How to Become a Patient Care Assistant in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become a patient care assistant. Learn about job duties, education and training requirements to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Nursing degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Patient Care Assistant Do?

Residents in long-term care facilities, hospitals and nursing homes rely on patient care assistants to help with their basic needs. Typically nurses assistants these professionals feed, bathe and dress residents who cannot do so by themselves. They may also be charged with taking residents' vital signs and keeping logs of residents' health. For patients with mobility problems, patient care assistants may help move them around in wheelchairs or walkers. Take a look at the following chart for an overview of how to enter this field.

Education Required High school diploma; associate's or bachelor's degree for advancement
Training Required State-approved training program and/or on-the-job training
Key Responsibilities Provide patient care under doctor's or nurse's direction; dress, feed and assist patients with personal hygiene; check and record vital signs
Certification Certification is voluntary
Job Growth (2014-2024) 18% (for all nursing assistants)*
Median Salary (2015) $25,710 (for all nursing assistants)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What is a Patient Care Assistant?

Patient care assistants provide care to people who are injured, disabled, bedridden and who are mentally or physically ill. Patient care assistants often serve as a source of comfort and reliability because they have more contact with patients than nurses or physicians. Assisted living facilities, hospitals, nursing homes and rehabilitation center are common places of employment for patient care assistants.

Step 1: Research Job Duties for a Patient Care Assistant

Patient care assistants, sometimes called nursing assistants, provide care to patients under the direction of a nurse or a doctor. Working in this profession may entail performing as much as 90% direct care for patients, according to the National Network of Career Nursing Assistants (www.cna-network.org).

Typical functions you would perform in this position include dressing, feeding and assisting patients with personal hygiene. You would also be responsible for monitoring patients' health status by checking and recording vital signs such as blood pressure, heart and pulse rates.

Step 2: Earn a High School Diploma

A high school diploma or equivalent is the minimum education required to become a patient care assistant. You can prepare for this career while in high school by taking courses in biology, chemistry, mathematics and social studies. Some high schools offer programs where you can take Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) courses at local community colleges while you earn your diploma.

Step 3: Complete a Training Program

You can develop your skills to work in this field by completing an accredited nursing assistant training program that involves classroom instruction and supervised clinical practice. By completing this training program, you can learn how to check vital signs, communicate with patients, monitor nutrition and implement safety measures to control infections. Some employers may offer on-the-job training where you may receive instruction in a classroom setting or learn from an experienced nursing assistant or licensed nurse.

Step 4: Get Certified in Your State

You may obtain certification by taking the National Nurse Aide Assessment Program (NNAAP) examination issued by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). Passing an oral or written exam and a skills evaluation test is required to earn this certification. You can find out more about testing locations via the NCSBN website (www.ncsbn.org).

Additionally, if you're working in a nursing home, the Federal government requires that you complete 75 hours of CNA training from a state-approved institution and pass a comprehensive exam. Each state may have additional certification requirements.

Step 5: Earn a College Degree to Further Your Career

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that some patient care assistants become licensed practical nurses, registered nurses or medical assistants (www.bls.gov). To further your career opportunities, you may obtain an Associate of Applied Science in Nursing or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Home health aides help people who cannot perform daily tasks by themselves in their own homes. Typically these residents don't need 24 hour care, like many in long-term care facilities, but could not manage living at home without the assistance of aides. Licensed practical nurses and licensed vocational nurses are a step above nurse's assistants. These low level nurses may perform basic nursing services, such as administering basic medical care and monitoring patients conditions, under the supervision of a registered nurse of physician. Occupational therapy assistants help patients recovering from health issues regain skills needed for daily living and work.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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