One of the fastest growing professions in the world of health care also requires one of the shortest amounts of training time.

The number of nursing assistant jobs in the U.S. totaled approximately 1.5 million in 2014, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that figure will grow 17 percent by 2024 – much faster than the average for all occupations. The demand is attributed to an increasing elderly population requiring additional care.

Carla Barnum checks the blood pressure on Dalton Billups with help from instructor Gloria Robinson. Barnum and Billups, both of North Platte, are part of a nursing assistant class offered by Mid-Plains Community College.

“Even within our service area, we’ve noticed hospitals advertising more for nursing assistants than they did in the past,” said Kathy Harrison, nursing director at Mid-Plains Community College. “It’s a good career for those who are compassionate and have a desire to help others.”

Nursing assistants, also known as nurse aides, provide basic care for patients in a variety of settings including hospitals, residential care facilities and homes. Additionally, they are often responsible for lifting, moving and transporting patients.

Nursing Assistant 2015 Median Pay – $25,710 per year/$12.36 per hour

“It’s a good first step for someone wanting to go into health care,” said Harrison. “A lot of people try it to figure out what they want to do. I’ve had students start out in the nursing assistant program then become physical therapists, physician assistants or doctors.”

Bobbi Brannan, of Hershey, rolls a compression stocking onto the leg of a mannequin as part of a nursing assistant class at Mid-Plains Community College.

MPCC’s Nursing Assistant program is open to students as young as 16. It consists of 76 classroom hours, during which theory and hands-on skills such as vital sign checks and feeding and bathing of patients are taught.

Successful completion qualifies students to take a test for placement on the State of Nebraska Nurse Aide Registry. That test consists of a written exam and demonstration of six skills. It can be taken in either McCook or North Platte.

With additional training, nursing assistants can become medication aides, allowing them to dispense medications to patients while under the direction and oversight of a competent individual, caretaker or licensed health care professional.

MPCC’s med aide program is 45 classroom hours. Students learn how to administer oral medications, eye drops, ear drops, nasal drops and oxygen among other things. They must be at least 18 to take the course.

Successful completion allows students to register for state testing through the Nebraska Health Care Learning Center. Certification is good for two years.