How to Become a
Personal Care Assistant

Female nurse tacking care of an old lady in a wheelchair

Do you have what it takes to become a Personal Care Assistant? Find out typical skills, tasks and responsibilities this job entails, as well as any educational or training experience you may need.

What Does a Personal Care Assistant Do?

A Personal Care Assistant (PCA) assists individuals with a physical or mental disability with daily tasks. These aids help their clients with getting around, personal hygiene and meal preparation. PCAs work in their clients’ homes, in hospices, adult day and senior centers and residential care facilities.

Typical responsibilities of a Personal Care Assistant include:

  • Helping with personal hygiene, such as bathing and brushing teeth

  • Preparing meals

  • Administering medication

  • Helping clients get in and out of bed

  • Assisting with exercises prescribed by a medical professional

Personal Care Assistant Skills

It is more important for a Personal Care Assistant to have soft skills rather than technical skills. These individuals work with people that are elderly, sick and/or have a mental disability; they may be in extreme pain, confused, angry or unable to speak or comprehend others. As such, this position requires individuals who are empathetic, ethical, helpful and calm. In addition, Personal Care Assistants must be able to be in good physical health themselves, as they may need to be on their feet throughout their shift, may be required to help patients move around or get in or out of bed and may need to carry heavy objects, such as lift wheelchairs or oxygen devices.

Other key Personal Care Assistant skills include:

  • Ability to follow directions

  • Excellent communication skills

  • Active listening skills

  • Cooking

  • Driving

How Do You Become a Personal Care Assistant

Education and Training

Most job openings for Personal Care Assistants had no requirements; most employers did not even require a high school diploma. There is a voluntary certification for Personal Care Aids offered by The National Association of Home Care and Hospice that can help in securing a job. This certification requires the completion of 75-hours or training and the successful completion of a written exam.

Certain employers or states require Personal Care Assistants to complete safety or emergency techniques. As well, The Department of Health Services in some states requires applicants to complete a Personal Care Assistant Certification; typically these requirements will be listed in the job description.

Finding a job

The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts a higher than average demand for Personal Care Assistants in the next eight years, with a 26 percent increase in jobs, totaling 60,110 new jobs created through 2024. An increasingly aging population will lead to more demand for PCAs.

Although there are no strict requirements for most Personal Care Assistant jobs, JobHero has a library of resume samples to help you decide what hard and soft skills and experience to include on your PCA resume.

When searching for Personal Care Assistant job openings, remember to review and meet any safety or health training or certifications requirements

A Personal Care Assistant cover letter is a must to state what makes you a trusted and competent Personal Care Assistant.

Insights from a Personal Care Assistant

Debra Benson, a former Personal Care Assistant, provides her thoughts on this career choice.

What is the common career path for a Personal Care Assistant?

A Personal Care Assistant career path leads from here to a License Vocational Nurse and then to possibly a Registered Nurse (RN).

What should someone consider before becoming a Personal Care Assistant?

As a PCA, you will be exposed to biohazards.

What type of person excels in this job?

A compassionate and patient person will excel in this type of job.

What are some of the most important skills for a Personal Care Assistant to have?

As a PCA, there are hard and soft caring skills that are needed to care for patients with various disabilities. These skills include:
Be able to assist patient with ambulation.
Assist with (ROM) range of motion.
Assist with transferring a patient in a wheelchair or bed to chair.
Assist with oral care, dentures, natural teeth or gum care.
Giving a bath at the bedside; giving a bath or shower.
Give a tub or sponge bath
Nail care (except with diabetic patients).
Finger or toes to soak, file or trim.
Shampoo hair in the bed, in the sink, bathtub or shower.
Help prevents the skin breakdown.
Provide a bedpan, urinal, bedside commode, or assist the patient to the bathroom.
Provide special cleaning to patients with external dwelling catheter or catheter.
Monitor a patient fluid balance.
Perform intake or output measurement.
Change linens.
And always practice universal precautions.

What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of being a Personal Care Assistant?

The most rewarding aspect of being a personal care assistant is finding fulfillment.

How Much Do Personal Care Assistants Get Paid?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that Personal Care Assistants make a median yearly salary of $20,100. The highest paid PCAs make $28,600, and the lowest paid make $16,900. This salary varies depending on if the PCAs work for one client in their home, or have various that they work with in facilities.

Top 10 States for a Personal Care Assistant’s Salary

Personal Care Assistants in the following states make the highest median salary in the US.

    Alaska

    $31,700

    North Dakota

    $29,900

    Massachusetts

    $27,100

    Connecticut

    $25,500

    District of Columbia

    $25,000

    New Jersey

    $23,900

    Washington

    $23,800

    New York

    $23,200

    Minnesota

    $23,200

    Maryland

    $23,000

    Personal Care Assistant Resources

    For more information about becoming or working as a Personal Care Assistant, follow these sources.

    On the Web

    Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute
    Works to improve the lives of people who need home or residential care--by improving the lives of the workers who provide that care.

    Institute for Professional Care Education
    A certification course is designed for individuals seeking to gain employment as a senior care provider.

    Blogs

    Best Home Care
    A helpful blog with tips on taking care of home care clients.

    Evergreen Private Care
    A resource for both PCAs and their clients.

    Books

    The Personal Care Attendant Guide: The Art of Finding, Keeping, or Being One
    Gives current and prospective attendants vital information and real-life examples to help them succeed in this demanding work environment.

    Personal Care Assistants Handbook
    Training material that will help you do your job as a personal care attendant.

    The information in this article comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job postings and other online sources.