Patient Care Technician Career Guide

What is a Patient Care Technician?

A patient care technician is a medical worker whose primary responsibilities are to provide direct care to patients in hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, and other care facilities.

Patient care technicians help with everything from bathing and dressing to helping in walking to assisting in using the restroom. They play a pivotal role in ensuring that patients make progress toward regaining their strength and living a healthy life once again.

What are the Duties of a Patient Care Technician?

Patient care technicians are much like medical assistants and nurse’s assistants in that they have a wide-range of job duties involving providing direct care services to patients. As noted earlier, some of these job duties include very basic care, such as helping a patient with bathing or dressing. Additionally, patient care technicians are trained to help patients move from their bed to a wheelchair or to a walker, and likewise, they understand how to help patients transition from a wheelchair to the toilet, and so forth.

Beyond these very basic care tasks, patient care technicians are typically responsible for basic medical procedures. This might include taking a patient’s pulse or monitoring their blood pressure. In some instances, these workers are also responsible for overseeing medications and ensuring that the patient is getting the proper medicine in the proper dosages. If a patient is bedridden, it is the job of patient care technicians to move the patient periodically to help prevent the development of bedsores.

Another primary duty for patient care technicians is of a housekeeping nature. They often change the bedding, towels, and other linens. They are often responsible for cleaning and sanitizing rooms once they are vacated as well.

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A different task that usually falls to a person in this position is to accompany patients to appointments in different parts of the facility. For example, if a patient needs to go to the radiology department for X-rays, it is typically a patient care technician that takes them to the appointment, either by pushing them in a bed or a wheelchair, or simply walking with the patient if they are able to do so.

Since workers in this field perform their duties under the supervision of a doctor and/or nurse, there might be other tasks that they are asked to complete. For example, if a patient is experiencing a lot of stress or is distraught due to their condition, a doctor or nurse might ask a patient care technician to provide moral support. This might take the form of simply sitting with the patient and talking to them, offering moral support, or even involve playing games, if the patient is able.

What Do You Learn in a Patient Care Technician Degree Program?

Patient care technician degree programs typically include, but are not limited to, the following courses and learning goals:

  • CPR – Since patient care technicians are in direct contact with patients, they must be certified in CPR.
  • Basic first aid – Skills like dressing a wound or applying pressure to slow down bleeding are learned in basic first aid courses.
  • Medical terminology – Degree programs in this field provide students with ample training to learn basic and advanced medical terms such that students understand instructions from doctors and nurses.
  • Anatomy – To work as a patient care technician, students must learn about the basics of human anatomy, including the structure and build of physiological systems, like the respiratory and circulatory systems.
  • Physiology – Coursework in physiology focuses on how human systems function. For example, students would develop an understanding of how the different parts of the heart work together to pump blood throughout the body.
  • Drawing blood – An essential aspect of a patient care technician’s job is to be able to collect samples from the patient, like drawing blood.
  • Medical reporting – Patient care technician programs often include a component on medical reporting, which trains students in how to properly denote details like the patient’s vital signs or their current state of health in their medical file.
  • Nutrition – A primary role of patient care technicians is to provide meals to patients, and in some cases, help them eat. Having an understanding of nutrition and the role of calories, nutrients, vitamins, and so forth in physical health is important.
  • Psychology – Students in this degree program usually have to take at least a basic psychology course to better understand why people behave the way that they do.

What are the Requirements to Become a Patient Care Technician?

Educational Requirements

Among medical careers, patient care technicians have among the lowest minimum educational requirements.

First, workers must have at least a high school diploma and have completed a patient care technician program. These programs can be completed in as little as two to three months, and are often provided directly by hospitals that have positions to be filled. In rare cases, even high school students might be able to train as a patient care technician, that way when they graduate, they are able to enter the workforce.

While in these training programs, students undertake both classroom learning as well as hands-on training. For example, students might study how to access a vein with a needle in a classroom environment, and then actually perform a blood draw on a patient to get practice.

As another example, students might learn how to take a patient’s pulse or how to listen for a heartbeat using a stethoscope in class, and then perform those tasks in a clinical setting while being observed by a supervisor.

Once hired, many patient care technicians undergo some degree of on-the-job training to acquire further knowledge and skills that are necessary for the job.

Because working as a patient care technician is an entry-level job, these training programs and learning experiences are geared toward preparing students to enter the workforce quickly, but with the requisite knowledge and skills needed to fulfill their job duties with competence.

Certification Requirements

Certification as a patient care technician is usually voluntary, though some employers (and some positions within certain employment settings) might require workers to be certified. There are many different types of certifications for patient care technicians, each of which focuses on a specific type of care or population of patients. For example, one might earn a certification as an emergency room technician to assist doctors and nurses address life-threatening cases in the ER. Likewise, one can be certified in areas like infection control or electrocardiography.

Certification usually requires some degree of continuing education, with classroom work and clinical experiences as principal components. Students must also pass a certification examination at the conclusion of their studies. Multiple organizations offer certifications in this field, including the American Medical Certification Association and the National Health Career Association.

What Does It Take to Become a Patient Care Technician?

To be successful in the position of patient care technician, one must possess a variety of hard and soft skills, personality traits, and qualities. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Understanding of medical terminology – Patient care technicians must be able to understand written and verbal instructions from doctors, nurses, and other medical staff. They must also possess the ability to answer basic medical questions posed by their patients.
  • Ability to perform basic medical procedures – Skills like CPR, basic first aid, and using medical equipment like a stethoscope are necessary to fulfill one’s duties as a patient care technician.
  • Ability to perform activities of daily living – Some patients will not be able to brush their own teeth, feed themselves, bathe themselves, use the restroom on their own, and so forth. Patient care technicians need to have the ability and willingness to perform these activities on behalf of their patients.
  • Medical ethics – Workers in this field need to be well versed in the ethical standards of medical practice, including confidentiality and policies and procedures that govern the security of patient data.
  • Teamwork – Working in a medical environment requires workers to be ready, willing, and able to contribute to a team effort to provide the best care to patients.
  • Strong communication skills – Patient care technicians must be able to communicate well in both verbal and written forms, with colleagues and with patients.
  • Bedside manner – It takes special skills to be able to care for and comfort someone that is ill, injured, or dying. Having the ability to work with patients in a way that is caring is an absolute must.
  • Physical stamina – Patient care technicians often work long hours standing on their feet. Having the physical ability to work double shifts, lift and move patients, and other physically demanding tasks is a required quality for workers in this field.
  • Compassion – Being able to empathize with patients, their condition, and the psychological, physical, and emotional effects it has on them and their family is a necessary trait for workers in this field to do their job well.

What are the Pros and Cons of Being a Patient Care Technician?

Patient care technicians enjoy many benefits from their work. These include:

  • Various job opportunities – Patient care technicians might work in a large hospital, a small rehabilitation center, in a nursing home, or even in a hospice center. With so many different types of work available, well-qualified patient care technicians often have little difficulty finding a job.
  • Continued employment growth – In addition to being able to work in various types of settings, patient care technicians should enjoy robust employment opportunities for the near-term.
  • Exciting work environment – For patient care technicians, no two days at work are the same, which helps make the job more exciting from one day to the next.
  • Helping others – Perhaps the greatest benefit of being a patient care technician is that you have a direct hand in helping other people recover from illness and injury.
  • Opportunities for advancement – Because of their training and job experience, patient care technicians typically have many opportunities for career advancement.
  • Achievable education requirements – Many positions in this line of work require just a one-year certificate or two-year associate’s degree to begin working.

Working as a patient care technician does have some drawbacks, though. These include:

  • Long and unpredictable work hours – From working double shifts to working nights and weekends, patient care technicians often have very tough work schedules that can negatively impact everything from their social life to their ability to sleep.
  • Feelings of loss – Not all patients are able to recover and survive. Dealing with the loss of patients and experiencing the loss that the patient’s loved ones feel can be overwhelming at times.
  • Low pay – Patient care technicians have among the lowest wages in the medical field. Even with years and years of experience and additional education, pay is quite low compared to other occupations.

How Much Does a Patient Care Technician Make a Year?

According to PayScale, as of April 2018, a patient care technician can expect to earn an average yearly salary of around $30,000 per year. However, this salary represents an average for technicians that have several years of experience on the job.

For entry-level positions, the average annual salary is much lower, at around $19,000 per year. Of course, more experienced workers can expect to earn higher wages. After 20 years, the average yearly wages for a patient care technician is about $46,000 per year.

How Much Does a Patient Care Technician Make an Hour?

When broken down to an hourly rate, the average patient care technician makes about $13.04 per hour, according to an April 2018 report from PayScale. Unlike many medical occupations, the hourly wages for this job are not all that high.

Also of note is the fact that the pay band is not as wide as one finds for other medical positions. For example, the range of hourly wages for patient care technicians ranges from just $10 per hour to $17 per hour. Naturally, entry-level positions will offer lower wages while more experienced patient care technicians can command hourly earnings closer to the higher end of the pay scale.

What is the Job Outlook for Patient Care Technicians?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for medical assistants, nursing assistants, and orderlies (of which patient care technicians are a part) is fairly strong. As of 2016, the BLS projected a growth rate of 11 percent through the year 2026, which is higher than average, but lags behind other medically related occupations.

The largest reason why the demand for patient care technicians is expected to remain strong is the fact that the population is aging and that so many Baby Boomers are getting to the age at which hospitalizations and living in rehabilitation or nursing facilities is necessary.

What are the Advancement Opportunities for Patient Care Technicians?

Working as a patient care technician is an excellent means of getting on-the-job training and work experience that is beneficial for moving into different medical related jobs down the road. For example, in some facilities, a patient care technician could participate in special training or continuing education in order to specialize working with a particular kind of patient, like children, the elderly, psychiatric patients, and so forth.

Another option for advancement is to transition into working as a medical assistant or a nursing assistant. These occupations require many of the same job duties, in addition to clerical duties like maintaining patient records, scheduling appointments, and so forth.

Of course, with the job experience one gets as a patient care technician, there are opportunities to advance into a position as a nurse. Additional schooling would be required, but the foundational learning and experiences that are available as a patient care technician would make the transition into nursing a much smoother one.

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