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How Do I Become a Personal Care Attendant?

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  • Written By: Susan Abe
  • Edited By: Jessica Seminara
  • Last Modified Date: 20 November 2016
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A personal care attendant provides a variety of personal care duties and chores for, with, and to the individual for whom they are employed. Also known as home health aides or sitters, these healthcare workers perform nursing, light housekeeping, shopping errands and other tasks individualized to each patient's needs, requests and personal care plan. A high school diploma is not required to become a personal care attendant, nor are any types of certifications or licenses required for private employment. Instead, the requirements to become a personal care attendant depend upon the type of work duties expected of the attendant and if the attendant plans to seek employment through an agency. A willingness to help others is the primary requirement to become a personal care attendant.

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Although a high school diploma is not a prerequisite to become a personal care attendant in private service, all home aides need to be functionally literate and capable of basic arithmetic. Most attendants employed through an agency also have a high school diploma or a successfully completed general educational development (GED®) examination. Further, most US home health agencies or hospice organizations also require employee credentialing as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) to become a personal care attendant for two major reasons. First, a majority of home care attendant cases involve CNA skills, such as monitoring of vital signs and assistance with medication administration. Secondly, Medicare and most insurance companies require this credentialing to pay home health care agencies for covered care, such as home hospice or after a hospital admission.

So, while not a requirement, potential home health care workers can markedly increase their chances and options to become a personal care attendant by obtaining certification as a nursing assistant (CNA). In the US, this procedure varies from state-to-state but usually involves a community college-level class and successful completion of both a skills test and a written test. The National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC) also offers certification as a Home Care Aide (HCA) based upon a curriculum and testing procedure similar to most states' CNA requirements. Personal care workers who are not CNAs are known as "sitters" by agencies and have limited assignments and fewer opportunities for work.

Many caregivers prefer to become a personal care attendant as a private-duty or freelance aide. Instead of obtaining assignments and wages from an agency, working freelance allows the attendant to negotiate her own hours and her own rate of pay with the patient or the patient's family. The most important aspect of private-duty freelance work is the care attendant's reputation. Not only are prior patients a wonderful reference for potential jobs, they are often a significant referral source for the care attendant.

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