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How to Become a Patient Care Assistant

Growth Trends for Related Jobs

Under the supervision of nursing staff, patient care assistants -- also known as patient care technicians or nursing assistants -- help patients eat, take medication and dress within healthcare facilities. Strong communication skills, compassion, physical stamina and a high school diploma are the minimum qualifications, but formal training is available and required by some employers. Certification can boost your job prospects and earning potential.

Formal Education

Because patient care assistants interact with patients, measure vital signs and observe patients, many employers require you to have some formal training. Community colleges, hospitals, nursing homes and technical schools offer certificate or diploma programs that train you to administer lifesaving aid, perform EKGs, serve meals, help patients eat and dress, groom patients and assist with medical exams. Some employers may even require you to complete a state-approved nursing assistant program. According to ONet Online, 25 percent of nursing assistants had a post-secondary certificate in 2013. In the absence of formal education, some jobs require you to earn a first aid or basic life certificate.

On-the-Job Training

Equally important as formal education is on-the-job training, which may include from two months to a year of supervised practical experience. This training is available through a brief period of on-the-job training or through a clinical experience within a formal education program. Under the supervision of a medical professional, you gain knowledge of medical symptoms and treatment methods, as well as customer service and safety procedures. Employers also require a valid driver’s license.

Earn Certification

Certification for PCAs is generally voluntary. The most common credential is the certified patient care technician/assistant offered through the National Healthcareer Association. Earning this credential requires you to take an exam, which costs $149 in 2014. Preparation manuals are available for an additional cost. The exam covers basic patient care, supplies, safety checks and care facilities. Depending on your job title, you may also need to complete a state-approved exam to become a certified nursing assistant.

Land a Position

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth for nursing assistants and orderlies will be 21 percent from 2012 to 2022 -- faster than the average for all occupations. Job positions are available in hospitals, nursing homes, government organizations, ambulatory services and residential care facilities. The field is physically demanding and you are required to wear a uniform, but most PCAs work full-time. In 2013, ONet Online listed an hourly median wage of $11.97 for nursing assistants.