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What Is the Difference Between a Patient Care Technician (PCT) and a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)?

Patient care technicians (PCTs) and certified nursing assistants (CNAs) both play vital roles in the nursing field. Both carry out their duties in similar work settings; however, their tasks may differ slightly. It is common for people to confuse CNAs and PCTs, especially when students are trying to choose their educational trajectory.

CNAs perform routine patient care under nurse or physician supervision, including bathing, feeding, or moving a patient. PTCs perform the same duties as a CNA, and in addition, they are also trained to perform routine medical procedures like drawing blood. The requirements and scope of work to become CNAs and PCTs are determined separately by each state.

Educational Requirements

To be a CNA, you must have a high school diploma or GED and possess an active nursing aide license. Typically, to hold a license, you must complete a CNA program that lasts six to 12 weeks offered typically by a community college, a university, or a medical facility. CNA classes involve instruction on topics like:

  • Basic nursing;
  • Anatomy;
  • Physiology;
  • Nutrition;
  • And infection control.

Additionally, CNAs also have to complete clinical practice, where they learn essential nursing skills including how to read vital signs and work in a facility setting.

PCTs, on the other hand, have more extensive medical knowledge, and therefore have a long educational path. PCT programs typically last 20 to 24 weeks and include advanced procedure education, like:

  • Drawing blood;
  • Administering EKGs;
  • Wound care;
  • Catheterization;
  • Operating dialysis equipment;
  • And other basic medical care.

It’s important to note that in some states, you must already have a CNA license to begin PCT training.

Licensing and Certification

CNA certification happens at the state level, and requirements differ from state to state. After completing a CNA program, you must pass the state certification exam to earn your certificate. The exam is administered by the National Nurse Aide Assessment Program (NNAAP), the largest nurse aide certification exam program in the United States. To keep your license in good standing with the state, you must participate in 48 hours of continuing education courses every two years.

PCT certification also happens at the state level, and requirements differ from state to state. For instance, some states require you to possess a certificate or a phlebotomy license to draw blood. After completing your program, you are eligible to take the certification exam through the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT) and the National HealthCareer Association (NHA). You may also take free practice tests online to better prepare prior to taking the official exam. To renew your license, you must participate in 10 hours of continuing education courses before the expiration date.

Work Environment

CNAs work in various work environments with patients of all ages, including:

  • Nursing homes;
  • Home care;
  • Assisted living;
  • Hospice;
  • Community-based long-term care facilities;
  • And correctional institutions.

Nursing assistants provide basic care to the patients and are not allowed to make decisions on their own. Typically, CNAs work under a licensed nurse or physician and are vital in collecting important information about the patient.

PCTs also have a variety of choices when it comes to choosing their work environment. They can work in places like:

  • Hospitals;
  • Rehabilitation clinics;
  • Skilled nursing facilities;
  • Cancer clinics;
  • Blood banks;
  • And dialysis clinics.

PCTs are more hands-on than CNAs, and can even perform basic medical procedures without the supervision of a nurse or physician. However, they do work with other healthcare professionals to give the best care to their patients.

Job Duties and Responsibilities

The daily tasks a CNA performs are:

  • Answering call signals;
  • Measuring and recording the liquid and food intake of clients;
  • Assist patients in moving, turning, exercising;
  • Monitor the vital signs or parameters.

The duties a PCT performs are:

  • Drawing blood;
  • ECG reading;
  • Checking the nutritional value of the patient’s diet;
  • Escorting patients to treatment areas;
  • Assisting clients in motion exercises;
  • Administering IV’s;
  • Collecting specimens for diagnostic tests;
  • Performing basic laboratory work.

Career Growth

Healthcare occupations are projected to grow 14% until 2028, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this projected growth is mainly due to an aging population. Additionally, according to a report by Mercer, the United States will likely face a shortage of nursing assistants by 2025. While this might seem alarming, it also presents a variety of opportunities for aspiring CNAs and PCTs.

After gaining some work experience, CNAs might consider becoming a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or a registered nurse (RN). There are special programs called bridge programs that can help you advance through your career. An LPN is a licensed nurse that specializes in basic patient care, while an RN supervises CNAs and LPNs while speaking directly with doctors.

PCTs can also become RNs if they wish to go back to school. However, many decide to pursue specializations in the field, including positions as:

It’s important to remember that as a PCT, you have all the qualifications of a CNA with extra training for more advanced care. Generally, PCTs focus on providing care for people with terminal illnesses or lifelong disabilities.


According to BLS reports from 2019, the average CNA salary was $27,520, or $13.23 an hour. Likewise, PCT salaries reported at $31,540 or $15.16 an hour. As with most jobs, salaries may vary by education level obtained, geography, and how much experience you hold. PCTs have more responsibilities and are paid more than CNAs.

Nursing is a rewarding career, no matter what avenue you choose to take. While there are many similarities between a CNA and a PCT, there are also major differences. It’s crucial to choose a career based on your preferences and work ethic.