The role of a Certified Patient Care Technician (CPCT/A), or patient care coordinator and Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) are oftentimes assumed to be the same job in allied health. While these roles are similar there are some distinct differences. However, if you are trying to optimize your learners career opportunities there are many reasons why seeking both credentials makes sense. They may work better together.

At the surface, here are some factors that contribute to role confusion:

  • Both roles fall into a category called unlicensed assisted personnel (UAP). This means that there are very little regulations around them.
  • Typically, these roles are delegated tasks from either physicians or nurses, and it is their responsibility to ensure CPCT/As and CNAs are practicing safely.
  • The common duties they perform are similar:
    • Basic patient care such as, bathing, feeding, catheter care
    • Perform safety checks and maintain a clean patient environment
    • Monitor and record vital signs/changes in patient health
    • Collect laboratory specimens
    • Provide emotional support

Here are some notable differences:

  • The settings in which they work are often quite different.
    • Patient care technicians usually work in hospitals
    • Certified nursing assistants most often work in extended care facilities
  • Patient care technician training is often longer and more extensive to include skills such as EKG and phlebotomy procedures
  • Average income between the two positions is also different: according to national ZipRecruiter data, patient care technicians have an average income of $31.5K per year, whereas a CNAs average income is $28K.

While those working in both professions must demonstrate competence in basic healthcare knowledge and skills, the exams for each have variations.

NHA Certified Patient Care Technician/Assistant (CPCT/A) Summary Test Plan (updated in 2018)

Domain Percent of Exam
Patient Care 45%
Compliance, Safety, and Professional Responsibility 20%
Infection Control 14%
Phlebotomy 11%
EKG 10%

CNA Exam Content Areas

The CNA exam varies in each state, but there are common areas of focus. Those pursuing this certification must pass the written exam and a clinical skills test. Focus areas on the written exam include:

  • Hygiene
  • Nutrition
  • Infection Control
  • Restorative Services
  • Appropriate Workplace Conduct

Clinical skills test includes:

  • Taking and recording patients’ blood pressure
  • Feeding, bathing, and dressing a patient
  • Assisting a patient with a bedpan
  • Helping with range of motion exercises
  • Providing catheter care
  • Proper hand-washing
  • Interaction and patient communication

CNA and CPCT/A Could Work Better Together

Due to the decreased prevalence of LPNs in the hospital, and increased acuity level of patient populations in hospitals, responsibilities have expanded for CPCT/As. Their skills and knowledge may open up additional employment opportunities. There is also high demand in home healthcare services and for personal care assistants due to the aging baby boomer population.

For CNAs, it is no secret that there is a very high turnover rate, often due to the feeling of being overwhelmed with the growing number of patients with dementia. But to work in hospitals, more training is often required.

CNA programs should offer additional training that includes EKG and phlebotomy. Then educators and employers could encourage their learners to sit for additional certification exams, as there are many options to pair with a CNA. Start with adding Certified Patient Care Technician/Assistant (CPCT/A) to the mix. Then, the most stackable credentials with a CPCT/A are Certified EKG Technician (CET) and Certified Phlebotomy Technician (CPT).

By layering these additional credentialsflexibility in employment could be advantageous. It allows these allied health professionals to take on more and be adaptable to move around where the employer needs them most. It could also mean higher wages as they work to establish a career in allied healthcare.This is why a CNA and CPCT/A credential could be better together.

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