PCA vs. CNA: What’s the Difference?

Image of content creator sitting on a couch and smiling at camera
Written by Ayana Dunn, BSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
Two nurses discuss the differences between PCA vs. CNA professionals.

The roles of patient care assistant (PCA) and certified nursing assistant (CNA) may sound the same, but despite the overlap, there are key differences between working as a patient care assistant vs. CNA. CNAs have a wider scope of practice than PCAs. You can learn why that’s the case below.

PCA vs. CNA: What They Do


A PCA supports the elderly or adults with disabilities by assisting them with non-medical daily living activities. PCAs can be assigned to a single client for an indefinite period of time, until the client passes away, or until the client or caregiver no longer desires that service. PCAs may also have a set number of clients in a long-term care facility.

Some common PCA tasks include:

  • Light cleaning
  • Running errands
  • Cooking meals
  • Providing companionship
  • Assistance with grooming and bathing
  • Medication reminders
  • Assistance with incontinence


On top of the ability to perform the same tasks as a PCA, CNAs are also responsible for some aspects of their client’s healthcare. Unlike PCAs, CNAs are a part of a healthcare team, along with nurses, physicians, nurse practitioners, and others. They must observe the patient’s progress and report to the nurse on duty.

Here are a few CNA tasks:

  • Recording vital signs
  • Repositioning and transferring patients
  • Helping patients with exercise and range of motion activities
  • Administering certain oral medications
  • Emptying Foley drainage bags
  • Communicating pertinent information to the rest of the healthcare team

CNA vs. PCA: Work Environments


PCAs sometimes work in the homes of their clients. They may even travel with clients to medical appointments, the grocery store, and other places their clients regularly visit. They also work in nursing homes, and other facilities catering to the elderly.


CNAs have a wider variety of workplace options. Common CNA workplaces include:

  • Hospitals
  • Nursing homes
  • Outpatient clinics
  • Patients’ homes

PCA vs. CNA: Education Requirements


Oftentimes, the only formal education a PCA needs is a high school diploma or GED. Some states require a certification for which aspiring PCAs must take a class and pass an exam. If you’re learning about how to become a PCA, check your state’s requirements for more specific information.


After obtaining their high school diploma or GED, CNAs must undergo a training program that includes classes and clinical hours. Their training includes infection control, CPR, how to react when a patient falls, and other important tasks.

PCA vs. CNA: Salary


A PCA’s salary in the US can range between $28,450 and $36,510. The average salary is $31,780. This number can vary by state, facility, and years of experience.


CNA salaries in the U.S. can range between $32,123 and $38,607. The average salary is $36, 200. Like other careers, these figures may vary based on location, experience level, and the facility.

Areas that pay the highest average salaries for CNAs:

Overview: Similarities and Differences

As you can see, it’s easy to confuse these roles when learning about a CNA vs. PCA. Both professionals assist patients with daily living activities. Both also commonly work with the elderly and provide companionship.

Despite the similarities, CNAs are not involved with their patient’s daily living activities to the same extent as a PCA. They are not responsible for running errands, cooking meals, nor cleaning the patient’s home, like some PCAs are.

CNAs are strictly healthcare workers. Their ability to perform minor medical tasks is the most notable difference when comparing these two professions.

Additionally, CNAs have a wider variety of patients. While PCAs most commonly care for the elderly, CNAs can assist any age range. CNAs are also equipped to care for more medically complex patients because they have healthcare training, which includes the completion of an accredited training program and a certification test. PCAs are better suited for those in stable condition.

When contrasting a CNA vs. PCA, salary differences are another notable factor. Due to increased education requirements and responsibilities, CNAs are typically paid a higher wage.

The PCA vs. CNA Mystery is Solved — Now What?

Are you considering one of these paths? If so, there’s no time like the present to start working towards either of these important careers. Then you can create a flexible schedule by applying to IntelyCare.