If you're looking to break into the health care industry, becoming a certified patient care technician (PCT), also known as a patient care associate (PCA), could be a great option. Patient care technicians are health care professionals who help provide direct care to patients. Direct care may include a wide range of duties, such as taking vital signs, communicating with patients and the health care team, assisting with daily activities, following confidentiality guidelines, and collecting blood. Patient care technicians play an important role on the health care team, working under the supervision of nurses and doctors.
In this guide, we'll go through what patient care technicians do, educational requirements, and whether becoming a patient care technician is right for you.
What Do Patient Care Technicians Do?
A patient care technician's roles and responsibilities—also known as their scope of work—can vary depending on their experience, where they work and the skills that they have. Those trained as patient care technicians or assistants can enter professions with narrower scopes of practices as well. For example, they can become certified nursing assistants (CNA) or home health aides. The exact job responsibilities vary depending on the position and the job title, but they typically are a blend of technical, interpersonal and administrative duties.
Provide basic patient care, including bathing, feeding, serving meals and catheter care.
Acquire, distribute, and administer patient care supplies.
Perform safety checks and ensure cleanliness in patient rooms.
Accommodate any additional patient needs.
Obtain EKG readings and monitor vital signs.
Perform phlebotomy procedures.
Provide emotional support to patients and families, particularly to those coping with grief and death.
Take and record temperature, pulse, weight, and respiration rate, and obtain specimens as directed by medical staff.
Prepare rooms, sterilize equipment, and escort patients to exam rooms and surgery.
A certified PCT may have more technical responsibilities, such as recording electrocardiograms (ECG). On the other hand, PCTs with less technical training or experience may be limited to providing basic patient care and ensuring cleanliness in patient rooms. PCTs become specialized and gain more responsibilities, which could lead to a higher salary.
How to Become a Certified Patient Care Technician
Not all patient care technicians need to be certified. Some patient care technicians can find positions with on-the-job training. While most states do not require certification, getting certified can help you find a job, expand your scope of work and, possibly, earn more.
Below, you’ll find the steps you need to take to become a certified patient care technician. There are two main paths to becoming a patient care technician. One path is to get relevant work experience before taking the certification exam. The other path is to complete a course or program before taking the certification exam.
Step 1: Obtain Your High School Diploma or GED
Getting a high school diploma or GED is required to sit for both the NHA and the NCCT patient care technician certification exams. Many PCT/A certification programs and preparation courses also require a high school diploma or its equivalent.
Step 2: Complete PCT/A Training Program (Optional)
If you don’t have relevant work experience as a patient care technician, consider enrolling in a PCT/A certification course or program in your area. When searching for programs, check to see if it is accredited by a regional or national accreditation agency approved by the US Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.
What are the requirements?
If you don't already have a year of experience working as a patient care technician, the NHA and NCCT both require you to complete a PCT/A preparation program or course before taking the certification exam. Local community colleges and organizations such as the Red Cross all offer patient care technician courses. The requirements for PCT/A training programs vary, but here are some general requirements by the Red Cross.
High school diploma or GED
Criminal background check
What will you learn?
Once you enroll in a PCT/A training program, programs typically offer classes that cover the skills and theory required to take care of patients as well as technical skills like venipuncture. Below is a list of sample classes from Houston Community College's patient care technician certification course:
Certified Nurse Aide
How much do patient care technician courses cost?
The cost and length of a patient care technician certification program can vary depending on several factors. One such factor is whether the program includes a nursing assistant/aide certification course. To provide an idea of the range of costs, we looked at program details for the Red Cross PCT preparation courses in Michigan as well as a community college in Houston.
Step 3: Obtain a Patient Care Technician Certification
To become certified as a patient care technician, the final requirement after finishing the certification course is to pass the certification exam. The National Healthcareer Association is the largest certifying agency, but there are other certification options as well. When choosing an exam, consider which certification is recognized in your area. Ultimately, the purpose of getting certified is to demonstrate that you have the skills and knowledge required of a patient care technician.
Once you’ve chosen a certifying entity, there are a few more steps before you can get certified.
Register with the entity and schedule an exam
Prepare for the exam with practice tests
The exams cover topics such as medical terminology, patient privacy and confidentiality, basic anatomy, medical law and ethics, and medical coding and documentation. To prepare for the exam, consider reviewing the study guides and practice exams offered by the NHA or by other organizations. Provided you pass the exam, you will earn a patient care technician certification and you could be ready to find a job.
Step 4: Find a Position
Patient care technicians work in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, long-term care facilities and other health care facilities. After passing your exam, you can search for open positions on job boards or directly with hospitals. You may also be able to find opportunities through your certification program’s instructors or other people in your community.
When applying for a patient care technician job, the type of hospital or facility could impact the work that you do. For example, working at a long-term care facility may require a different set of skills than working in a hospital. It's important to research the facility and its specific needs before applying to ensure that you are a good fit for the position and the organization's culture.
Who Should Pursue a Career as a Certified Patient Care Technician?
Individuals who possess strong communication and organizational skills, are compassionate, organized, and patient-focused, and are comfortable working with a wide range of medical equipment and technology, may find pursuing a career as a certified patient care technician to be a fulfilling choice. Additionally, those who enjoy helping others and thrive in a fast-paced environment may also find this career path to be a good fit.
The Bottom Line
Becoming a certified patient care technician is a good option for those interested in working in healthcare or with patients. It is a rewarding job with opportunities for growth as you gain skills and technical knowledge. Additionally, it can serve as a stepping stone to other healthcare professions, including registered nursing and physician roles. Compared to these professions, becoming a patient care technician is a quicker route, while still offering the benefits of working closely with nurses, doctors, and patients.
What is the job outlook for patient care technicians?
Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not track patient care technicians specifically, health care is one of the fastest growing sectors in the US economy. Between 2021 and 2031, health care occupations are expected to grow by 13 percent, which is much faster than the rest of the economy.The BLS predicts that nursing assistants and orderlies, a title that patient care technicians can hold, will see a 20 percent increase during the same period.
How much do patient care technicians make?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not track patient care technicians as a profession. However, they track health care support staff, which include and CNA salaries. As a category, health care support staff make a median salary of $29,880 per year. However, phlebotomists earn more $37,380 per year. According to a survey by the NHA, 63% of employers reported paying employees more when they held a certification.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Certified Patient Care Technician?
It can take as little as two months to get certified as a patient care technician and find a job. For example, the Red Cross's PCT certification program takes 7 weeks. After taking the course, it could be possible to take an exam and find a job within a month. However, the actual time it takes varies depending on the path someone takes. If you were to rely on work experience instead of taking a PCT/A certification program, the NHA requires a year of work experience before you can take the certification exam.
What’s the Difference between a Patient Care Technician and a CNA?
Patient Care Technicians (PCTs) and Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) are two different types of medical professionals who provide patient care. PCTs typically have more advanced education and training than CNAs, and may be responsible for more complex tasks such as administering medications, performing EKGs, and taking vital signs. PCTs may also be expected to provide emotional support to patients and their families. Many PCT certification programs require its participants to hold or obtain a CNA certification before they can obtain patient care certification.
Program outcomes may vary depending on each institution's specific curriculum and employment opportunities are not guranteed.