How to Become a Home Care Assistant

Overview

Personal care aide helping an elderly woman get used to her walker

Home care assistants serve an honorable and crucial role in our society by helping the disabled, elderly and chronically ill maintain high quality of life. These caretakers understand the dignity and happiness that come from proper hygiene, cleanliness and nutrition, as well as everyday activities and recreations that we often take for granted.

Home care assistants can be divided into two broad branches: personal care aides and home health aides. Personal care aides tend to tasks such as bathing, dressing, grooming, cooking and light housekeeping. Additional responsibilities include organizing a client's schedule, grocery shopping, helping a client enjoy recreational opportunities, and providing valuable companionship for someone who may live alone and have no formal caregiver.

Home health aides share all of these important aforementioned duties and, additionally, take care of basic health needs, including:

  • Taking vital signs
  • Giving medications
  • Performing dressing changes as needed

Work Environment

Although “home” is in this occupation’s title, people who work as home care assistants may work in other environments such as residential group homes, retirement homes, community centers, or nursing care facilities. These caregivers may with one client, a few clients, or several groups. The length of a work assignment may last one day, several days, weeks, months or even years. Working different shifts including weekends, nights and holidays is often a requirement for this type of work.

Requirements

Education

Most people who work as home care assistants have a high school diploma/GED, although no formal education is required in some states to begin a job. Other states require some formal classes as a prerequisite for working. These classes may be taken at community colleges, vocational/technical schools, or at private health training academies.

Training

Because the nature of the job differs from client to client, home care assistants receive the bulk of training at work. Under the supervision of another home care assistant, a certified home health aide or a nurse, the aspiring caregivers learn to perform specific tasks and acquire skills necessary for each client’s needs. Some employers also offer training classes in topics such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and may also require that students pass a competency test before beginning work.

Licensing and/or Certification

Home care assistants do not need licenses. Certification, however, may be necessary for home health aides to secure a good job. Along with an exam, the certification process comprises approximately 75 hours of additional training. Employers often rely on the National Association for Home Care and Hospice for the certification process. Certification is not required for personal care aides.

Necessary Skills and Qualities

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that job-specific injuries are common among home care assistants because of the strenuous nature of the work. Taking care of a disabled person requires the caregiver to have good health and physical strength. Employers seek home care assistants who possess dependability, patience, good organizational skills and an ability to communicate well with all types of people.

Opportunities for Advancement

Personal care aides may choose to receive health training and become home health aides. Home health aides have opportunities to advance to other health careers such as medical assisting or nursing, both of which necessitate additional education and training. Home care assistants with many skills and experience may enjoy the opportunity to teach or supervise new home care assistants or students.

If you would like to gain the necessary education to become a home care assistant, we highly recommend that you check out our free School Finder Tool located HERE.

Salary

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the median yearly wage in 2010 was $19,640 for personal care aides and $20,560 for home health aides, but salaries ranged from $16,000 to $30,000. Salaries and benefits vary according to the employer as well as geographic region where the assistant works. Facilities tend to pay more than home care agencies.

Job Outlook

Job opportunities for home care assistants will be numerous from now well into the future; based on its statistic, the U.S. government anticipates a 70% employment increase for home care assistants until 2020. This job growth is due mostly to two factors: more elderly people needing care, and the high turnover rate of home care assistants. The Direct Care Alliance affirms that insufficient wages contribute to the high turnover.

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Also, check out our Health Careers page for more career guides.

Further Reading

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