Patient Care Assistant: Career, Outlook and Education Requirements

Working under the supervision of doctors and nurses, patient care assistants provide basic patient care to those in hospitals, physicians' offices, and long-term care facilities. For example, they deliver meals to patients and feed, dress and bathe them, in addition to performing basic medical tasks such as obtaining vital signs. Schools offering Nursing degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What You Need to Know

Patient care is an expanding career because of the constant need for healthcare professionals. Patient care assistants provide basic assistance for individuals and make their stay in healthcare facilities as comfortable as possible. Patient care assistants typically receive on-the-job training and sometimes complete a state-approved education program to obtain a license, certification or registration.

Responsibilities Responding to patient calls, documenting vital signs, laboratory tasks, and assisting doctors during examinations
Job Growth (2016-2026)* 11% (all nursing assistants)
Education Nursing assistants have to complete a state-approved education program and pass a competency exam upon completion; orderlies usually must have at least a high school diploma

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What are the Job Duties?

Patient care assistants work in hospitals, clinics, physicians' offices, nursing homes, and long-term care facilities helping patients who suffer from a variety of diseases and injuries. They work under the supervision of nurses and doctors to perform routine tasks and provide basic patient care. Patient care assistants often have more direct patient contact than other members of a healthcare team and their job duties include:

  • Responding to patients' calls for help
  • Bathing and dressing patients
  • Feeding patients
  • Monitoring and documenting vital signs
  • Performing basic laboratory tasks
  • Assisting nurses and doctors during examinations

What Kind of Employment Growth and Salary Can I Expect?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, positions for nursing assistants are expected to grow by an estimated 11% between 2016 and 2026, which is a faster than average rate. Meanwhile, during the same time period, the employment of orderlies is projected to increase by about 8%, which is an average rate, per the BLS. The increases are due in part to the exponential growth of the elderly population. The occupational outlook is especially good in long-term care facilities, community rehabilitation and home health services.

The BLS reported in May 2017 that the median salary earned by nursing assistants was $27,520 a year and $27,180 for orderlies. The highest-paying employers for nursing assistants in 2017 included the Federal Executive branch, along with facilities support services.

What are the Educational Requirements?

Becoming an orderly usually requires a high school diploma. Some employers prefer patient care assistants who are certified nursing assistants or who are attending registered nursing, licensed practical nursing, or emergency medical technician programs. Some states require certification that allows patient care assistants to give medication to patients. Most community colleges and health centers offer patient care assistant programs.

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