wouldn’t want to do anything else for a career, they did say they wish they were paid better.
  • Unlike working at a hospital, your patients won’t get better. Eventually you’ll have to deal with death, which can be difficult because of the bond you build with your patients.

Though you have to decide if the pros outweigh the cons for you, Erickson found that it did for many she interviewed.

“It’s a job that allows you to experience things spiritually and emotionally and physically and it allows you to connect to others,” she says. “I think most of us want to be connected to others through our work.”

Final thoughts

Nursing homes fill a gap in care that some families just can’t fill themselves. The elderly need the specialized care that nursing home staff are trained to provide.

As Americans age, jobs in nursing homes will continue to grow, so if it’s the path for you, make sure you’re prepared. A nursing degree will help you with the complexities of caring for others, as well as help you gain those skills employers seek.

If you want to learn more about caring for the elderly, check out Everything You Need to Know About Becoming a Geriatric Nurse.


*Source: (analysis of nursing home job postings, Dec. 1, 2012 - Dec. 15, 2013)

External links provided on are for reference only. Rasmussen College does not guarantee, approve, control, or specifically endorse the information or products available on websites linked to, and is not endorsed by website owners, authors and/or organizations referenced.

Elizabeth is a freelance writer for Collegis education who writes student-focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen College. She enjoys writing engaging content to help former, current and future students on their path to a rewarding education.

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