What Is a Patient Care Technician (and How Do I Become One)?

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Patient care technicians help nurses keep patients comfortable and healthy. Learn how to get started on this career path.

[Featured image] A patient care technician stands next to her colleague in a medical office.

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 [1]. 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.

What is a patient care technician?

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

Patient care technician salary

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 [1]. 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.

Types of patient care technicians

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. 

Telemetry technician

  • Perform EKGs 

  • Monitor a patient's heart waveforms

  • Notify doctors and nurses when a patient's heartbeat changes 

Dialysis technician 

  • Stop and start dialysis for patients with kidney failure 

  • Keep dialysis equipment sterile 

  • Provide support for dialysis patients 

Hospital patient care technician 

  • Work regular hospital shifts, usually assigned to certain patients 

  • Monitor vital signs 

  • Help with wound care, catheters, gastric tubes, and IVs 

Emergency room technician 

  • Work in the fast-paced ER 

  • Take medical histories, vital signs, and important information from patients 

  • Assist doctors and nurses with exams 

Rehabilitation technician 

  • Provide support for patients in mental hospitals or those with substance use disorders 

  • Help stabilize behavior 

  • Assist with basic daily living needs

Phlebotomist

  • Draw blood for testing

  • Assist with transfusions 

How to become a patient care technician

Becoming a PCT requires both technical and workplace skills. Here are the trainings and certifications you'll need for your career as a PCT.

Educational requirements

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.

Specialized training

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. 

Certification

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. 

Read more: Your Guide to Nursing Degrees and Certifications

Patient care technician skills

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.

Technical skills:

  • 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.  

Workplace skills:

  • 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. 

Get started with Coursera

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.

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Article sources

1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Nursing Assistants and Orderlies, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nursing-assistants.htm." Accessed May 6, 2022.

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