CNA stands for certified nursing assistant, and PCA stands for patient care assistant. The CNA and PCA titles are sometimes used interchangeably because their roles are so similar. However, small differences apply, and may depend on employer and location. Patient care assistants are sometimes called patient care technicians, while certified nursing assistants also are called nursing aides.
CNAs and PCAs work closely with patients and both handle medical tasks, such as checking vital signs, and many nonmedical duties, including feeding, bathing and changing patients. However, PCAs usually have additional medical responsibilities, such as helping with physical therapy, that CNAs do not. PCAs also perform certain tests, such as EKGs, that CNAs cannot perform, according to Florida Area Health Education Centers.
Both CNAs and PCAs are employed in hospitals, physicians' offices, community health centers, outpatient clinics and nursing homes. They also frequently work as home health aides, serving clients with illnesses and other conditions who need support throughout the day. Conditions can be demanding for these jobs, because the roles frequently call for working on your feet for long periods of time, according to Florida Area Health Education Centers. In addition, working hours may include overnight and weekends.
Both the CNA and PCA career fields have low requirements for an academic background, requiring just a high school degree or its equivalent. The professions do require completing a training program at a vocational school, community college or medical facility, which usually includes supervised clinical training. A difference in the fields is that PCAs receive additional skills and equipment expertise during training. Both CNAs and PCAs must obtain state certification to work in their professions. Certification guidelines vary among the states, but typically include passing a competency exam.
Pay and Outlook
Many people that work as CNAs or PCAs view their positions as stepping stones to other, more advanced medical field positions, such as RN positions. In fact, turnover in the area of nurses aides and nursing assistants is very high, according to Explore Health Careers. Pay differs between states and facilities, but the category of nursing aides, orderlies and attendants had a median annual wage of $24,01 in 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Jobs were expected to grow at a rate of 20 percent between 2010 and 2020.
Tom Gresham is a freelance writer and public relations specialist who has been writing professionally since 1999. His articles have appeared in "The Washington Post," "Virginia Magazine," "Vermont Magazine," "Adirondack Life" and the "Southern Arts Journal," among other publications. He graduated from the University of Virginia.