Important Job Skills for Home Health Aides

Caregiver talking with older woman
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What are the most important skills a home health aide needs to have? A home health aide enables an ailing person to stay in his or her home rather than move into a facility. The job of the aide is to provide all sorts of support to make that possible. This requires a variety of both hard and soft skills.

Job Outlook and Educational Requirements

If you're interested in getting hired as a home health aide, the job outlook is strong, with 41% expected growth between 2016 and 2026. The median pay (2018) is $24,060 per year or $11.57 per hour. Home health aides typically need a high school diploma or the equivalent, though not all employers require it. There are also training or certificate programs available at community colleges and vocational schools.

Home Health Aide Job Description

home health aide’s duties can range from monitoring a patient’s condition to teaching the patient (or the family) how to adjust to their current reality, for example, by teaching the patient how to bathe or walk with a walker. Sometimes a home health aide is required to do a bit of shopping or housework. Overall, a home health aide will create a space for the patient that’s safe and healthy and that fosters comfort and recuperation.

Skills You Need to be a Home Health Aide

All of these duties require patience, compassion, medical knowledge, and a variety of other skills. Read below for information on the skills required for most home health aide jobs.

Top Skills for a Home Health Aide

1. Communication

Communication is important for a home health aide in many ways. First, aides need to be able to speak with their client to understand his or her needs. Second, they need to communicate with family members to keep them up-to-date on the patient’s health. Third, they often need to interact with doctors and other medical professionals. They have to listen to what the doctor says and share any relevant information with the client and family. All of these tasks require someone who is a clear speaker and a good listener. Other communication skills and tasks needed for the job include

  • The ability to read, write, and speak effectively
  • Active listening to family members
  • Communicating medical information to family members after doctor's visits
  • Interviewing family members and patients to assess preferences
  • Listening to patients
  • Writing notes and emails about clients

2. Compassion

A home health aide worker must be empathetic and caring. Growing old or ill or becoming injured (or, in some cases, all of the above) can be scary and alienating. A home health aide is on the front lines with patients in vulnerable states. To take proper care of them and to make them feel safe, a home health aide should have a natural tendency toward compassionate care. Other related skills necessary for home health aide workers are

  • Empathy
  • Establishing a rapport with the patient
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Listening to and respecting the concerns of the client
  • Providing companionship

3. Attention to Detail

Home health aide workers provide care in many ways, from helping patients complete day-to-day tasks to providing medical assistance. All of this requires attention to detail. For example, aides need to remember and follow the directions of a patient’s healthcare practitioner. They need to give a patient his or her medications at specific times of the day. They also need to be highly organized. Related skills needed for the job include

  • Accuracy
  • Ensuring that patients take prescribed medications at the right time
  • Following the directions of nurses and doctors
  • Monitoring changes in the physical and psychological condition of patients
  • Maintaining records
  • Being observant

4. Flexibility

Being a home health aide worker is about more than just the patient’s health. You’ll be asked to meet many of your client's non-medical needs as well. Some of these tasks may include grocery shopping and household chores, such as laundry and cleaning. You may be asked to monitor a patient’s vitals or to provide companionship and conversation.

The skills or tasks required of you may change as the patient either declines or recuperates, and what is needed of you will certainly change from patient to patient. You should be able to meet the patient’s changing needs by remaining flexible and open-minded. Below are some of the varied skills you will need and the tasks you may need to complete as a home health aide:

  • Assisting patients with hair care, dental care, and shaving 
  • Assisting patients with toileting
  • Assisting with daily living tasks
  • Bathing clients
  • Changing adult diapers and cleaning patients 
  • Caring for clients with impaired memory
  • Dressing patients
  • Feeding patients
  • Housecleaning
  • Laundering clothing
  • Light housekeeping
  • Meal planning and preparation
  • Representing patient during visits to healthcare providers
  • Running errands

5. Honesty

When you become a part of someone’s life in the way that home health aides do, honesty is a critical trait. You’ll be in people’s homes in extremely intimate ways. You may be asked to clean patients or change their adult diapers. You may assist with all manner of life’s details in ways that will give you access to parts of their lives that only their most intimate companions are familiar with. Honesty is essential so that you can communicate effectively and clearly with your patients' families and healthcare providers.

Moreover, if a patient or the patient's family cannot trust you, it’s unlikely that you’ll maintain employment for long. Honesty will be the foundation upon which you’ll build long-term employment. Below are other important skills related to honesty:

  • Integrity
  • Dependability
  • Maintaining confidentiality
  • Punctuality
  • Reliability

6. Medical Knowledge

Many home health aides need only a high school diploma or equivalent. Some jobs require job seekers to be certified or to undergo training. No matter the education requirements, all home health aides need to familiarize themselves with basic medical knowledge. Many health aides will need to check a patient’s vital signs, change wound dressings, and perform other basic medical tasks. They may also attend doctor’s appointments with the patient, which will require them to understand some of the medical information the doctor shares.

Below are some examples of the kinds of medical skills and knowledge a home health aide might need:

  • Alzheimer and dementia care
  • Basic care services
  • Changing simple, unsterile wound dressings
  • CNA (certified nursing assistant) certification
  • Coping with bodily fluids and excretions
  • CPR certification
  • First aid certification
  • HHA (home health aide) certification
  • Learning and remembering medical and pharmaceutical terms
  • Taking temperature, pulse, respiration, and blood pressure

7. Patience

A home health aide may have to deal with situations that are uncomfortable and challenging. Patients with dementia may be critical or irrational. Incontinent patients may require cleanups. All sorts of unforeseen inconveniences may pop up, and the patient’s overall well-being—including their emotional well-being—is of the utmost concern. A home health aide should be calm, even-tempered, and largely unflappable. Other skills related to patience include

  • Helping patients to utilize adaptive devices
  • Helping patients with exercises
  • Interacting with clients in pain
  • Interacting with distressed patients
  • Listening to the concerns of family members
  • Treating patients with respect

8. Physical Stamina

Home health aides need to complete a number of physical tasks, from turning or lifting patients to carrying groceries. They need to be comfortable being on their feet for long stretches of time and lifting and carrying heavy things. Physical tasks they may need to perform include

  • Driving a car (and having reliable transportation)
  • Safely transferring patients from bed to a chair, wheelchair, or toilet
  • Lifting clients
  • Transporting clients to appointments
  • Turning patient in bed

How to Make Your Skills Stand Out

List Skills in Your Resume and Cover Letter: Apply the terms in your resume, especially in the description of your work history. You can also incorporate them into your cover letter.

Discuss Skills During Job Interviews: You can also use these words in your interviews. Keep the top skills listed here in mind during your interview, and be prepared to give examples of how you've exemplified each.