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How to Become a Nursing Aide, Orderly, or Attendant

Nursing aides and attendants typically need a postsecondary certificate or award. Orderlies generally have at least a high school diploma. Nursing aides must pass their state’s competency exam.

Education and Training

Nursing aides and attendants must earn a postsecondary certificate or award, in which they learn the basic principles of nursing and complete supervised clinical work. These programs are found in community colleges, vocational and technical schools, and in hospitals and nursing homes. Some high schools offer nursing aide programs.

Orderlies typically have at least a high school diploma. Orderlies who are not involved in patient care may be trained on the job.


When they finish their state-required education, nursing aides and attendants take a competency exam. Passing this exam allows them to use state-specific titles. In some states, a nursing aide or attendant is called a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), but titles vary from state to state.

Nursing aides and attendants who have passed the exam are placed on a state registry. In many states, nursing aides and attendants must be on the state registry to work in a nursing home.

Some states have other requirements as well, such as continuing education and a criminal background check. Check with your state’s board of nursing or health, for more information.

In some states, nursing aides and attendants can get additional credentials beyond a CNA, such as becoming a Certified Medication Assistant (CMA). As a CMA, they can give medications.

Important Qualities

Compassion. Nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants provide care for the sick, injured, and elderly. Doing so requires a compassionate and empathetic attitude.

Patience. The routine tasks of cleaning, feeding, and bathing patients or residents can be stressful. Nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants must be patient to provide quality care.

Speaking skills. Nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants must be able to communicate effectively to address patients’ or residents’ concerns. They also need to relay patients’ statuses to other healthcare workers.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition