Personal Care Assistant: Job Description and Information

Research the requirements to become a personal care assistant. Learn about the job description and duties, and read the step-by-step process to start a career in personal care assistance.

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Do I Want to Be a Personal Care Assistant?

Personal care assistants work in private homes or care facilities to help clients with common tasks, such as bathing, grooming and using toilet facilities, as well as dressing, cooking and house cleaning. Most personal care assistants work for private clients, home health providers or agencies that offer services to senior citizens and the disabled.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), personal care assistants don't perform health-related services for clients, which distinguishes them from the related profession of home health aides. Some states, however, have government-funded programs in which personal care assistants provide some health-related services for clients under the direction of licensed healthcare professionals. This occupation can be emotionally and physically demanding. Assistants must sometimes move and lift patients or work with those who have communicable illnesses. In addition, they are sometimes hired to care for individuals who suffer from mental health impairments and may become violent.

Job Requirements

Educational requirements for aspiring personal care assistants vary by state and employer. Some positions require only on-the-job training, while others may call for more formal training. Personal care assistants employed by government agencies may need to meet training, certification and other requirements. The table below shows the core qualifications for personal care assistants:

Common Requirements
Degree Level No degree is required, though short-term training may be necessary*
Certification Some states require certification**; some employers require CPR certification***
Experience None, entry-level*
Key Skills Compassion, physical endurance, punctuality, people skills*
Additional Requirements Some employers may require a criminal background check, drug screening, valid driver's license and vehicle insurance***

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **State government websites, ***Job postings in November 2012.

Step 1: Get Training

Aspiring personal care assistants typically don't need formal education, though most assistants possess a high school diploma or equivalent. Personal care assistants typically learn the necessary skills through on-the-job training. The BLS notes that some states mandate training through community colleges, technical schools or service providers.

Some schools offer courses or certificate programs for aspiring personal care assistants. These programs typically include classroom and clinical components. Students might be required to take a physical exam and a tuberculosis test and obtain appropriate immunizations. In addition, some schools require prospective students to pass a criminal background check and drug test. Students might need to complete a course in CPR as part of their training.

Personal care assistant programs can teach students how to groom and bathe clients, control infections and care for specific bodily areas. Students also learn about everyday tasks, such as making beds, moving clients in a safe manner and keeping them comfortable. Instruction may include tending to medical devices, like catheters and oxygen tanks. Employee contractual issues and ethics might be discussed as well.

Step 2: Comply with Applicable Regulations

Some states have government-funded healthcare programs that supply personal care assistants to qualified clients. Assistants who work for these programs may need to meet training and certification requirements; assistants may also need to be at least 18 years old. Other applicable regulations can include registering with the state's human services department, passing a background check and getting hired by an agency that employs personal care assistants. The states can provide prospective assistants with listings of acceptable training sources.

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