Personal care assistants, also known as personal care attendants, or caregivers (individually known as a PCA), are persons who are employed to aid those who are disabled, chronically ill, mentally ill and those with additional health care needs. They also assist the elderly people to complete the tasks of basic living such as dressing them in the morning and preparing their meals. They are, therefore, an important part of the home healthcare team. Over the past few decades, the career of a PCA nurse has gained popularity because, without the assistance of a personal care attendant, many of these disabled and mentally ill people would not manage to go about their daily tasks.
For anyone who wants to know what is a personal care aide and if they can actually benefit from their services need to clearly understand the necessary certifications and license the PCA’s should have, the responsibilities required skill level and training the caregivers should have. So if you are thinking of pursuing the career path of a PCA which is one of the most rewarding and fulfilling career paths, keep reading to find out what the career entails and has to offer.
- Who Can Make a Good PCA?
- Personal Care Assistant (PCA) Career Overview
- Personal Care Assistant (PCA) Career Options
- How Much Do Personal Care Assistants Make? — A PCA Salary
- Average PCA Salary vs. Other Best Nursing Jobs
- How to Become a PCA?
- PCA Educational Requirements
- PCA Training
- PCA Certification/Licensure
- Important Qualities to Becoming a PCA
- What Are the Benefits of Becoming a PCA?
- What Are Some of the Challenges a PCA Faces?
- Career Prospects of a PCA
However, this career is not just for anyone. You need to have compassion, ability to be very understanding and patient and have a strong interest in caring for others if you want to pursue this career. This is because the job can be both physically and emotionally demanding. For instance, sometimes a personal care attendant must move and lift patients or even work with patients suffering from communicable diseases. Additionally, personal care aides are sometimes hired to care for patients suffering from mental health impairments and may become quite violent with them.
Personal care aides can work in a variety of settings where their services are required due to an aging and/or a disabled population. Some work in patient homes, large-scale care communities, small residential facilities or group homes to help patients with common tasks such as grooming and using toilet facilities, cooking, bathing as well as dressing. They provide care to people of any age, from children with disabilities to the elderly.
Their other duties include helping the clients make and keep appointments with physicians, checking the patient’s vital signs, providing or arranging transportation, serving as a companion for their patients and ensuring they take their medicine. Basic housekeeping is also important in order to provide a clean and safe environment.
In addition, these professional caregivers also help with tasks related to ADLs and can also complete other basic nursing tasks but only under the supervision of a registered or licensed nurse. However, most personal care attendants work for private clients, agencies or home health providers that offer services to senior citizens and the disabled.
In day-to-day activities, a PCA will normally work alone but will have to report to a registered nurse. They typically work in shifts of eight or twelve hours, including weekend shifts and overnight shifts. According to a report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most personal care attendants worked full-time in 2014, but two out of five worked part time.
Career advancements for personal care aides are limited. An experienced personal care assistant may choose to work as a self-employed PCA with no supervisory instruction, or his or her own care agency. In such a case, a PCA may find his or her own clients, arrange the working schedules and set their own fees. Additionally, one can also choose to advance their career by entering into training in order to become a registered nurse or a nursing aide.
On the other hand, there are different types of personal care aides which include:
- Home health aides
- Nursing aide
- Medical assistant
- Physical therapist assistants
According to a report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, personal care aides in the year 2010 made a median income of $20,170 per year or $9.70 per hour. Fortunately, the median salary increased to $20,440 in 2014 which was approximately $9.83 per hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The best-paid PCA, however, made around $27,910 and the lowest $16,580 that same year. In the year 2015, there was also an increase in the median annual salary for personal care attendants.
In May 2015, the median annual salary was $20,980 with the lowest paid making less than $16,910 and the highest making more than $28,620. In the same year, the median annual salaries for personal care assistants in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:
- Home health care services — made around $19,130
- Developmental and residential intellectual disability, substance abuse and mental health facilities — made around $22,150
- Persons with disabilities and services for the elderly — made around $21,070
Geographic location is the biggest factor affecting PCA salary followed by years of experience. However, state governments usually tend to compensate personal caregivers the best. The highest earning in the personal care assistant industry work in the metropolitan areas which include some places like:
- Bismarck, North Dakota — Average salary is $28,820
- Anchorage, Alaska – Average salary is $30,510
- Barnstable Town, Massachusetts – Average salary is $28,400
- Kingston, New York — Average salary is $28,010
- Fairbanks, Alaska — Average salary is $27,900
Additionally, personal care attendants with less than five years of experience earn a median pay of around $21,000. Those with five to ten years of experience, on the other hand, can expect to take home around $22,000 on average while those with ten years plus of experience also earn an average salary of around $22,000. However, seasoned personal care assistants with more than two decades of relevant experience can expect to enjoy a median pay of about $23,000.
With an average salary of around $20, 440 in 2014, a PCA earned a comparable salary to home health aides who at $22,400 made about $1960 more. However, personal care attendants don’t make as much money as most other health care and nursing jobs in the industry. For instance, medical assistants made around $31,220, nursing aides took home $26,250 while physical therapist assistants made around $54,330.
If you are thinking of joining this career field and want to learn how to become a personal care aide, there are several requirements you need to meet in order to do so. Having completed these requirements, you open yourself up to extensive job listings and the ability to work just about anywhere in the country. These requirements include:
For starters, PCAs are not subject to specific educational requirements. You don’t need a high school diploma or even a formal education to become a PCA. However, having at least a high school diploma or equivalent (GED) can give you an advantage over other personal care assistants who do not.
Although there is no actual educational requirements and federal training requirements, there are some specific training practices required in order to become a personal care aide. Training is generally important for PCAs interested in using the career as s springboard to a more advanced position like a registered nurse or a home health aide. However, these training programs depend on the state where you work and since state laws vary widely, for specific state requirements, always ensure you consult with the state’s health board. When it comes to training, you train directly under an RN, supervisors, Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) or experienced caregivers so you can provide the very best service possible. An employer may also train PCAs to perform jobs in a specific way and to undergo a competency evaluation. In addition, for states requiring more standardized training, you can receive the formal training through:
- Vocational schools
- Home health care agencies
- Local community colleges
- Eldercare programs
For starters, you need to enroll into a training program through an organization like the National Association for Home Care and Hospice. This organization offers a voluntary certification program for personal care attendants. Most certification programs require around 40 to 75 hours of formal training.
During the 40 to 75 hours of formal training, there are various courses and topics you have to cover. These topics include:
- Fundamental coursework in anatomy
- Sensitivity training
- Death and Dying
- Personal care equipment
- Physical developmental disabilities
- Medical terminology
The skill sets offered through this training on the other hand include:
- Ability to take blood pressure of an individual
- Emergency medical response
- Ability to take and monitor pulse rate and temperature of an individual
- Infection management
- Communicable disease control
- Basic first aid and CPR
- Medication administration
There are also some client based topics one needs to master and they include sanitary housekeeping, assisting in grooming and cooking foods for specific diets.
The National Association for Home Care and Hospice offers national certification for personal care assistants. Certification or licensure is not required by state or employers although some employers require a PCA to have certification especially in cardiopulmonary resuscitation and first aid. This is because the employers see certification as a voluntary demonstration that the personal care aide has met industry standards. To obtain certification, you need to complete at least a 75-hour training program, 16 hours of supervised training, pass a written exam and provide proof of competency. Certification could meet state requirements for an employer who receives federal government compensation from health programs like Medicare and Medicaid.
Having gone over the entire course material and finished your entire PCA training, the next step is to be appraised by the RN. However, the appraisal is only possible if the registered nurse passes you in the 17 skill sets. And if this happens you’re able to start your job as a PCA. However, in case you fail or there are some specific areas in which you need to work on, no need to start all the educational training program all over again. You just need to focus on those specific areas the registered nurse found you to be lacking in to be able to complete the training.
- Interpersonal skills — In most cases, you will find that the patients/clients are in so much distress or pain. In these cases, PCAs are required to be extra sensitive to their emotions. They must also show compassion to the clients and enjoy helping those in need.
- Detail oriented — PCAs need to follow certain rules and even protocols to help take care of the patients. They also need to pay so much attention to a client’s medical condition so they can be able to quickly notice any changes that may require medical assistance.
- Physical stamina — this is important because a PCA often has to lift or even turn clients with disability. They should, therefore, be comfortable performing physical tasks.
- Integrity — Personal care assistants should be trustworthy and dependable so that patients and their families are able to rely on them. In addition, they must be able to make clients feel comfortable, especially when they are tending to their personal activities like assisting the client to take a bath.
For the right person, a career as a personal care aide is very rewarding in so many ways. First, you can be sure to get internal satisfaction from knowing you have made a big difference in the quality of someone’s life. Other benefits you can expect as a personal care aide include high job prospects, possibilities for advancement in the medical field as a registered nurse, flexibility, and few requirements to enter the personal care attendant field. Additionally, you can find a job in a variety of settings including large care communities, agencies providing in-home services or even small group homes.
The career of a PCA is very demanding both physically and emotionally hence; challenges are an unavoidable part of being an aide. These challenges present a real danger for the client and the PCAs as they work to offer quality home-care. Some of the most common challenges they face are a lack of PCA training, time constraints, and low pay. The best way to overcome these challenges is by embracing them through learning as much as they can and preparing for the problems at hand instead of shying away from them.
The job outlook for personal care assistants looks very good. The aging population is gradually increasing and statistics show that the baby-boomers need more personalized care. Another factor that affects employment prospects is the trend to transfer patients as soon as possible out of critical care facilities to familiar surroundings of home.
Generally, the number of aging people and age cohort that is challenged by health complications to an extent of requiring prompt assistant with day to day activities is growing (and is expected to increase in the long run). Besides that, the number of people suffering from mental and physical disabilities is also rising.
The job openings created by this increase in demand for specialized care workers coupled with the fact that replacements are needed once in a while means that the future of a PCA is bright. Besides that, the relatively low skill level requirements and high emotional demands mean joining this career offers a double-edged sword. The low-level skill demand means anyone can join in but the high emotional demands mean only few can actually manage to stay on the job long enough.
In the state of California, the population of PCAs is projected to grow much faster than the average growth rate for all other related job positions. It is expected that demand for people with this skill set will grow by 51.8% by 2022. Specifically, in Ventura County, the number of care aides is predicted to grow exponentially at a rate of 33.9% between 2012 and 2022.
As a PCA it is worth noting that your working hours will vary depending on your job. This may sometimes include weekends, evening or split shifts. If you get an opportunity to serve at a residential location, you may be expected to sometimes stay overnight on a rota basis. In some situations, you might even be required to move in with the person who needs care. Part-time opportunities are also readily available particularly if you work with the community and are willing to travel between client’s homes.
To increase your career prospects, you may be encouraged to work towards further qualifications, such as the level 2 or 3 Diploma in Social Care and Health. This will, in turn, give you an opportunity to become a senior care worker. As your career progresses, you may want to advance on to higher qualifications, such as obtaining a degree in social work. You could progress to become a senior caregiver of even shift supervisor provided you are willing to amass more experience and qualifications to support your resume.