Step by Step Guide to Becoming a Personal Care Aide

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Explore the steps required to become a personal care aide. From certifications, salary, and job descriptions, learn what you should know before taking the first step to become a personal care aide.

[Featured Image]:  A personal care aide attends to the needs of a patient in his home.

A personal care aide supports and assists people with physical disabilities, mental impairments, and chronic diseases in managing daily tasks, from preparing meals to getting dressed to everyday self-care activities. Many personal care aides work with elderly patients, either in a nursing home, hospital setting, or their homes. Working as a personal care aide can be a rewarding career with excellent on-the-job training and options for career growth. U.S. News & World Report ranks it as the 2nd best job without a college degree in 2022.[1] Learn more about what it takes to become a personal care aide, the salary you can expect, and how to get started.

1. Meet the educational requirements. 

The first step to securing a job as a personal care aide is ensuring you meet the educational requirements. For this role, you only need a minimum level of education, and it varies across states and different positions. Generally speaking, use the following information as a guide.  

Get a high school diploma or GED 

Most training takes place on the job, but most employers expect a high school diploma as a minimum requirement or completion of a GED. This isn’t the case for all positions though, as the right skills and qualities are considered very valuable in this field. 

Degrees are not a requirement

You don’t need a degree to apply for the role of a personal care aide. However, having one in a relevant field will show your knowledge and education standard and can help you if you are looking at progressing to more senior positions.

2. Complete the required training.

As you only need a minimum level of education to enter the profession, much of the training takes place once you secure a position.  

On the job 

Essentially training is on the job, with registered nurses, employers, and supervisors taking on the role. Training covers many subjects, including health and safety, cooking for dietary restrictions, responding to emergencies, infection control, basic nutrition, and general best practices. 

Formal training

Some states require formal training instead of, or in addition to, on-the-job training, especially for those working in certified home health or hospice agencies. This may include getting a license or certification and passing a background check and competency exam. 

3. Earn certifications.

Depending on the employer, various personal care aide certifications may or may not be part of the requirements, but they will always be an advantage. Keeping up to date with professional development and looking for ways to stay ahead of other candidates is an excellent strategy for securing a job. 

CPR certification 

Working with people with health conditions means that first aid and even resuscitation may be something you have to administer. Some states require certification in this area, but even where that isn't the case, CPR training will be an advantage when applying for jobs. 

First aid certification

First aid is likely to play a part in the role of a personal care aide, given the nature of the job, so seek out training. Some employers will require official external certification. You can take courses in first aid before applying to get ahead.

4. Build the skills of a good personal care aide.  

For a role like this that asks for only minimum education, the focus is highly on skills and qualities relevant to the position. Being in a care profession requires a particular type of person who can build trusting relationships with the people they support, stay in control in stressful situations, and handle patients empathetically, even in a difficult situation. Below includes a list of must-have skills to become a personal care aide.

Personal skills 

  • Patience

  • Empathy

  • Relationship building 

  • Interpersonal and communication skills

  • Integrity

  • Time management

  • Organization

  • Physical stamina

Technical skills 

  • Housekeeping

  • Cooking

  • Technical ability

  • Medical knowledge, including first aid and CPR

  • Knowledge of lifting techniques

5. Have the tools and abilities necessary to do the job of a personal care aide.

In addition to the general skills and qualities needed, a personal care aide job description may include the need for some extra tools and abilities that you can work towards.

Reliable transportation

Personal care aides may need to travel to people’s homes as part of their work and may, on occasion have to transport patients for appointments or as part of their day-to-day care. Having reliable transport and a valid driving license is essential. 

Ability to lift at least fifty pounds

Some of the work of a personal care aide is highly physical, having to move patients, supporting them to get dressed, or performing personal-hygiene tasks. For this reason, you need a certain level of fitness, along with the ability to lift at least fifty pounds. 

Caregiver background check

Employers may conduct a caregiver background check as the role of a personal care aide involves supporting vulnerable people. Anyone with a conviction for sexual assault, violent crimes, robbery, or abuse cannot work in a caregiver role.

6. Choose where you want to work. 

Personal care aides work in various settings, making options plentiful and easy to move to new positions to gain a more comprehensive level of experience. 

Personal care home 

Many personal care aides work in care homes, hospices, or large group care settings. You will give hospice care when a patient has been given six months or less to live by their doctor.

Small group setting 

Some personal care aides work in small groups, supporting clients in daycare centers. Some work specifically with individual clients, and others work with groups on a shift rotation. 

Individual homes 

Some personal care aide roles, particularly in rural communities, occur in the patient’s home. This may be with a single patient or, most likely, with several patients, they visit throughout the day.

Salary and career outlook

According to Glassdoor the average personal care aide's salary is $33,433 as of May 2022 [2]. The career outlook is excellent, with the industry expected to grow by 33 percent between 2020 and 2030, which is much faster than average [3].

Career progression opportunities are good, with a personal care aide position providing the experience for moving onto more senior positions, such as senior caregiver and care manager.

Getting started 

To start your career as a personal care aide, finish high school and consider gaining some certifications such as first aid and CPR. You can also take relevant courses to maximize your chances of being offered a position, such as Foundations for Assisting in Home Care offered through the State University of New York on Coursera.

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Foundations for Assisting in Home Care

This course is intended as a self-study course for those interested in exploring a career as a Home Health Aide or Personal Care Aide.

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Article sources

1. U.S. News & World Report, “Best Jobs Without a College Degree: 2022, https://money.usnews.com/careers/best-jobs/rankings/best-jobs-without-a-college-degree." Accessed June 7, 2022

2.  Glassdoor. “Personal care aide salary statistics,  https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/us-personal-care-aide-salary-SRCH_IL.0,2_IN1_KO3,21.htm?clickSource=searchBtn.” Accessed May 17, 2022.

3. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Home help and personal care aide, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/home-health-aides-and-personal-care-aides.htm#tab-6.” Accessed May 17, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

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