Patient care technicians (PCTs) are essential to the medical industry because they work behind the scenes to take care of the technical details that make a huge difference in patients' lives. Working as a PCT can be a stepping stone toward becoming a registered nurse (RN).
Health care jobs are in demand, as it is projected to have more growth (16 percent between 2020 and 2030) than any other industry, with the addition of 2.6 million new jobs . A career in health care can also be rewarding, especially if you enjoy interacting with and caring for patients on a daily basis.
Let’s take a closer look at what PCTs do, and the skills and requirements needed to become one.
Patient care technicians are medical professionals who provide daily care for patients. Under the supervision of a registered nurse or nursing team, they assist with taking vital signs, helping to move patients around a clinic, and more.
Their ultimate goal is to make sure the patient feels comfortable and nurtured in a health care setting, by communicating any changes in the patient's medical condition and potential issues to the nurse. Specific duties include:
Providing emotional support for patients and their families
Collecting blood, urine, and stool samples and delivering them to the lab
Checking vital signs, like temperature, pulse, and blood pressure
Conducting certain medical tests and recording results
Serving meals to patients and monitoring their food and beverage intake
Reporting changes in a patient's condition to the nurse or medical team
Escorting patients for an x-ray or when getting discharged from the clinic
Helping patients with exercise and mobility, such as getting out of bed and to the bathroom
While the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn’t have a specific listing for PCTs, it reported a median annual salary of $30,290 (about $14.56 per hour) for nursing assistants in 2021 . This number can vary based on your location, patient care setting, and experience level.
The job outlook for patient care technicians and other types of nursing assistants is promising, with a growth rate of 8 percent between 2020 and 2030, as fast as average for other occupations.
Patient care technicians can work in a variety of medical settings, including hospitals, doctor's offices, clinics, nursing homes, and home health care services. While many are generalists, there are some possible specializations if you follow this career path. Some may require extra training or education.
Monitor a patient's heart waveforms
Notify doctors and nurses when a patient's heartbeat changes
Stop and start dialysis for patients with kidney failure
Keep dialysis equipment sterile
Provide support for dialysis patients
Work regular hospital shifts, usually assigned to certain patients
Monitor vital signs
Help with wound care, catheters, gastric tubes, and IVs
Work in the fast-paced ER
Take medical histories, vital signs, and important information from patients
Assist doctors and nurses with exams
Provide support for patients in mental hospitals or those with substance use disorders
Help stabilize behavior
Assist with basic daily living needs
Draw blood for testing
Assist with transfusions
Becoming a PCT requires both technical and workplace skills. Here are the trainings and certifications you'll need for your career as a PCT.
You will need at least a high school diploma or GED to become a patient care technician. Beyond that, education and certification requirements will vary depending on the state or location you will practice in and the type of PCT you wish to pursue.
Most states will require you to complete a certified nursing assistant's training program at a community college, vocational school, or technical school. During the program, you will learn medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, safety, medical laws, medical records management, and more.
You will learn technical skills such as first aid, wound care, catheterization, and CPR. Often, you will complete an internship as part of the program to apply the skills you learned in a clinical setting. These educational programs typically require two years of full-time study.
Upon completing the program, you'll need to pass the Certified Patient Care Technician/Assistant (CPCT/A) certification exam. Some states may also require a background check and additional certifications.
Some people choose to work as a patient care technician while completing their education for another health care career. For example, if you want to become a registered nurse or go on to medical school to become a doctor, working as a PCT can help you gain clinical experience and pay for your education at the same time.
Many people pursue careers in health care because they want to help others. As a patient care technician, you will care for patients daily and contribute to saving lives. With your support, patients can get through the rough days of being sick or injured at the hospital. Developing your technical and workplace skills can build a strong foundation for this job.
Vital signs: Taking vital signs and analyzing them are essential to the job.
Anticipate patient needs: Patients can't always communicate their needs when they are ill, so you must be able to observe their behaviors and anticipate their needs.
Daily living activities: You may assist in feeding, dressing, and performing hygiene tasks for patients.
CPR and basic first aid: All medical professionals should know these skills.
EKG skills: Some PCTs may be required to take EKGs.
Safety skills: It's important to make sure a patient is safe and secure at all times, whether you're helping them from the bed to the bathroom or checking the room for possible sources of infection.
Interpersonal skills: You must enjoy working with people since you will work with patients and other medical professionals daily.
Problem-solving: When a patient has a problem, you must figure out how to fix it quickly, whether it's changing their bedding or flagging a nurse's attention for something more serious.
Communication: You will need to communicate your patient's condition with doctors and nurses daily so they can receive adequate treatment.
Patience and compassion: Many of your patients will be frustrated, upset, or angry at their situation. They may move or think slower due to an injury or illness. You must exercise patience and respect at all times.
Physical stamina: You may have to lift patients out of beds and chairs throughout the day. You'll need to be physically strong.
If you are interested in a career in health care but don't know where to begin, consider taking Vital Signs: Understanding What the Body Is Telling Us from the University of Pennsylvania. Learn about heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and pain while exploring the anatomy and physiology behind these vital signs.
Or consider Clinical Terminology for International and US Students from the University of Pittsburgh to get familiar with clinical terms and abbreviations used in verbal or written communication—a potential benefit when seeking jobs in US hospitals.
Understanding the clinical terms and abbreviations commonly used during verbal or written communication in U.S. hospitals is challenging. This course is ...
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Average time: 1 month(s)
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English Language, Clinical Experience, Vital Signs, Medical Device
1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Nursing Assistants and Orderlies, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nursing-assistants.htm." Accessed May 6, 2022.
This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.