Personal Care Assistant (PCA)

Also known as: Personal Care Aide

Last Updated: August 27, 2020

Written by the Open Caregiving Team. Editorial review by Joyce O. Murphy RN, MSN.

What is a personal care assistant (PCA)?

A personal care assistant (PCA) is a caregiver who is trained to care for people with various needs in a variety of settings. These include people who are aging, ill, frail, injured, or who have a physical or mental disability or developmental delay.

Where does a personal care assistant (PCA) work?

Personal care assistants work in settings that include:

  • Peoples’ homes where they help to assure that a person can stay at home.
  • Group homes where they assure that people with special needs are cared for day and night.
  • Day programs that include adult care centers and groups for people who benefit from social time.

The need for personal care assistants (PCA) is growing as the population ages and more people choose to be cared for at home.

What are the duties of a personal care assistant (PCA)?

PCAs have many caregiver duties. They provide personal care, including help with:

  • Activities of daily living (ADLs): such as eating, dressing, bathing, using the toilet, and moving from one room to another, or bed to chair.
  • Meal preparation: The PCA may be responsible for running errands as well as cooking.
  • Medication reminders: The PCA reminds someone to take medications on time.
  • Providing companionship: PCAs help to prevent loneliness as they converse and do activities with clients. They read, play cards, go for a walk, and help to enrich their clients’ days.
  • Transportation: PCAs may help clients with keeping medical appointments or attending community events.
  • Housekeeping: The PCA does daily housekeeping tasks such as laundry, making the bed, vacuuming and dusting, washing dishes, and keeping the home orderly.

What qualifications does a personal care assistant need?

Personal Care Assistant educational and training qualifications vary by state. They generally include:

  • A high school diploma or equivalent such as a GED.
  • Training that is required by the state and/or conducted on the job. Some states require completion of a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) course.

Successful PCAs are people with these traits and abilities:

  • Good interpersonal skills: Patience and compassion are important as clients may be in pain, need special attention, or move slowly.
  • Follows detailed directions: This is to assure that routines, dietary needs, and other specifics happen as expected.
  • Strength and stamina: PCAs have a job that is physical and can be emotional as well. They help people to move safely and tend to their personal care. Housekeeping tasks require bending, lifting, and moving in sometimes tight spaces. They do this while making sure their clients are safe and well cared for.
  • Good time management: PCAs keep an eye on the clock to be on time with meals, medication reminders, and scheduled appointments.

What is the difference between a home health aide and a PCA?

A home health aide (HHA) has specialized personal care training, the length of which varies by state.

  • Medicare-certified home health agencies must hire HHAs that have fulfilled state training requirements and meet the federal minimum of 75 hours.
  • To learn more about your state, go to this home health aide training requirement page.
  • HHAs work under the supervision of licensed nurses.

A PCA may work in one of their state’s Medicaid-approved programs, as well as in private home care or group settings.

  • Each state varies with what a PCA is permitted to do and the training that is or is not required.
  • To learn more about your state, go to this personal care aide training requirement page.
  • A PCA is supervised according to their work setting and any of its rules or policies.

What is the difference between a PCA and a Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA)?

A PCA may work independently for a family or as an employee or contracted person for an agency.

  • A PCA can also work in group home settings based on state requirements.
  • These are often associated with the state’s Medicaid programs and its rules.
  • Supervision of the PCA varies because of these different situations.

A Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA) is an individual who has completed a nursing assistant training and has passed their state’s certifying exam.

  • The training must be a minimum of 75 hours, according to federal rules.
  • To learn more about your state, go to the nurse aide training requirement page.
  • CNAs work in hospitals and nursing homes and they are supervised by licensed nursing staff.

How much should a PCA get paid?

The midpoint yearly wage for a PCA in 2018 was $24,000, or $11.57 per hour. It is worth noting that the number of PCAs will increase by 36% by 2028. This is faster than many other jobs and is because of aging Baby Boomers.

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