What is the difference between a Patient Care Assistant (PCA) and a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)?

What is the difference between a Patient Care Assistant (PCA) and a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)?

Many entry level medical professionals are overwhelmed by the different terminologies and jargon used in job postings. Some roles perform very similar duties, yet require very different licenses and training depending on the role. In this article, we will discuss the differences in training, licensing, job duties and salaries between Patient Care Assistants (PCAs, sometimes also called Personal Care Assistants) and Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs). Home Health Aides, are another common entry level medical role that performs many duties similar to a CNA, and we discuss the difference between those two roles in this article: HHA to CNA.

Differences in job duties between PCAs and CNAs

The differences in the work performed by PCAs and CNAs are directly related to the differences in licensing between the two roles. PCAs are generally considered a caregiver role, and while CNAs also largely work as caregivers, their role is also that of an entry level healthcare provider. CNAs are usually certified in first aid and emergency care, and are expected to recognize when a resident is in immediate danger and provide emergency measures when appropriate.  

Latest updates for PCAs and CNAs in 2021

In 2021, the Florida Legislature enacted a measure to provide a permanent pathway for PCAs to become CNAs in the state. Basically, the legislation allows nursing homes to hire PCAs, and provide them with an in-house training program that will consist of at least 16 hours of education. Note that a PCA choosing this route, must only work at the same nursing home before becoming a CNA.

Licensing differences between PCAs and CNAs

In many states, PCAs are not regulated at all. In Florida specifically, the concept of a PCA really did not exist prior to the temporary COVID-19 program enacted to help lessen the skilled nursing shortage in the state. This program is really intended as a pathway program, and it is the goal of the state that personnel hired under this program go on to get licensed as a CNA. Under this program, individuals can work in nursing homes prior to becoming CNA licensed, which is normally not possible outside of this waiver. Outside of this program, some job openings may exist for PCAs, but generally they are referred to as caregivers and not as PCAs. The job description will make it clear whether the applicant needs to be a licensed CNA or if they will be exclusively performing light caregiving duties. 

Temporary COVID-19 Program for PCAs in Florida

As part of the measures intended to lower strain on healthcare resources due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Agency for Health Care administration approved a temporary measure for facilities to temporarily use PCAs to perform CNA duties until November 2, 2020. The program consisted of facilities providing PCAs with an 8 hour in-service course followed by on-the-job training. The program was so succesful that the state of Florida decided to enact legislation to provide an ongoing pathways for PCAs to obtain a CNA license (see above for 2021 updates).

Salary differences between PCAs and CNAs in Florida

PCAs tend to earn somewhere between HHAs and CNAs in Florida. CNAs earn an average of $13.60 per hour, while HHAs in earn an average of $11.52 per hour, according to Indeed. 

It is important to understand that Florida is facing a skilled nursing shortage, and this shortage is only expected to continue for the coming years as the percentage of the population needing nursing care is expected to rise at a faster rate than new skilled nurses and assistants coming onto the job market. As such, the job outlook for all nursing assistants, including HHAs, CNAs and PCAs is projected to be very strong in the coming years.

PCA or CNA – Which one is right for me?

Obtaining a job as a PCA can be a great way to start your career in the medical caregiver field, as it will allow you to get started quickly without needing a specific license. Once you are working as a PCA; however, it is strongly recommended that you work towards obtaining your CNA certification. In most cases, your employer will pay for any certification and testing costs, and getting your license may even entail a salary increase. At the very least, getting licensed may help you make a temporary job into a permanent one. Once the temporary waiver expires after November 2, the best path will be to go directly towards obtaining your CNA license, or alternatively, become an HHA to CNA.