How to Become a Certified Activity Director at a Nursing Home

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Activity directors plan work to keep residents active and healthy in their later years.
Activity directors plan work to keep residents active and healthy in their later years. (Image: Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images)

Nursing home activity directors manage a variety of activities for facility residents to stimulate their physical and mental health. These recreational therapists can earn $23,000 to $60,000 a year; they arrange activities such as bingo, water aerobics, nightly movie showings and day trips for the primarily elderly residents in their care. They also may be responsible for managing a staff of assistants or workers. Activity directors must be organized and patient and have some background or training in therapy.

Volunteer or apply for a part-time job at a nursing home facility where at least 50 percent of the population is aged 55 or older. Gain experience working with the residents and staff at the facility to determine if you want to make it a full-time career. Volunteers and part-time workers do not need a high school diploma; people aged 17 or older are generally accepted. Do a good job and ask if you can use the staff directors as work references in the future.

Earn a high school diploma or GED and pursue studies at an accredited college or through a program designed for those looking to become certified activity directors. Some technical schools and colleges offer a more advanced activity-director certification program that can be completed in as little as 7 months, but applicants with bachelor’s degrees are preferred. Enroll in classes to achieve a bachelor’s degree in social work, therapeutic recreation or in recreation with a concentration in therapeutic recreation, if you wish to make yourself eligible for additional director positions at hospitals or health care clinics. The National Certification Council for Activity Professionals (NCCAP) certifies only those with bachelor’s degrees in English, art/recreation/programming, sciences or management disciplines.

Ensure that your vaccinations are current and stay current. Each state has its own health vaccination requirements, but most include tetanus, tuberculosis and hepatitis B, among others.

Gain 2,000 to 4,000 hours of activity experience of working with the elderly within a 5-year period. Call the NCCAP at 757-552-0653 to request an application for certification. Complete the application and pay the processing fee of $40 and the application fee, which ranges from $60 to $80. Once you are certified, follow NCCAP guidelines on continuing education to maintain your certification.

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