Differences Between PCAs and CNAs

According to the US Bureau of Labour and Statistics, the number of jobs available for nursing assistants as of 2016 was about 1,564,300. Furthermore, the Bureau projects that 11% of employees, about 177,700, will change from their current occupation to become nursing assistants by 2026. A nursing assistant gives the most primary care for the disabled and the aged, whose activities are supervised by the Registered Nurse (RN).

Certified Nursing Assistants ( CNAs) and Personal Care Assistants (PCAs) are almost the same. Apart from providing medical care for the patients, they bathe and feed them. However, PCAs give other services that CNAs cannot offer like EKGs. The choice of employment as a PCA or a CNA depends on the medical needs of the patient. Dissimilarities between the two come from responsibilities, programs, work settings, the scope of practice and salaries.

CNAs and PCAs, also known as nursing aides and Patient Care Technicians (PTA) respectively, cannot be categorized in the same level as a nurse, since their levels of education vary, and they do not have the same license as licensed practical nurses. Despite the proper training PCAs get, they need a CNA certification as well, in states where PCAs require a license to practice. If you are aspiring to join the medical profession and become a Certified Nursing Assistant or Personal Care Assistant, it is essential to know the difference between the two.


To qualify for training as a certified nursing assistant, you need to have a high school diploma or GED. You can find this program in various vocational institutes, community colleges, and technical institutes.

Also, health institutes like nursing homes hospitals and care centers offer the training. Trainees are required to take 4 to 12 weeks (75 hours) of classes to be CNA nurses. CNA trainees are usually taught about infection control, administering medicines, patient communication, and medical terminologies.

In Massachusetts, CNAs need to have an HHA training which is approved by the state, apart from the CNA training. The state of Minnesota requires that you must have at least 75 hours of training, have lecturer based clinical instructions, then pass a state registered nurse assistant (SRNA) competence evaluation.

PCAs do not require certification in most cases. You only need a high school diploma. Most of the training will be acquired as you work. However, taking PCA classes is the only sure way to become employable, since this will put you ahead of the competition. You can get training in private medical institutions and community colleges.

The courses included are; basic first aid, CPR, reading vital signs like blood pressure, caring for the aged, personal hygiene and grooming, how to give medication, and how to prepare special meals for those with special requirements. Training for PCA requires 20 to 24 weeks (120 hours).

However, this varies between states. Also, to become a PCA nurse, you will have to take courses in phlebotomy and ECG. The major institute that offers PCA certification in the US is The National Association for Home Care and Hospice.

To acquire PCA certification in Minnesota, you can train online for nine modules, and certification test training should score at least 80%, covering topics like basic first aid, responsibilities, and roles of a PCA nurse, OSHA universal precaution and vulnerable child and adult treatment.

Certification Requirements

To become a CNA, you need to train for 4 to 12 weeks, qualify for the examination, which is organized by the state, and then when you pass, you obtain the certificate. A CNA candidate gets a criminal background check before certification. Also, some states require that the candidate receives a physical evaluation and disease screening.

On the other hand, becoming a Personal Care Assistant is simpler. You do not need a comprehensive health care knowledge. You only need to have excellent interpersonal and communication skills. However, the requirements for a PCA certification vary between states.

Some states require that an aspiring PCA nurse should have a CNA certification as well. Instead of the CNA certification, a PCA candidate should have cleared the first semester of the nursing clinical exam, where they learn the necessary CNA skills, or they should have worked somewhere else as a PCA. Apart from communication and interpersonal skills, an aspiring PCA will benefit from being dexterous in his or her manual activities. Most states require the PCA to have phlebotomy license or an ECG license.

Salary Differences for PCAs and CNAs

The salary structure for PCAs and CNAs vary according to the state and place of work, for example, the income a nursing aide gets in a metropolitan city is not the same as the income a Patient Care Assistant earns in a home care facility. Several sites have accumulated comprehensive information about what PCAs and CNAs earn.

According to payscale.com the average earnings of a CNA are $9.31 to $12.12 per hour, the median earnings vary from $17,691 to $31,207 yearly. Indeed.com estimates that the average mean salaries of CNAs as of October 2017 is about $24,041. The Bureau of Labour and Statistics reports that these professionals get an average earning of $27,650 and a mean income of $13.29 hourly as of May 2016. CNAs in Massachusetts will make between $12 to $15 in an hour.

Wages that PCAs earn depends on the level of experience, their employment status and whether or not they have a PCA certification. The Bureau of Labour and Statistics estimates that the average median salary of PCAs is $23,196 as of October 2017, while the hourly wages were reported to be between $8.24 to $14.78, which amounts to an annual salary of between $17,038 to $31,491 according to payscale.com.

It is not impossible to find a PCA nurse earning a yearly salary of $40,000. Most patient aides work for 40 hours a week, although some work overtime and on weekends. PCAs are paid for overtime if they work for more than 40 hours weekly. It is essential to find out whether the state you want to work in as a PCA offers PCA services for a member of a family. Medicaid sometimes pays for these services, so it is useful to know if you have qualified for these payments.

Duties and Responsibilities

A Certified Nursing Assistant is a low entry medical worker, while a PCA is a primary caregiver.

The work and responsibility of a Certified Nursing Assistant include:

  • Help bedridden, paralyzed or disabled patients to move when needed
  • Help them to perform exercises
  • Bathing and dressing wounds
  • Recording temperature
  • Answering calls
  • Measure vital signs such as blood sugar, blood pressure, and weight

They are also supposed to set up equipment and clean up after the patient has used them, observe changes in the condition of the patient, help them with toilet needs, administer medicine, and take care of infection control every day. To start practicing as a CNA, you should first register with a nursing authority like the Board of Nursing. Doing so makes it easy to manage complaints received from patients, therefore enhancing better delivery of services.

The duties of a PCA, on the other hand, include:

  • Feeding the patient
  • Pushing him or her around in a wheelchair
  • Ensuring that the patient gets food that has the nutrient which he or she is supposed to take
  • Doing laundry
  • Phlebotomy (drawing blood)
  • EKG reading
  • Taking specimens for diagnosis
  • Hooking up telemetry PTs
  • Performing basic lab work
  • Scheduling appointments
  • Providing help in the room of the patient like making the bed
  • Maintaining patients cleanliness
  • Irrigation of urinary tubes or feeding tube and
  • Running errands

Working Alternatives

Both CNAs and PCAs can get employment in hospitals, community health centers, physicians offices, and outpatient clinics and nursing homes. They also work frequently as home aides, serving ill clients or patients with other conditions who need support.

The requirements for work can be demanding for such jobs because the role requires that a nurse should be on his or her feet for long periods of time, according to the Florida Area Health Education Centre. Despite the similar career opportunities of these two professionals, there are areas where one faction is more common than the other.

Certified Nursing Assistants render their services in rehabilitation hospitals, daycare centers, assisted living facilities, hospice clinics, long-term healthcare facilities and in obstetric and pediatric departments. They are also qualified to work in home health agencies, but they can not work in critical care units.

Personal Care Assistants can get jobs in critical care units. Also, they can find work in dialysis and cancer clinics, blood banks ERs and ICUs. They work simultaneously with 4 to 5 nurses and approximately 16 patients within that time. Some PCAs prefer to carry out their care in other medical facilities, like in non-medical personnel and service agencies. However, as compared to CNAs, they have fewer options for work. Their jobs are usually in nursing homes, doctors offices and hospitals.

The Dress Code

It is vital to dress neatly and appropriately for the job you are doing. CNAs have provisions for the dressing code which they should observe. The dress code is meant to identify them as both caregiver and ambassador of the institution they are representing. Most medical institutions have their policy for what to wear at work, and wearing a uniform that is tailored specifically for that establishment might be one of the requirements.

The uniform of a CNA is a collared V-neck buttoned up shirt, with one chest pocket, and two waist pockets. The shirt should be made from a breathable fabric like cotton, and it should be comfortable to wear. Also, since the shirt can easily tear or get damaged, it should be thicker than regular shirts.

Trousers are made up of a solid darker color, and they should have a waistband to allow for maximum movement. Shoes should be closed and neutral, and more importantly, comfortable to wear especially on long shifts. Most medical staff opt for orthopedic shoes for this reason. This footwear is essential to aid in correct foot support that is needed to maintain a healthy back

Since PCAs mostly work in nursing homes, they do not require any specified clothing. Those who work in institutions might have to dress in the regalia defined by that establishment. Also, wearing a uniform is dependent on the requirements of your employer.

It is vital to wear scrubs when you are attending to a client even at his residence. Apart from identifying you as his Personal Care Assistant, it also reduces contamination and spread of infection within that residence, and as well protects you from spills that might fall on you accidentally, or from other fluids that you may encounter while attending to your client.

Distinguishing between a CNA and a PCA is difficult. Most hospitals usually use the titles interchangeably. Sometimes they are branded different names to bridge the difference between them. A PCA working in a hospital will do the same thing that a CNA does. The difference between the two professions is evident, starting from the salaries that each of them gets to the place of work where their occupations are common.

The choice of whether an institution or family wants to hire a CNA or a PCA is dependant on the medical care that the patient needs. A CNA or PCA with appropriate training will be able to recognize the signs of an emergency immediately. Some of it comes from experience, while some of it is from the training they underwent, for example identifying when someone has a stroke or the PCA being able to recognize evidence of lethal heart rhythm or signs of infractions on an EKG. The career prospects for Personal Care Assistants and Certified nursing assistants are useful in an aging society since more people will need assistance.

Better healthcare means it is easy to manage conditions that can cause early death. Some of these people will still need help to enable them to live independently and as well improve their sense of well being. It is essential to find out form a public health nurse or county accessor which career option is best for you. Doing this will help you understand what is required of you by the institution where you want to work.