There are few professions that have a lineage as noble as the healthcare field — the Hippocratic Oath is, after all, nearly two thousand years old. Facing the growing medical needs of an aging population, the healthcare profession continues to expand. It has bucked recent economic trends of job stagnation and instead hints at growth for the next decade at least.
Because the medical career path is often long and expensive, it has become obvious that increasing the number of doctors alone will not meet the demand of coming years. Instead, hospitals and clinics have come to rely on specialized workers to bolster patient care capabilities. The past decade has seen an explosion of new roles within the healthcare field. The education levels of employees range between a nurse and a receptionist.
Filling that skill gap is a position often described as a Patient Care Technician. The term itself can be pretty nebulous — individual states have different rules and regulations that govern which duties a Patient Care Technician is allowed to perform. The variability in those rules often extends all the way to the level of individual hospitals.
While there might be variability in the duties assigned to a Patient Care Technician, there’s an almost universal need for well-qualified candidates to fill those positions. Hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare facilities rely on PCTs, which means that the long-term outlook for this field is very encouraging.
What Is a Patient Care Technician?
Although the Patient Care Technician position is relatively new, PCTs can perform a wide variety of tasks. This can include managing patient hygiene, removing catheters, taking blood, and more. On the most basic level, the PCT functions as support for doctors and nurses — and that support takes many forms.
In some ways, it might be easier to ask, “What is a patient care technician not?” Obviously, a PCT is not a doctor and becoming a PCT does not require over eight years of schooling. A PCT is also not a nurse. Where this might take a little more explanation is when it comes to separating Patient Care Technicians from Medical Assistants and Certified Nursing Assistants — these are all relatively new positions in the healthcare field.
Distinguishing the Differences
A Medical Assistant is responsible for clerical or secretarial services in a healthcare setting. Depending on the clinic or hospital, an MA may take blood pressure readings or draw blood. However, this is less common. More often, the MA is responsible for greeting patients, taking billing information, helping patients schedule follow-up appointments, and other clerical and secretarial tasks. This is not to say that MA’s don’t have meaningful interactions with patients. They are often the first and last impression of the clinic, hospital, or living care facility —meaning the Medical Assistants can set the tone of the patient’s entire experience.
Patient Care Technicians, on the other hand, are more actively involved in the healthcare of the patient. Sometimes, the PCT will take notes while the doctor speaks to the patient. Other times, the PCT will take blood pressure, or accomplish other patient-centered tasks. In some cases, it can be as simple as rolling a patient to prevent bedsores. PCTs focus on the patient and generally operate under the supervision of the nursing staff.
A Certified Nursing Assistant is the closest thing to a sister-occupation for the Patient Care Technician. In some states, PCTs are required to get a Certified Nursing Assistant degree before taking the additional classes required to become a Patient Care Technician. In other states, the roles are nearly indistinguishable — CNAs will perform many of the same tasks, complete most of the same training, and receive roughly the same financial compensation. In many cases, a PCT certificate is similar to continuing education for a CNA, so fulfilling Certified Nursing Assistant requirements is often a prerequisite for a PCT certification.
So if you’re asking, “What is a patient care technician,” the answer will depend on the state and the facility. However, the broad answer is that patient care technician duties involve low-level and routine interactions with patients.
It’s About More Than Patient Care Technician Salary
In many ways, healthcare careers all come down to helping people. For a lot of people, this is rewarding enough. For others, the healthcare field is a robust industry with many great career paths and different salaries. Because there are so many healthcare career options, career outlook is often a factor. A portion of this outlook comes down to Patient Care Technician salary and the ability to earn a comfortable living.
For Patient Care Technicians, salary varies widely depending on state. According to anonymous employees surveyed on Glassdoor.com, PCTs on average may make between $10-$20 per hour. Alaska is the top-paying state for starting PCTs, offering roughly $16 per hour. Nevada, the third highest state, offered somewhere around $12 per hour. Of course, these are averages, so there will be some openings which pay significantly less and significantly more — and those will vary by state.
To get a better idea of the salary on any given job, try to determine the Patient Care Technician job descriptions used at the facility or institution with the job posting. Generally, the wages will be higher if the PCT has more direct contact with patients — though it should be noted that this certainly is not always the case.
The bottom line is that there’s currently a high demand for Patient Care Technicians because of their versatility and affordability. This means that this career path will continue to be relatively robust, even given certain tumultuous economic conditions.
Getting the Education Needed to Become a Patient Care Technician
Because the job duties of a Patient Care Technician are so centered on the patient, most of the education you receive to become a PCT revolves around patient care. Most individuals interested in becoming a PCT pursue it because they have previous direct patient experience or because they have already completed training as a Certified Nursing Assistant.
As either a CNA or an EMT, your education period will be quite short. Typically, the most effective programs include hands-on, experiential learning. When it comes to the healthcare field, it’s important to learn by doing. This will prepare you for when you come face to face with your first patients — you’ll feel comfortable and ready to go.
As part of the education process, Patient Care Technicians need to become certified. This is where the education needed to become a Patient Care Technician is put to the test. Your education should prepare you for the PCT certification process, but in the end, you’ll be given a test by a third party — the accredited body known as the NCCA.
The certification test is known as the National Certified Patient Care Technician exam. The test itself usually takes a couple of hours to complete, but upon successful completion, you’ll be ready to begin your career as a Patient Care Technician. To remain certified, the NCCA requires PCTs to complete an additional 14 education hours per year.
This certification is necessary to keep the Patient Care Technician a well-respected and useful position within the healthcare field. It ensures all PCTs have the same minimum level of education to be useful members of the team in a wide variety of settings.
Patient Care Technician Duties
When you go in for a PCT job interview, there will come a time when you’ll be asked if you have any questions. One go-to question is always to ask the interviewer about his or her best day on the job and his or her worst day on the job. This will give you an idea of the range of activities and duties you’re likely to encounter should you be hired. Listen carefully for the tasks involved.
Of course, there will be other duties based on the unique needs of the healthcare facility. It may have to suffice to say that the Patient Care Technician is there to fill the health care facility’s needs, at the direction of doctors or nurses. This versatility is another reason Patient Care Technicians have a bright career outlook.
What to Expect – the Patient Care Technician Job Description
The road to becoming a Patient Care Technician isn’t always easy. As with any healthcare occupation, the education process places a strong emphasis on creating knowledgeable workers who are able to handle situations that are both routine and extreme. You’ll likely need to take classes in emergency situations, anatomy, and ethics of the healthcare system. While a well-rounded education program can make this process easier, there’s no question that the training is fairly demanding.
Much of that demand is by design. Long hours, emergency situations, and arduous tasks are all part of the Patient Care Technician job description — but so are rewarding patient interactions and positive impacts in the lives of those patients. The classes you’ll take will prepare you for the trials and tribulations, but they will also prepare you for the more rewarding aspects of this particular career path. There’s no doubt that Patient Care Technicians have the capability of leaving a positive impression and making an impact in the lives of patients.
That commitment to patient care and to the patient experience is a vital part of the Patient Care Technician job description. For employers in the assisted living sector, this may mean the job description will involve moving patients, assisting patients will wheelchairs, and even ensuring patient nutrition. In that setting, the job description may also involve taking care of general hygiene and recording vital signs — and being sure to report deviations to the nurse.
The job description for a Patient Care Technician at a hospital might look somewhat different. The description will include some similar duties, such as ambulation and patient hygiene. However, in a hospital setting, the emphasis may be on dialysis care, catheter removal, and venipuncture. Patient Care Technicians may also be assigned to Code Blue teams — they must assist the doctors and nurses as needed and run for necessary supplies during Code Blues.
In this way, Patient Care Technicians fill a patient-centered utility role, assisting the doctors and nurses with necessary tasks. So is there a typical day for a PCT? A typical day for a Patient Care Technician at a hospital might be fast-paced, while things might be pretty routine at an assisted living facility. Employed Patient Care Technicians will note that this dynamic might be different based on the city or state you’re working in.
Luckily, the certificate you receive to be a Patient Care Technician is recognized across the United States. The duties this certificate allows you to perform might vary state by state, but the power of the certificate remains basically the same. The education needed to become a Patient Care Technician is almost always worth the investment.
There’s no doubt that a Patient Care Technician offers a rewarding career path. Those rewards come in a variety of forms: relative job and career security and positively impacting the lives and experiences of patients. The growth of the healthcare system means that the career outlook for this particular field is large and healthy. The aging population in the United States — and the industry’s continued search for efficiencies — means that Patient Care Technicians will likely have a place in healthcare for quite some time to come.
Because PCTs are so versatile, the impact they create varies state-by-state and facility-by-facility. What doesn’t change, however, is the emphasis on direct patient contact. Whether that’s keeping a patient comfortable or drawing a patient’s blood for testing, there is a great deal of interaction between the two parties. Much of that interaction is entrusted to the PCT.
This interaction means that a PCT is an essential part of the healthcare process, making for a meaningful career path. Your work will matter, not only to you, but to the lives you touch.
The favorable career outlook for Patient Care Technicians also means that there are plenty of education options to choose from. Many of these career education programs offer fast paths to a certification — and under the right circumstances these programs can be quite fruitful. It’s also important to choose a program that offers on-site, hands-on training.
If you’re looking for a hands-on program that will give you the certification you need, check out Vista College’s Patient Care Tech program.