Direct-care workers provide basic care to their mentally disabled, physically impaired or elderly clients. Most work in private homes, assisted-living facilities, nursing homes or hospitals. According to the Alliance for Health Reform, there were 4 million direct-care workers as of 2011. Direct-care aides might work an entire shift with a single patient, or they might work with several patients at once. Some work rotating shifts while others work the same shift every week.
Direct-care workers tend to have a high school diploma or equivalent. In most states, aides must complete an educational course and pass a certification examination before they can work independently. Instruction covers areas including safety, basic first aid, working with clients with dementia, recreational activities, infection control and caring for people with mobility needs. Once hired, nurses, senior aids or supervisors provide on-the-job training in areas such as cooking for clients with dietary restrictions.
Those choosing a profession in direct care must be detail-oriented, following rules and institutional procedures to ensure safety and quality. They must like working with people; a positive attitude and friendly manner can encourage and calm a client who is in pain, confused or anxious. They must be sensitive to people’s emotions, respectfully maintaining their client’s dignity and privacy. Because the job is physically demanding, they must be physically healthy, able to turn and lift disabled clients and heavy equipment. There are many tasks involved in the average day of a direct-care worker, so good time-management skills is an asset.
Direct-care workers assist their clients with eating, toileting, light housekeeping and dispensing medications. They help clients achieve the activities of daily living, such as maintaining good hygiene and dressing themselves, or assist with more complicated instrumental activities of daily living, such as shopping, cooking and doing laundry. They might assist their clients in securing and managing their health care, obtaining and using transportation, managing their finances, and securing doctor’s appointments. Some clients need help writing letters to their loved-ones, while others need to be provided with recreational and social opportunities.
Despite its many demands, this profession does not pay well and the turnover rate is high. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage of direct-care workers was $20,560 as of May 2010. The top 10 percent of earners in this field reported an income of more than $29,390, while the lowest 10 percent earned less than $16,300. With an aging baby-boom generation, the demand for direct-care workers is expected to grow by 69 percent through 2020, much faster than the 18 percent growth prediction for all other jobs.
- Jupiterimages/Pixland/Getty Images