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Differences Between a CNA and a PCA

CNA stands for Certified Nursing Assistant, while PCA is an abbreviation for Patient Care Assistant. Both the terms are used interchangeably, but there are huge differences in both the careers. Students and aspirants who wish to take up a career in nursing must understand these differences. The choice of employing a CNA or PCA depends upon the patient’s medical needs. CNAs are also known as nursing aides while PCAs are also termed as PCTs (Patient Care Technicians). Let’s find out some of the major dissimilarities in program, responsibilities, work settings, salary, and scope of practice of these professionals.

1. Educational Requirements

CNA – A high school diploma or GED is compulsory for a CNA.

PCA PCTs require a high school diploma. A nurse aide licensure is needed to become a patient care assistant. A phlebotomy certificate or Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) is also an essential requisite in some cases.

2. License / Certification Requirements

CNA – Aspirants must undergo a program course of specific duration and then qualify an exam (which is organized by the respective states), to obtain a certificate.

PCA – The only prerequisite for becoming a PCA is good interpersonal and communication skills. In some states, a CNA certification is also required in order to practice as a PCA nurse. Or else, the candidate must have cleared the first semester of nursing clinical (practical) exam, in which, all basic CNA skills are taught. However, extensive health care knowledge is not required to practice this profession.

3. Program

CNA – 4-6 weeks (75 hours) of program is required to become a CNA. Basic topics that are covered as part of the nursing curriculum are patient nutrition, medication, hygiene control, recording vital signs, communication with doctors and patients’ relatives, medical terminologies, etc.

PCA – A minimum of 20-24 weeks (120 hours of classroom instruction and 4 hours of clinical practice) of program is required to become a PCA nurse.

4. Work Experience

CNA – No previous work experience is required to become a CNA.

PCA – Working knowledge as phlebotomist, nurse aide or ECG technician is required by some healthcare facilities.

5. Scope of Practice

CNA – Their duties differ from those of patient care assistants. They provide basic care to the patients and are not authorized to give medical treatment. They work under the supervision of LPNs (Licensed Practical Nurses) or RNs (Registered Nurses). These professionals can’t carry out the responsibilities of a PCA.

PCA – They are capable of accomplishing duties of a nurse aide as well. Moreover, they can provide basic medical treatment to the patients.

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6. Job Responsibilities and Duties

CNA – A CNA’s duties include –

  • Helping the patients in moving sideways
  • Turning them
  • Making them exercise
  • Bathing and dressing their wounds
  • Recording temperature
  • Answering call signals
  • Measuring vital symptoms, like blood pressure, blood sugar, weight, height, etc.

PCA – Their duties include –

  • Checking nutritional value of the patient’s diet
  • Helping them in brushing
  • Doing laundry
  • Escorting them to operation areas
  • Phlebotomy (drawing blood)
  • Collecting specimens for diagnostic tests
  • EKG reading
  • Hooking up telemetry PTs
  • Performing basic laboratory work, etc.

7. Salary

CNA – The average mean hourly salary of these professionals is $13.76 (according to, as of November 21, 2019). As per the reports of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, they earned an average annual salary of $29,580 and mean hourly wages of $14.22 (as of May 2018).

PCA – According to the statistics of, their mean hourly income is $13.67 (as of November 21, 2019). As of November 12, 2019, their hourly wages were between $9.28 and $17, while the annual pay was in the range of $19,510 to $36,523 (as per

8. Working Alternative

CNA – CNAs can work in rehabilitation centers, long-term health care centers, nursing homes, hospitals, residential care facilities, hospice, obstetric and pediatric department, etc. They are also eligible to work in home health agencies. But, they can’t work in critical care units. To further upgrade their career one step, they can enroll themselves in medical assistant programs, and can work as a medical assistant in future too.

PCA – PCAs can even get a job in critical care units, blood banks, dialysis and cancer clinics, ER and ICUs. They work simultaneously with 4-5 nurses and approximately 16 patients at a time. They can also prefer to carry out their career in various medical settings, like non-medical personal care service agencies, etc.

9. Alternative Names

CNA – These are also referred as nurse aides, hospital assistants, healthcare assistants, orderlies and nursing assistants.

PCA – These are also known as personal support workers, patient care assistants, caregivers, and home care aides.

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