Start Your Nursing Career as a Patient Care Assistant

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Written by Kayla Tyson Editor, B2C Content, IntelyCare
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Reviewed by Morganne Skinner, BSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
A patient care assistant in blue scrubs greets their patient.

If you’re interested in a career in healthcare, becoming a patient care assistant (PCA) might be just the start you’re looking for. In most places, you can become a PCA without advanced education. Many find that this position can be a great way to get your foot in the door of the healthcare industry.

It’s important to be well informed when considering career options. We’ll help explain what a PCA does, outline the requirements to become one, and share some key PCA skills that you can develop.

What Is a Patient Care Assistant?

A patient care assistant — or personal care assistant— is a type of caregiver who directly supports patients in a variety of medical settings. PCAs are typically unlicensed and do not have as much training as certified nursing assistants (CNAs). PCAs often work under the supervision of licensed nursing staff and primarily assist patients with activities of daily living.

The work of PCAs benefits the healthcare care team overall. Although PCAs don’t provide direct medical care like CNAs do, their assistance with daily tasks frees up the registered nurses and other staff to focus on the clinical aspects of a patient’s care plan.

Since they support day-to-day tasks, PCAs maintain close proximity to their patients. This provides patients with important human connection, especially in residential settings where they may be living apart from family. PCAs are in an ideal position to provide a listening ear and emotional support.

There are many employment options for these types of caregivers. Patient care assistant roles can be full time, part time, contract, or per diem.

What Does a Patient Care Assistant Do?

PCA responsibilities can vary depending on the specific healthcare setting and the needs of the patient. For example, one PCA could be working in a home setting, assisting one patient with day-to-day tasks like meal preparation and errands. Another PCA could work in a long-term care facility and assist a number of patients with bathing and dressing. In general, patient care assistants provide basic care, which may include:

  • Supporting activities of daily living: bathing, grooming, dressing, and more
  • Running errands, cooking, and light cleaning
  • Providing support with mobility and transfers
  • Observing vital signs and notifying healthcare team of changes
  • Offering patients emotional support, companionship, and reassurance
  • Assisting nursing staff as necessary

Patient Care Assistant Education

If you’re interested in learning how to become a patient care assistant, the first step is education. At a minimum, PCAs need a high school diploma to get started. You’ll typically receive on-the-job training from the facility, residence, or organization.

Patient Care Assistant Certification

No specialty certifications are necessary to become a PCA, though state and facility requirements may differ. If you want to pursue further training, consider going to school to become a certified nursing assistant (CNA) so you can learn to provide more hands-on care.

Though certification is not always necessary, it can be helpful to undergo basic training through an accredited institution. You may be able to find basic patient care courses at community colleges, technical colleges, or online. Here are some common online caregiving certifications:

  • National Caregiver Certification Course (NCCC) — This course is for new or experienced caregivers, as well as family members and private duty nurses. It covers basic supervision and caregiving skills for patients unable to self-direct their own care.
    • Credit hours: 120 hours
    • Cost: $99
  • Advanced National Caregiver Certification Course (ANCCC) — Pursue this training for a more in-depth review of caregiving skills. Topics covered in this course include, communication, the rights of patients, infection prevention, nutrition, and more.
    • Credit hours: 200 hours
    • Cost: $149

Key Skills for Patient Care Assistants

Want to become a top-notch PCA? In addition to your caregiving skills, focus on developing these important soft skills:

Clear Communication

PCAs are often the first people to notice a change in a patient’s status. It’s essential that you are able to effectively communicate that information to the health team so issues are addressed promptly. This skill will also be useful during interactions with patients and their families, as you provide instructions and offer support.

Professional Empathy

Great PCAs are compassionate toward their patients and cultivate a supportive relationship with those in their care. They put empathy into practice through active listening, cultural competence, and humanization.

Time Management

As a PCA, you may be tasked with supporting a number of patients during each shift. Or, you may have a wide range of tasks to complete for a single patient. Either way, it’s important that you’re able to prioritize your responsibilities and manage time effectively so you can meet the needs of the patient(s) in your care.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Patient Care Assistant?

In many cases, a high school diploma and job training are the only requirements to become a PCA, so you may already be eligible to apply. It’s important to check the requirements in your area to ensure that you meet the necessary qualifications.

Where Do Patient Care Assistants Work?

Many PCAs work in long-term care, such as nursing homes or residential care facilities, but these positions can be found in a range of healthcare settings. PCAs also often work in home health settings, assisting their clients with daily living at their private residences. Here are a few locations where you might find a PCA:

Looking for opportunities as a patient care assistant? Check out caregiver jobs on IntelyCare today.

How Much Do Patient Care Assistants Make?

The average patient care assistant salary in the U.S. is $31,780, and typically falls between $28,450 and $36,510. Salary ranges depend on a variety of factors, such as education, experience level, facility type, and geographic region.

Thinking of choosing your location based on the salary? Check out these areas for some higher-paying caregiver jobs:

Ready to Work as a Patient Care Assistant?

Now that you’re more familiar with what it means to be a PCA, are you ready to give this role a try? If a fully flexible schedule at facilities of your choice sounds appealing, apply to IntelyCare today to build a career you love.