To relieve pressure on hardworking registered nurses in hospitals and clinics due to their growing shortage, the Health Ministry has established and recognized a new medical profession – nurse assistants (NAs).

The program will begin in July 2012, giving would-be NAs the opportunity to study and qualify, and medical institutions to adapt.

NAs will work directly with and under the supervision of nurses, and have to undergo special training, Dr. Shosh Riba, head of the ministry’s nursing administrations, said on Tuesday. They must have completed 12 years of study (but do not need to have matriculated) and a proven basic understanding of written and spoken Hebrew. They must not have a criminal record or diseases that would endanger public health.

According to Riba, the study program of 500 hours will be offered by nursing schools and recognized medical institutions; tuition will be NIS 5,623 and be updated annually. A final exam must be passed to get the official NA certificate. Auxiliary staffers who want to upgrade their skills to become NAs must meet all the demands of others applying for recognition.

Among the permitted duties of NAs will be measuring blood pressure, weight, fever, heartbeat and oxygen saturation; taking urine from a catheter; washing, dressing and undressing patients; feeding by mouth or through a gastric tube; putting patients into a wheelchair; applying and removing bandages; accompanying patients to procedures; filling out medical files and test forms; administrative discharge of patients; and ordering and storing food and equipment.

Nursing students will be able to work as NAs if it can be shown that they have received all the necessary training; such students will also be able to take blood, perform fleet enemas and open sterile fields to help registered nurses.

The ministry hopes the new profession will take some of the load off registered nurses, bring in a new source of manpower and provide regular employment for nonacademics interested in working in a medical setting.

Despite the growing shortage of doctors, however, the ministry has not recognized the profession of physician assistants (PAs), who are recognized in the US and many other countries as being able to perform many of the duties of medical doctors.

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