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Degrees and Schools
Although no formal training is required to become a home health aide, some high schools, community colleges, home health care agencies and elder care programs offer courses.
Schools providing educational programs for home health aides are approved according to regulations of the state, which can vary greatly. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have established standards for all formal educational programs for home health aides.
Educational programs for home health aides usually include training in:
- physical therapy principles and body mechanics
- proper lifting techniques
- nutrition and healthy food preparation
- anatomy and physiology
- infection control
- communication and educational skills for working with patients and families
- the rights of patients and ethics
- how to help patients with personal care such as bathing and dressing
Good programs also require substantial supervised practical experience working directly with patients.
Online Classes and Programs
Because home health aides provide direct care to patients, do not need a high school diploma to get at least a first position, and often are trained on the job, online programs are typically oriented towards supplementing a home health aide's knowledge on a course-by-course basis. These courses and related certificate or degree programs can be valuable for home health aides that are seeking to move to roles of broader responsibility, such in supervisory or management positions.
It is also common for home health aides to view their jobs as entry-level positions that ready the aides for other related healthcare occupations, such as licensed practical nurse, registered nurse, and medical assistant. Online classes and programs can be very helpful in beginning the educational process for these kinds of career paths.
There are no specific educational requirements for a home health aide -- they are usually trained on the job. At least 75 hours of classes and practical training supervised by a registered nurse are recommended by federal law.
Most hospitals require previous home health aide experience. Some employers are required by federal law to test all home health aides in a wide range of competencies before they are trained, and some states require home health aides to be licensed.
Optional certification through the National Association for Home Care and Hospice can increase employability.
How to Evaluate Schools
Aspiring home health aide students should consider asking these questions when evaluating training programs:
- Accreditation and regulation - Does the program meet the standards set by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services? Does the program provide the necessary coursework and practical experience to meet state regulations in the intended state of employment?
- Curricula and focus - Do the courses offered provide comprehensive coverage of the many aspects of home health care? Are the courses suitable as a foundation for more advanced studies in preparation for other healthcare related professions, such as nursing or medical assistance? Does the school offer programs for these related professions that the home health aide student can later pursue? Will the home health care related coursework be applicable to any prerequisites for such programs?
- Class structure and practical experience - Are classes structured for optimal learning, including a small student-teacher ratio? Does the program require and provide substantial supervised practical experience working directly with patients?
- Tuition and financial aid - Are there financial aid opportunities such as grants, scholarships or student loans available to defray the cost of tuition? Does the school provide assistance in taking advantage of these opportunities?
- Graduate success - Does the program assist students in finding employment? What percentage of graduates found work in their field in the previous several years?
Home Health Aide Job Description
When a patient's health requires routine professional medical care for an extended period of time, they may hire a home health aide. By providing care to disabled, chronically ill, recuperating or feeble patients, home health aides allow them to be comfortable at home rather than in a hospital or long-term healthcare facility.
A home health aide's responsibilities may include:
- Keeping track of the patient's progress and reporting any changes
- Monitoring a patient's vitals such as heart rate, respiration, blood pressure and temperature
- Lifting patients in and out of bed, chairs or wheelchairs
- Preparing meals and keeping things tidy
- Helping with eating, grooming, bathing and dressing
- Assisting with physical therapy exercises
- Changing bandages, providing skin care and giving massages
- Supporting mobility and the use of assistive devices such as walkers or artificial limbs
- Maintaining in-home medical machinery such as ventilators or oxygen
Home health aides may work for a home care agency where they report to registered nurses, social workers or physical therapists. They frequently travel between patients' homes or work within residential care facilities, caring for several patients at a time.
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