How to Become a Patient Care Technician

If you’re in search of a job that offers great chance of helping sick and injured, there are some great medical careers you should look into. Aside with the doctors and nurses, healthcare careers spend further more to medical assistants or patient care technicians.

What does patient care technician do?

There are many different chores a patient care technician does. Above all, patient care technician’s focus is on close work with patients. That means he/she helps in basic care of for patients, such as assisting them in sitting or standing up, walking to the restroom, changing bedding or delivering meals. Also, they’re opt to perform some administrative or clerical duties as well. Patient care technicians, also known as nursing assistants, often work with registered nurses and help in tasks needed to meet the needs of patients. Some of the essential tasks include:

  • repositioning, ambulating and turning patients that are unable to move or walk on their own,
  • using patient handling equipment in tasks of lifting and repositioning (like wheel chairs),
  • transportation of patient within the hospital, nursing home, residential care facilities or a Medical Center,
  • delivering and picking up prescriptions,
  • assisting in daily vital activities such as feeding, cleaning, bathing or providing water
  • recording and reporting patient’s vital signs or weight
  • helping patients to use the toilet

As an assistant to a registered nurse, patient care technician may often be asked to provide complete care for the patient, including mobility, hygiene and nutrition. In addition, PCT needs to provide safe and clean environment for patient, always taking care of the cleanliness of bedding and bedside. With so many different tasks they need to perform, patient care technicians are often wanted for emotional support to patients and their families as well. Taking care of a sick or injured person often requires emotional stability and the ability to calm, soothe and comfort patient in distress.

There’s sometimes confusing difference between patient care technician and medical assistant, both of which are very closely related to their assigned duties. The difference, however, is that medical assistant performs duties not so closely related to the patients themselves. Administering records, medical histories or scheduling appointments are mainly duties of a medical assistant, whereas patient care technicians works directly with patients, tending for their needs and safety. Some nursing assistants may be required to dispense medication too, depending on their training level and competencies. Patient care technicians work in a healthcare team under the supervision of a licensed vocational nurse or a registered nurse.

PCT’s importance lies in their direct contact with patients and their ability to perform tasks at hand, including helping patient feel comfortable, clean and safe. Many nursing assistants develop relationships with their patients, especially if they’re assigned to a nursing home or long-term residential care facility where they care for patients for months or even years. It’s a demanding job to do, but it’s worth once you’re assured your patients are taken care of and satisfied with your work.

Work environment of a patient care technician

PCT work environment varies according to a facility they work in. The industries that employed the most nursing assistants in 2014 were:

  • Nursing care facilities
  • Hospitals (state, local or private)
  • Continuing care retirement communities and assisted living facilities for the elderly
  • Home health care services
  • Government

Wherever they work, patient care technicians spend a great time on their feet because they often take care of a number of patients or residents. Because of frequent lifting patients or medical equipment, nursing assistants are prone to physical injuries. In accordance to the safe work environment, they’re introduced and trained to properly lift and move patients. The main focus is around the patient, so PCT performs duties connected strictly to the patient himself, like changing bandages, taking body fluids to testing, documenting patient’s behavior and health concerns. Aside with the tasks mentioned, patient care technicians are required to ensure clean and fresh linens, sanitation and supplies.

As a result of working in the health care facilities most of which operate 24/7, patient care technicians work full time. That means they often work during weekends, night time or holidays as well. Even though their primary job is to ensure the patient’s needs are met, patient care technicians are required to handle medical equipment where needed. Some of the tools used in this occupation are blood pressure units, electronic medical thermometers, extremity restraints, glucose monitors, oxygen tents and tanks, pulse oximeters and urinary catheters. They are required to operate certain medical equipment when demanded.

Patient care technician should have advanced skills in active listening, such as giving full attention to what a patient is saying or complaining about, being aware of other’s reactions, using logic to identify alternative solutions or conclusions and assessing performance of himself, individuals or organizations to make improvements when possible. Abilities such as keen eye, oral expression and comprehension, problem sensitivity and good physical strength are very much welcomed in a nursing assistant. There are many face-to-face discussions with patients or other individuals which means PCT needs to be able to follow conversation at all times, answering to patient’s demands or worries. Sometimes, they even encounter angry or aggravated patients, which could lead to unpleasant situations PCT should be able to resolve. Being calm and cooperative works the best for both the patient and the patient care technician.

Training programs for patient care technicians

The important thing about becoming patient care technician is that you own some important qualities. These include great communication skills when you’re making conversation with patients or other healthcare workers, patience and empathy and good physical strength. With just few of them mentioned, you can consider becoming patient care technician. Depending on the state you live in, you are required to complete a state-approved education program or a training and have to pass state’s competency exam.

Training programs for patient care technicians are offered by various institutions, such as vocational or technical schools, community colleges, American Red Cross, local healthcare providers or online training programs as well. Depending on the institution you choose to study in, the training lasts from 4 to 16 weeks. Students who want to become patient care technicians should have some kind of high school diploma or previous work experience connected to healthcare.

If you choose to start your training in any vocational or technical school, some of the classes include fundamentals in nursing, anatomy, infection control protocol and nutrition. Through both day and evening classes and campuses, your main focus is on practical skills. Hospitals provide more fast-paced training where students begin to work with patients very quickly, during day, night and weekend shifts. It is good to know that a number of this kind of facilities offer this training for free, providing great real-life experience for future nursing assistants. Community colleges focus on the spectrum of nursing services and in addition offer students experience in professional communication with patients and other members of healthcare team.

When undergoing training program, students gain experience performing various tasks in healthcare setting under supervision. They receive evaluation on their performance and advice on how to improve their skills. Some of the programs may include traditional coursework, which includes theory and practice combined. Personal care skills, patient’s rights, basic medical terminology and nursing assistant theory are some of the courses in training programs. Basic skills like CPR, first aid and electrocardiography are covered as well. Because of the nature of this kind of job, some of the courses include patient care techniques like feeding, grooming and bathing.

Online training programs are a great option to start your training in becoming patient care technician. Even though these kind of training programs don’t bring you a diploma, they prepare students for state certification exams. Choose the ones that offer both online and in-person training as well. Through online training programs, students complete theoretical coursework online and hands-on courses on campus-based classes. Some of the topics covered through online programs include physiology, anatomy, patient care and handling, basic medical techniques, clinical practicum course, phlebotomy, nutritional elements course and even mental health. Through all the courses and lectures, students learn about the systems of human body, basic principles of proper diet, assistance with everyday activities like feeding and bathing, EKG procedures, catheterizations and first aid techniques. Students learn how to use proper tools and methods necessary for blood collection, such as venipuncture, capillary puncture or utilizing butterfly needle.

Whichever training option you choose, it offers you invaluable experience and preparation for the competency exam and further licensing or certification in this field of healthcare. Aside with the theoretical knowledge you will gain, clinical and on-site laboratory practice offers valuable introduction to the world of patient care technician’s work. Choosing the right training program which covers all the basics and additional required knowledge and experience, means you should gather as much information about each school or program you wish to attend. Gathering all the pros and cons of every possible choice will give you insight to the best training option for your liking. Enroll in a great training program and start building your career as a patient care technician as soon as possible


After a successful completion of a state-approved training program for a patient care technician, you’re granted possibility to earn yourself certification. In order to do so, you must complete state-approved competency exam, which sometimes varies from state to state. You will need a high school diploma or an equivalent (GED) in order to apply for A Patient Care Technician Certification Program. To become a patient care technician, you will need to complete approximately 360-600 hours of clinical or classroom hours. Duration of this program often lasts for 5-6 months. The patient care technician certification program is offered by National Health Career Association. Gaining certification offers you many good job opportunities and allows you to pursue further certification if you wish to advance even more in this medical field.

There are few certification programs available that are connected to patient care technician career. After gaining certification for PCT, you can pursue Electrocardiogram Technician certification as well. This program prepares you for performing various diagnostic tests which measure patient’s vital signs, such as heart rhythm and rate. These kind of tests are performed at doctor’s office or at emergency rooms as well. You will learn how to process data and also how to maintain EKG equipment.

Phlebotomy certification is also a great program you should consider finishing because it offers greater chance of being hired as a certified patient care technician. This program prepares you to draw and transport blood and how to properly use venipuncture or capillary puncture. Phlebotomy is used in most of the healthcare facilities like hospitals, doctor’s office, emergency rooms, labs and nursing homes as well.

Students must have the required classroom training or at least one year experience to be able to perform the exam. It consists of 200 questions and takes approximately three hours and thirty minutes to finish.

Main test subjects in certification exam include:

  • General patient care
  • Patient care and preparation related to phlebotomy and EKG,
  • Safety
  • Professional responsibilities
  • Infection control.

Some of the tasks you will need to complete include:

  • providing basic patient care under the direction of nursing staff,
  • set up equipment to be used by a patient,
  • manually lift and transfer patient,
  • perform CPR, first aid and rapid response procedures,
  • follow the 5 Rights of delegation,
  • recognize visual abnormalities in patient specimens,
  • apply oxygen therapy,
  • observe and report patient pain using a pain scale,
  • monitor and record vital signs,
  • report critical values to the appropriate registered nurse in charge of a patient
  • check dressings for increased saturation and changes
  • prepare the patient for phlebotomy or EKG
  • calculate patient heart rate from the EKG tracing
  • monitor patient’s environmental safety
  • recognize and respond to emergency situations
  • perform sterile or aseptic procedures

Through these tests you will obtain enough knowledge to prepare yourself for the final exam which will earn you a certificate.  After gaining a patient care technician certificate or additional ones aforementioned, you will have great job opportunities to pursue wanted career. Later on, through gained on-the-job experience and collected working hours, you can advance in your career and earn yourself new titles and better salary.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, median annual wage for patient care technicians or nursing assistants was $25,710 in 2015. The average wage for patient care technicians and certified nursing assistants was around $12.22 per hour or $25,420 annual wage, according to data from May 2011, with the top 20% earning $35,170 per year or even more. 4 years later, data shows that the lowest 10 percent earned less than $19,390, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $36,890.

In May 2015, the median annual wages for patient care technicians in the top industries where they worked were:

  • Government ………………………………………………….$31,130
  • Hospitals (state, local, private)………………………….$27,820
  • Nursing care facilities………………………………………$24,700
  • Continuing care retirement communities & assisted living facilities for the elderly………….$24,200
  • Home health care services……………………………….$23,620

The average rate for a patient care technician is $1249 per hour, according to Payscale.

In 2011, the 3 top-paying metropolitan areas for the patient care technicians were in the state of California: the San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City area with $18 per hour, followed by the Oakland-Fremont-Hayward area with $17.46, and the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara area with $16.97 per hour. Top paying nonmetropolitan areas for this occupation are Southeast Alaska nonmetropolitan area with $19.27, Nantucket Island and Martha’s Vineyard nonmetropolitan area with $17.80, Balance of Alaska nonmetropolitan area with $17.72 per hour.

There are various factors that can affect your salary as a patient care technician. Experience you gained through the years improves your annual wage. PCTs with up to 5 years of work experience get around $25,000 annually. Those with 5-10 years of experience earn roughly $28,000 per year. More experienced patient care technicians with working experience between 10-20 years earn $31,000 and those with more than 20 years of working experience get approximately $33,000 of median wage. Location also affects patient care technician salaries. In 2015, New York was number one in median wage, offering $38,052 per year, which is almost $11,500 above national average. Second one is Phoenix with $29,691 annual wage, with Baltimore, Chicago and Atlanta following. Skills can also determine your salary. If you’re skilled and trained for performing dialysis, it earns you 10% increase in payment, performing EKG or phlebotomy gives you 5% more in payment and skills in working on Intensive Care Unit gets you 8% increase in salary as well.

Top paying industries for patient care technician jobs are:

  • Federal Executive Branch (OES Designation) with hourly mean wage of $17,68,
  • Colleges, Universities and professional schools with hourly mean wage of $15,86,
  • Scientific Research and Development Services with hourly mean wage of $15,51,
  • Educational Support Services with hourly mean wage of $15,27.

So, with the data collected, we can see that the percentage of salary increase from 2011 to 2015 is increasing and so is the number of employees in this occupation. Annual wage depends on location, experience and skills you possess. The more experience you gain, more you get payed. If you have most wanted skills in patient care technician occupation, it provides you great chances of getting hired and earning increase in payment. Additional training or certification also affects the median wage which again depends on the state you work in. Once you start your career, through collected working hours and gained work experience, you can expect increase in salary, with additional bonuses and raises as well. Start your career as soon as possible and earn your increase in salary as an experienced patient care technicians do. From the minimum of roughly $19,000 annual wage you can climb up to approximately $37,000 per year.

Job outlook

According to the data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of patient care technicians or nursing assistants, is projected to grow by 18 percent from 2014 to 2024, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. Employment of nursing assistants in 2014 reached the number of 1,492,10 which will rise by additional 262,000 open jobs by the year of 2024. As teh baby boom population slowly ages, that means that many patient care technicians and certified nursing assistants will be needed to assist and take care of the elderly. Great percent of the elderly population experience dementia, physical pain and some chronic diseases like heart disease or diabetes. Most of them will be unable to keep their daily activities of living by themselves, which means more work and more requirements for patient care technicians. Healthcare facilities like hospitals, nursing homes or assisted living facilities for the elderly will demand high number of experienced or certified patient care technicians. Even though beginners payment is lower than average and the emotional and physical distress often makes many applicants leave their careers, many of them are very aspiring to become professional nursing assistants and they will easily replace and fulfill abandoned jobs by those who gave up.

To become professional and certified patient care technician, finishing high school, enrolling in a training program with great classes and real-life courses, gaining a diploma or a certificate and collecting working hours will make your career bloom and your salary raise. Once you decide what is the best option to pursue your patient care technician career, you will be able to gain everything required to begin your life as a nursing assistant. Start as soon as possible and build up experience, qualities and skills that are desirable, through your work of helping those who are sick, old or injured. This is great opportunity to get payed for the job you’d love.

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