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What Is the Difference Between a Patient Care Technician and a Certified Nursing Assistant?
You can take many directions in your healthcare career, and you may find that some job options offer similar roles but different tasks. One such example is a patient care technician (PCT) and certified nursing assistant (CNA).
Patient care technicians vs. CNA roles have subtle but significant differences. It’s important to understand what makes these jobs distinct regarding job duties, educational requirements, salaries, and career outlook.
Learn details about what each role entails to help you decide which career path is right for you.
What Is a Patient Care Technician?
Patient care technicians (PCTs) work at patients’ bedsides, taking care of basic needs such as meals and hygiene—similar to a CNA’s duties—but PCTs usually have more training that allows them to complete other tasks as well. For example, under the supervision of doctors and RNs, PCTs may be responsible for some medical or medication-related care.
PCT vs. CNA Job Duties
Job descriptions should not use PCT and CNA designations as if they are the same. Their primary roles may be similar, but their day-to-day tasks differ.
What Are the Primary Job Duties for CNAs?
Under the supervision of licensed staff, CNAs perform patient-centered tasks that include:
- Taking patients’ blood pressure
- Checking heart rate and pulse
- Assisting with bathing and toileting
- Managing and monitoring food intake
- Assisting with dressing and exercising
- Providing social interactions and support
- Documenting basic care activities
What Are the Primary Job Duties for PCTs?
The day-to-day work of a PCT could include any of the tasks expected of a CNA. In addition, PCTs may:
- Administer specific medications
- Draw blood for lab work
- Operate some medical monitoring equipment
- Begin or discontinue specific catheters
- Perform and manage wound care
- Remove stitches or staples
- Administer electrocardiograms
- Other duties as allowed
PCT vs. CNA Educational Requirements
While CNA training forms the foundation of PCT training, individuals looking to become certified as a PCT must complete additional training. For example, to earn the NCMSPCT designation, you must hold a current CNA license in addition to receiving EKG, venipuncture, and skin puncture training.
What Are the Requirements to Become a PCT?
To become a patient care technician, you can begin with CNA training and gain other on-the-job skills. Generally, a certified nursing assistant may receive additional training that enables them to perform skills authorized by a healthcare facility.
This provision for additional training and skills is where PCT programs come in. Some programs only allow those who have already trained as CNAs to enroll. PCT programs vary in length depending on the state, but they usually take at least several months to complete.
Some employers may opt to provide the required training and validation of competence required to elevate their CNAs to PCTs.
Those training to become PCTs will learn basic medical terminology and anatomy/physiology. They will also receive hands-on instruction in procedures expected of PCTs and will usually need to complete an externship. Students must practice these skills for a specific number of hours before certification.
What Are the Requirements to Become a CNA?
Before you can become a CNA, you need to have your high school diploma or GED. Florida requires that CNAs either complete a certified training course and pass a competency exam or challenge the exam without training. CNAs must be 18 years or older and able to pass a background check.
Becoming a CNA generally takes about 10 weeks of combined classroom and clinical training, although there are four- to six-week programs that can put you on the fast track to CNA certification.
PCT vs. CNA Salary and Career Outlook
While patient care technicians typically earn more money than certified nursing assistants due to their additional training and increased job responsibilities, both careers can offer good salaries and employment opportunities.
What Do Job Growth and Salary Potential Look Like for PCTs?
PCTs in Florida can make an annual salary of around $49,000. Hospitals often seek to hire PCTs because the medical needs of patients in hospitals are generally greater than those served by skilled nursing facilities and home health services. By taking on routine medical tasks, hospital PCTs can free up RNs to focus on higher-level duties. Kidney care centers also hire many PCTs because they can assist with dialysis treatments.
Working with RNs and other healthcare professionals can give PCTs clarity about what they want in their careers. A PCT may decide they would like to continue with nursing training by completing a PCT to LPN training program.
What Do Job Growth and Salary Potential Look Like for CNAs?
A CNA position is a great entry-level introduction to healthcare careers. CNAs have the chance to work with a variety of other nursing professionals, like PCTs, LPNs, RNs, and ARNPs. The role also exposes workers to non-nursing healthcare fields, such as phlebotomy, physical therapy, and medicine. If you think you want to go into healthcare but don’t know where to start, dipping your toe in as a CNA can help.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), CNAs in Florida earned $29,840 on average in 2021. Meanwhile, the CNA profession is experiencing rapid growth as baby boomers hit their senior years, requiring more medical and long-term care. The BLS projects the number of CNA jobs in the U.S. will grow by 8% from 2020 to 2030. This job growth will expand opportunities for both PCTs and CNAs.
Is CNA or PCT the Better Career for You?
Although PCTs have greater job scope and make slightly more money, some CNAs prefer to remain CNAs. Being a certified nursing assistant is excellent for people who enjoy the social and emotional aspects of healthcare.
CNAs may have a greater opportunity to focus on their relationships with their patients without taking on too many technical responsibilities. They may also enjoy working for organizations that don’t often hire PCTs, such as nursing homes that tend to utilize more CNAs.
Increased skills and responsibilities are a draw for CNAs who become PCTs, or for individuals who want to train to become a PCT from the start. You might also choose to become a PCT if you have your sights set on becoming an LPN or RN or might want to explore the technical aspects of patient care procedures. Some like taking on more of the responsibilities required for patient recovery.
No matter your professional goals, beginning your healthcare career with CNA training puts you in the ideal position to pursue whichever CNA career path is right for you.