A nursing assistant provides basic care and medical support under the supervision of nursing or other medical staff, helping to ensure a good standard of patient care.
When recruiting a nursing assistant, it is important to ensure they possess the skills and abilities required to take on their responsibilities and be successful. This article will review the tasks performed by a nursing assistant and highlight both the soft and technical skills an effective nursing assistant needs to demonstrate.
It will also detail the best way to test for these essential skills, to make sure the most capable candidate is selected for the role.
What should a nursing assistant be able to do?
The daily tasks of a nursing assistant are centred around supporting nurses and doctors to deliver patient care. Nursing assistants perform duties such as monitoring patient health status, helping to bathe and dress patients and assisting with personal hygiene, ensuring patients are consuming food and providing mobility assistance and transportation for testing or treatment.
Nursing assistants need to have a strong work ethic, as their work can involve long, emotionally demanding shifts. They also need to have a personable demeanour, as they spend their time interacting with patients.
Nursing assistants spend significant amounts of time with the patients they care for, so are often the first port of call for requests from patients regarding their care. They are also well-positioned to identify the need for extra assistance or social and emotional support. Nursing assistants are therefore responsible for ensuring patient needs are met by conveying any requests or observed issues upwards so they can be addressed.
Other practical tasks nursing assistants undertake may include: answering call button requests, repositioning patients, observing or examining patients to detect any issues that require medical attention (such as wounds, bruises or blood in urine), recording patient vitals (such as temperature, blood pressure, respiration rate and heart rate, along with height and weight), reporting changes or symptoms to medical staff, collecting and transporting specimens, ensuring treatment or activity plans are adhered to, assisting patients with their exercise and reminding patients to take their medications or supplements.
Under the supervision of nurses or doctors, nursing assistants may also set up medical equipment (such as oxygen, irrigation bottle or x-ray equipment) and administer medications and treatments (such as slings or support bandages).
Organisational tasks nursing assistants perform include restocking essential supplies in patient rooms (both hygiene and medical supplies) and changing bed linen when required.
Nursing assistants are also expected to provide information for visitors or family members, helping to explain medical instructions in care plans and giving updates on patient status.
Skills to look for in a nursing assistant
To fulfil their responsibilities and carry out daily tasks to a high standard, nursing assistants need to have particular skills. It is important to be aware of these, to ensure the candidate selected for the role has the skills needed to thrive.
The key skills for individuals in a nursing assistant role are:
Communication: as nursing assistants are in a care role, it is essential that they have good communication skills. Active listening and a helpful, personable manner are vital for building trust with patients. Nursing assistants need to be strong verbal communicators, so they can discuss care with patients and their families and convey any pressing matters to other medical staff clearly and effectively.
Problem-Solving: nursing assistants need to be able to deal with unfolding medical situations or reported issues quickly and effectively. The ability to think logically, contact the most appropriate staff member and provide interim care and support is a vital asset.
Organisation and Attention to Detail: to succeed in balancing the demands of the role and multiple patients, nursing assistants need strong organisational skills. Good attention to detail is essential for ensuring patient care standards are met.
Useful abilities for a nursing assistant
Certain abilities increase the competency and service delivery of a nursing assistant. When hiring a nursing assistant, look for the following abilities:
Oral Comprehension: a nursing assistant needs to be able to actively listen to the requirements of patients to ensure that their hygiene, emotional and medical needs are met. They also need to be able to listen to their managers regarding upholding care standards, carrying out specific tasks and coordinating work with other staff members and departments. Understanding tone and body language (which are substantial components in how we communicate) will help a nursing assistant excel as a carer.
Problem Sensitivity: an individual with high problem sensitivity and awareness has the ability to tell when something is wrong or likely to present as an issue. Nursing assistants are on the wards caring for their patients, so are in a position to spot the necessity for extra support when others might miss it. They need to be consistently attuned to the needs of others, something in which problem sensitivity plays a large part.
Social perceptiveness: nursing assistants need to possess social perceptiveness. They need to be aware of the reactions of others, understand why they are reacting in a certain way and ascertain what is needed to provide comfort or relief.
Teamwork: nursing assistants work as part of a larger team, often split according to the medical department, so collaborative working skills are a must. Nursing assistants that can work well alongside colleagues and fit into current ways of operating will be a welcome addition.
Physical strength and stamina: nursing assistants need a level of physical strength to carry out practical care tasks such as assisting patients out of bed, bathing and dressing them and transporting them to where they need to be. They also need to be able to assist in moving and setting up medical equipment. A steady arm is useful for assisting patients with their food and carrying out certain medical treatments.
Which soft skills tests could I use to hire a nursing assistant?
Large candidate pools can be efficiently and effectively streamlined using targeted pre-employment testing as part of the recruitment process.
You can assess the capability of prospective nursing assistants using the following soft skills tests:
Communication Skills Test: nursing assistants need strong oral communication skills to provide effective care to their patients and to work effectively as part of a team. A communication skills test explores oral and written communication skills, including active listening and response to non-verbal cues. The test is useful for determining whether a candidate can listen attentively, display understanding and empathy and convey information clearly.
Decision-Making Skills Test: being responsible for the care of a large number of patients is a substantial task that involves employing strong observational skills, intuition and decision-making regarding the salient information to report to medical superiors. A decision-making skills test assesses a candidate's ability to approach a decision logically and to think critically and holistically, something that is essential within a medical service role.
Accountability Test: an accountability test is designed to assess levels of integrity, ownership and discipline within the work environment. The test involves a series of theoretical situations and lists of potential courses of action. Candidates need to identify which answer option is, in their opinion, is either most or least likely to resolve the problem. As nursing assistants share responsibility for the health and wellbeing of their patients, they need to be honest, trustworthy and accountable.
Which technical or aptitude tests could I use to hire a nursing assistant?
To ensure the best candidate is selected for the role, a recruitment process should involve a round of aptitude and technical skills testing. This gives the confidence that those who proceed in the process have the skills needed to not only perform everyday tasks, but to excel.
Use the following ability tests to assess suitability:
Error checking: a nursing assistant needs good attention to detail to ensure a high level of patient care is being administered. In an error checking test, the candidate is given two or more data sets and asked to identify the discrepancies within a given time limit. This assesses attention to detail and accuracy under pressure.
Communication Skills Test: nursing assistants need strong oral communication skills to provide effective care to their patients and to work effectively as part of a team.
Logical reasoning: a logical reasoning test uses spatial data to explore a candidate's ability to logically and critically approach problems. Patterns consisting of shapes and symbols are presented and candidates must select the next figure in the sequence. Nursing assistants need to make judgements around the patient care tasks that need to be carried out, so this test provides valuable insight.
Numerical reasoning: nursing assistants are required to monitor patient vitals and record the statistics, so a numerical reasoning test is useful for evaluating their comfort level with numbers. The test assesses data interpretation and the ability to perform basic calculations. It presents data in graphs, tables and charts and involves mathematical concepts such as fractions, ratios, percentages, simple arithmetic, sequences and algebra.
Our recommended test battery for a nursing assistant
We'd recommend using the following aptitude and ability tests within your hiring process to evaluate candidate suitability for a nursing assistant role. Incorporating these assessments will ensure that the candidates best suited for the role advance to the later stages.
At a minimum, we recommend the following tests are set:
Error Checking: a high attention to detail regarding patient care is essential for a nursing assistant, as mistakes can put lives at risk. An error checking test can be used to assess this vital skill.
Numerical Reasoning: nursing assistants deal with important medical statistics when monitoring patients. A numerical reasoning test gives insight into which candidates possess the required numeral skills.
Logical Reasoning: a logical reasoning test explores the ability to solve problems by thinking laterally and practically. Nursing assistants need to think clearly and act quickly under pressure - in other words, they need to be practical, active problem solvers. This test is an effective way of gauging if a candidate has the rational thought needed to be an effective carer.
To find out more about pre-employment testing for this role, view our nursing assistant test guide.