What’s the Difference Between a PCA and a CNA?

PCAs (Patient Care Assistant) and CNAs (Certified Nursing Assistant) are both careers in the medical field that deal with one-on-one care of patients. Often, the terms PCA and CNA are used interchangeably when talking about a patient care assistant; however, these two assistants are vastly different, having different responsibilities and work settings. It’s important to know the difference between the two care assistants, especially if you are considering a career in the medical field or require the employment/assistance of one over the other.

Understanding the Differences Between a PCA and CNA

PCA, a Patient Care Assistant, is different from a CNA, Certified Nursing Assistant, in a variety of ways. Though both jobs deal with caring for patients that require a certain level of one-on-one care, their everyday job demands differ as well as the training they had to complete to obtain their certification. Here are some of the significant differences between a PCA and a CNA.

The Training Requirements

To become a PCA, one must have at least a high school diploma, a certification is not always required; it depends on the state.  If a state does, in fact, require a certification, an aspiring PCA must take the right classes that offer the appropriate training that is required by the state. Training to be a PCA can take anywhere from 40-75 hours, depending on the state’s requirements. Some of the topics covered in these classes include:

  • CPR
  • Checking blood pressure
  • Grooming and personal hygiene of patients
  • First aid
  • Feeding patients
  • Caring for the elderly

To become a CNA, one must complete extensive training that is 75 hours with an additional hour of abuse and neglect training. Certification is required to become a CNA.

Many of the same topics are covered in CNA training; however, CNA’s are expected to perform more tasks on patients than PCAs, so have more in-depth training that includes:

  • Setting up medical equipment
  • Assist in medical procedures
  • Take and record vital signs

After training is complete, individuals will have to complete and pass a written/oral exam as well as a skills exam. Individuals have three attempts to pass before they must retrain and try to retake the exams.

Job Demands and Work Environment

Both PCAs and CNAs work in hospitals, nursing homes, outpatient clinics, and occasionally provide in-home services. For both, the work environment is very similar, as are the work hours, which can include overnight and weekends. However, what sets a CNA and PCA apart the most are the job demands. CNAs are considered to be a low entry medical worker, whereas PCAs are essentially caregivers. CNA’s perform more medical oriented tasks than PCA’s who are focused on assisting patients with comfort.

Planning for the Future as a CNA or PCA

Both job choices offer quality care to patients and can be used as stepping stones when trying to advance in the medical field. In terms of salary and planning for the future, CNAs are capable of making a higher salary annually, with registerednursing.com listing the earning potential of CNAs as ranging from $22,000 to $36,000 a year. PCAs usually earn less, with an estimated annual salary ranging from $17,897 to $25,530. CNAs and PCAs are crucial jobs when it comes to providing one-on-one care to patients. Despite their differences, CNAs and PCAs have a common goal: to provide comfort and attention to all of their patients.