Home Health Aides and Personal Care Aides can make a huge difference in the lives of their patients and their patients’ families, providing crucial care and support to those who need it most. Let’s take a closer look at why you might consider pursuing a Home Health Aide (HHA) or Personal Care Aide (PCA) career path.
What Exactly Are HHAs and PCAs?
HHAs perform more medical duties, such as checking vital signs, keeping track of medication schedules, or assisting nurses. HHAs are usually found working in places like nursing homes and other specialized care facilities, while PCAs tend to work in homes. Because PCAs work in homes, they often perform more daily living-related duties, such as grocery shopping, preparing meals, and housekeeping. Both HHAs and PCAs provide much-needed warm, friendly companionship to their patients, but HHAs require more training and certifications than PCAs.
Home Health Aide Career Requirements
HHAs need a federal Home Health Aide Certificate to work. To receive federal certification, you need to complete a competency evaluation test. If you haven’t had any formal HHA training, it’s highly recommended you attend a program before completing your competency evaluation test. Federal guidelines mandate 75 hours of training, which includes 15 hours in a clinical setting. Alternatively, if you’ve already trained and feel ready to complete the competency evaluation test, you can go straight to taking the exam. To work with Medicare patients, HHAs need an additional certification. This certification, which allows you to bill Medicare for your services, is done through the federal government. Which state you plan to practice in also affects your certification requirements. Some states require additional training hours on top of the federal minimum, while other states require only the 75 hours of federal training.
Personal Care Aide Career Requirements
Every state has different requirements for PCAs. There is no federal minimum training requirement unless you need a certain amount of training hours for insurance or Medicare purposes. The American Caregiver Association (ACA) offers a range of training programs depending on your goals as a PCA. For example, there are specific training programs and certifications for working in assisted living facilities or business courses, if you’d like to be self-employed rather than work through an agency. Once you’re certified, there are a number of HHA/PCA career paths available to you. The path you take can depend on your preferences, like whether you want to work:
- Full-time or part-time
- In patient homes or a facility
- For yourself or for an agency
There's Never Been a Better Time to Become a Home Health Aide or Personal Care Aide
As the U.S. population ages (21.6% by 2040), the demand for Home Health and Personal Care Aides will grow as well. The majority of older adults plan to “age-in-place,” meaning they intend to remain in their homes as opposed to moving into assisted living facilities or nursing homes. More immediately, Home Health and Personal Care Aides also provide services to individuals who are homebound due to illness or disability. They work with all ages, including children and non-elderly adults.
Things to Consider When Mapping Out Home Health Aide/Personal Care Aide Career Paths
It can be rewarding to offer companionship to the patients in your care. Let’s take a look at some of the other things you should keep in mind as you consider an HHA or PCA career path:
What's the Job Outlook for Home Health Aide/Personal Care Aide Career Paths?
Employment of HHAs/PCAs is projected to grow 25% by 2031, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Almost a million new HHA/PCA jobs are expected to open in the next 8 years. Most of these jobs will most likely be in private homes or assisted living facilities. The national median annual wage for HHAs and PCAs in 2021 was $29,430. The low-end average is $24,090, with the high-end average being $30,230.
Home Health Aide and Personal Care Aide Career Job Settings
HHAs and PCAs most often work in the homes of their patients. In fact, 47% of HHAs work with individual and family services. They may live in the home, work full-time hours during the day, or work in shifts with other caregivers. Other places HHAs and PCAs work:
- Nursing homes
- Assisted living and extended care centers
- Hospice centers
- Group homes
- Disability facilities
Where Will a Home Health Aide/Personal Care Aide Career Path Take Me?
Because HHAs and PCAs work so closely with their patients, the main differentiating factor in your career path may come down to the environment you work in.
Work at a Facility
Nursing homes, hospice centers, and other long-term care facilities sometimes hire their own staff of HHAs and PCAs. Pros of working at a facility:
- You’re part of a team
- Your job is more structured and organized
- Job benefits, like insurance and PTO
- Job stability
Cons of working at a facility:
- Can be emotionally demanding, especially in hospice centers
- Lack of control over the work environment
- Hierarchical structure overseeing you and your work
- May have multiple patients at once
Examples of jobs you might find when you work at a facility:
- Assist with patients at a memory care facility
- Feeding assistance at meal times
- Palliative care in a hospice
- Assist with physical therapy
Work for Yourself
HHAs and PCAs can do very well as independent contractors. Pros of working for yourself:
- You’re privately employed by your patient or their family
- Make your own schedule
- Work for only the people you select
- Earn your own money
Cons of working for yourself:
- You have to find your own clients
- You have to handle your own billing and paperwork
- Jobs aren’t guaranteed
- No insurance benefits or PTO
- All liability and patient insurance issues are yours to deal with
Examples of jobs you might find when you work for yourself:
- Assist an elderly patient with day-to-day activities like bathing or shopping
- Contract to a hospital that needs extra help
- Provide additional support to patients in a nursing home
Work for an Agency
There are plenty of agencies that help HHAs and PCAs find work. Pros of working for an agency:
- Agency handles hiring details and your paychecks
- Be placed in jobs that best fit with your individual skills and schedule
- Agency helps resolve any issues between you and your patient and/or their family
- Agency may pay for your training
Cons of working for an agency:
- Takes a cut of your pay
- Not all agencies are licensed or insured
- Potential for high turnover
- You may need to cover colleagues’ shifts at the last minute
Examples of jobs you might find when you work for an agency:
- Assist in hospital recovery once patient is discharged
- Live-in care for a patient with Alzheimer’s
- Transport patient to and from doctor’s appointments
- Provide family caregivers a break by taking care of their loved one temporarily
What Classes Can I Take to Pursue a Home Health Aide or Personal Care Aide Career Path?
That depends on where you are in your HHA or PCA career pathway. The classes you may need to take to prepare to become an HHA or PCA will depend on whether you’re just starting out or you’re finishing up more specific requirements. If you’re just starting on your training, focus first on general education classes, like English Composition or College Algebra. These courses are often prerequisites for healthcare degree programs. If you’re further along in your education, you can turn your focus to more specialized courses. You might start with a First Aid & CPR course, since, as an HHA or PCA, you’ll be working directly with patients who may need emergency care. Or, you might be looking to fulfill health and science requirements for your chosen program, like Anatomy & Physiology or Medical Terminology. StraighterLine has a wide range of courses that can help you fulfill both general education and core curriculum requirements for your HHA/PCA career path.
Fast Track Your Home Health Aide/Personal Care Aide Career Path with StraighterLine
Most healthcare degree programs require a set of clinical and administrative classes. So take the first step in your HHA/PCA career path with StraighterLine's self-paced, affordable online courses. Your credits are guaranteed to transfer to any of our partner schools or through the ACE CREDIT service to over 2,000 colleges and universities worldwide.