If you’re interested in working with patients but don’t see yourself as a doctor, a career as a patient care technician may be the answer.
While this type of hands-on role can be demanding, it can also be very rewarding as it allows you to make a meaningful difference in the lives of the patients you serve.
Think this could be the right career path for you? Keep reading to find out what a patient care technician does and learn about the typical work environment, the skills needed to succeed, and how to become one.
What Is a Patient Care Technician?
A patient care technician is a healthcare technician working under the supervision of a nurse, doctor, or other health professional to administer basic care to patients. This position involves interacting with patients face-to-face and providing assistance with daily tasks.
Patient care technicians are responsible for helping patients in hospitals, medical offices, and long-term care facilities. What this entails depends on the patient as well as the technician’s workplace.
Some of the essential duties that may be expected of a patient care technician include:
- Help patients with mobility issues get into wheelchairs.
- Help patients in and out of bed.
- Assist patients during exercise.
- Track a patient's progress during care, including physical therapy.
- Listen to and take note of patient concerns.
- Check vital signs.
- Collect samples, such as blood or urine.
- Deliver samples to the appropriate laboratory.
- Act as a companion for patients and provide comfort.
- Serve as a liaison for family visits.
- Offer support to patients and their families during stressful or emotional times.
For patient care technicians, the term “basic' can be misleading as it does not necessarily mean only doing simple tasks. Many of the required job functions are a vital component of patient care.
The average base pay for a patient care technician can vary depending on where you live, where you work, what credentials you hold, and how much experience you have.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nursing assistants, orderlies, and other types of patient care technicians earn a median salary of $27,510 per year or $13.23 per hour. However, a patient care technician who is certified in phlebotomy could have median earnings more in line with phlebotomists: $33,670 per year or $16.19 per hour.
Where They Work
Patient care technicians can work anywhere that nurses and doctors need assistance. They may work in:
- Nursing homes
- Ambulatory health care services
- Residential care facilities
- Government agencies
- Home healthcare services
They may work in different environments depending on their specialty.
The BLS projects employment of nursing assistants will grow 11% from 2016 to 2026, which is faster than average for all occupations.
This is likely due to the aging population of baby boomers who will need more senior care. According to the BLS, long-term care facilities like nursing homes should see increased demand, as technicians will be needed to help care for patients with chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes as well as dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
Key Skills of a Patient Care Technician
Given the duties of a patient care technician, what skills do you need to work in this role?
If you're thinking of entering this profession, consider whether the following list of skills is a good fit for your personality, abilities, and interests. Above all, keep in mind you'll be working closely with patients in any number of contexts. You should have the skills and personality to handle any situation with self-confidence.
One of the most important qualities for a patient care technician is good people skills.
Working in this field, you'll be in one of the most patient-facing roles in the healthcare industry. You'll be dealing with people all day long, including patients, their families, nurses, doctors, and other professionals.
Not everyone is going to be in their best mood when you interact with them, especially after long hours of waiting or working, or in cases of a worrisome medical emergency.
You need to be able to keep a calm, clear head, even if the people around you are irritable or stressed. You also need to be able to make patients feel comfortable and at ease, even if they're not in a positive or productive frame of mind.
This goes beyond having a good bedside manner. It demands patience and maturity on a daily basis.
Anticipating Patient Needs
As a patient care technician, you'll need to do more than care for your patients’ current needs; you'll need to anticipate their needs and plan for them.
This means you'll not only have to be good at listening to what a patient says, but you’ll also need to recognize the behaviors that illuminate what they're not saying. You should be attentive to details and able to provide solutions before your supervisor needs to direct you.
Helping Patients with Basic Tasks
Another essential skill is helping patients handle the basic tasks of day-to-day life.
Since many technicians work in long-term care facilities, they'll be responsible for helping a patient eat, drink, bathe, dress, use the bathroom, and get around.
The goal is to maintain a daily routine that allows the patient to feel comfortable and competent.
For this reason, a good technician knows how to perform or assist with tasks in such a way that makes the patient feel secure, supported, and yet capable.
Taking Electrocardiograms and Vital Signs
In addition to helping make patients’ daily lives easier, patient care technicians are also responsible for a few essential healthcare tasks.
One of the most frequent duties they perform is checking vital signs, such as temperature, pulse, and blood pressure. They should know how to interpret what they see based on the patient they're examining.
Another common task involves helping doctors determine how the heart is functioning using an electrocardiogram (EKG/ECG). When done properly, this measures electrical activity in the heart and instructs a doctor on how to proceed.
How to Become a Patient Care Technician
Now that you know what a patient care technician does throughout the day and the skills needed to do the job, do you think this is the right career path for you?
If so, the next step is to enroll in a training program that will help you gain the required knowledge, experience, and credentials.
Education and Training
Some states require professionals in this type of role to be licensed and/or certified; as such, it's a good idea to research the requirements for your specific state before you choose an education provider.
For example, in Florida, many employers expect patient care technicians to have the Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) credential. Those who wish to enter the field may choose between a diploma or an associate’s degree; but in either case, they should seek a program that will prepare them for the state’s CNA exam.
A diploma program can typically be completed in 12 months, while an associate degree expands on the core curriculum with additional general education courses and may take a year and half to two years to complete (completion times can vary depending on the individual student).
A patient care technician training program will typically include courses in anatomy, physiology, medical terminology, and pharmacology as well as classes that help students learn practical skills related to:
- first aid
- wound care
- cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
- ECG/EKG administration
Most employers seek to hire candidates who have completed their academic requirements and earned state certification, though many give preference to graduates who also have work experience and/or additional industry credentials.
To help students obtain clinical experience, many training programs include an externship or internship.
These types of clinical experiences give you the opportunity to practice what you learned in the classroom in a hands-on, real-world environment. This will help you gain the confidence you need to perform your duties, and it can help you get comfortable around patients.
Treat your clinical experience as a trial run for your first full-time job in this field. Now is the time to give it your all and learn what employers are looking for in a patient care technician.
Once you've completed your education and clinical experience, you'll have to pass an examination if you intend to earn your CNA certification. You may also wish to pursue additional industry certifications, such as the Certified Patient Care Technician/Assistant (CPCT/A) and/or Certified Phlebotomy Technician (CPT) credentials offered through the National Healthcareer Association (NHA).
These exams will assess your competency in a variety of necessary skill areas including safety, phlebotomy, infection control, and patient care. Achieving one or more of these designations can help give you a competitive advantage when you begin applying for jobs.
Once you pass your exam, you can add the certification to your résumé.
Next Steps to Start a Healthcare Career
So, do you think you're ready to become a patient care technician?
Ultimate Medical Academy can help put you on track for a career in this growing field with a Patient Care Technician diploma or associate’s degree, including preparation for the CNA, CPCT/A, and CPT exams. Visit our admissions page to get started.
If you want to learn about other jobs in the allied health field, check out our guide to healthcare careers to explore your options.
Gainful employment information can be found at ultimatemedical.edu/student-information/#ge and includes information on tuition, loan debt, completion, placement, and occupations.