Differences Between PCA vs HHA [Comparison]

Are you passionate about building a career as a caregiver? There are two possible paths that you may have to choose: personal care aide (PCA) and home health aide (HHA). What is PCA vs. HHA? Knowing the difference between these two career paths will help you choose one that best suits your qualifications.

For starters, Personal care aides (PCAs) are skilled in assisting patients to experience relief and lead a more comfortable life at home.  On the other hand, home health aides (HHA) provide more care to patients who constantly need attention beyond a PCA’s expertise.  While these two professionals seem to have similar roles, their training, responsibilities, and remuneration differ.

In this comprehensive post, we’ll take a closer look at each to help you understand their roles better. You’ll also learn about HHA vs. PCA salary differences and the superior role. This will also help you choose the right caregiver career path that you qualify for and that is more rewarding.

Who is a Personal Care Aide?

A personal care aide (PCA) is a trained professional who performs various tasks to assist individuals in performing activities of daily living (ADL). These include cleaning, laundry, preparing meals, and running errands, among others. The care recipients may be unable to carry out ADL due to illness, injury, or old age.

PCAs mainly work in home care settings to help clients stay independent and lead a better quality of life. They offer one-on-one personalized assistance to meet the individual’s specific preferences and needs. These professionals do not necessarily need to be licensed, as the requirements may vary from one state to another. However, they need to undergo training that includes classroom instructions, practical hands-on development, and clinical experiences. 

Who is a Home Health Aide?

A home health aide (HHA) is a trained professional who provides personalized healthcare assistance to individuals living with terminal illnesses who need regular medical supervision. While HHA’s role may also include offering help with ADL, their main duty extends to basic healthcare. This is the distinguishing factor between PCA vs HHA.

Who is a Home Health Aide?

An HHA is particularly important to a person who has complex healthcare needs due to old age, surgery, or severe injury. They perform basic medical roles like monitoring vital signs, changing dressings, and administering drugs. Their role also extends to offering assistance with mobility and using medical equipment.

PCA vs. HHA: What’s the difference?

As we’ve mentioned, the key differentiating factor is that HHA offers basic medical assistance in addition to helping with ADL. This difference is what makes the training and remuneration of both PCAs and HHAs different. In some cases, you may hear people use the terms PCA vs. HHA vs. CNA interchangeably, but there is a significant difference between them.

Let’s take a look at each professional’s training and salary.

Personal Care Aide Education and Training

There’s no federally administered training or requirement for PCAs. Their education and training largely depend on the state, but a high school diploma is a basic requirement. On top of this, they need to undergo comprehensive training and certification. The type of certification needed will vary according to the state they work in.

However, phlebotomy and CPR skills and certification are a basic requirement across most states. In some states, a PCA is required to have EEG machine operation skills. It’s also not surprising to hear that a PCA is required to complete specific hours of practice or credits in practical clinical nursing exams.

Some states and employers may also require a PCA to have Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) training. But this may also depend on the PCA home care job description, which tends to vary according to the care recipient’s needs. In practice, CNAs need to attend training and complete certification courses as required by the state to obtain a practice license.

On the other hand, PCAs don’t need a license to operate, but their skill level may match that of a CNA. The Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute (PHI) offers a summary of the training requirements for PCAs in each state.

Home Health Aide Education and Training

Home Health Aide Education and Training

Since HHAs offer basic healthcare assistance, they have more stringent requirements than PCAs. While HHAs also don’t need a college degree, federal legislation has some requirements to be met. According to this requirement, HHAs must undergo at least 75 hours of training, especially if the agency they’re employed in is Medicare-certified.

These federal training requirements also include:

  • supervised clinical or practical training for a minimum of 16 hours;
  • at least 12 hours of continuing education every 12 months.

According to the requirements of the District of Columbia and 17 other states, the minimum hours of training are more than the federal standard of 75 hours. Other states demand that HHAs must undergo CNA training to make them more capable.

Understanding PCA vs. HHA vs. CNA Work Setup and Salary

PCA vs CNA

Both PCAs and CNAs work in a home environment. However, the latter can also work in hospitals, outpatient clinics, and nursing homes since they can do clinical tasks that PCAs can’t. Also, CNAs need supervised clinical training and have to pass a state exam to begin their practice at any of these facilities.

Due to this, you’ll realize that there’s a difference in CNA vs. PCA salary. CNAs’ training gives them a higher pay rate than their counterparts. If you meet the basic requirements for both PCA and CNA, opting for the latter may give you a better salary. Also, it puts you in a better position for quicker career progression if you aim to become a registered nurse.

HHA vs. CNA

Home health aides (HHAs) undergo formal training in a vocational school or community college, while CNAs pass through state-accredited training programs. HHAs work in care recipients’ homes, transitional housing, retirement homes, and nursing homes.

On the other hand, CNAs can work in hospitals as well as nursing homes, transitional homes, and intensive care units. Due to training requirements and qualifications, HHAs are paid at a lower hourly rate compared to CNAs.

PCA vs. HHA

PCA vs. HHA

In comparing the salaries of PCA and HHA, the latter has a higher hourly rate because they also carry out basic clinical duties. In contrast, the personal care aide salary may be lower because they only help with ADL. The annual salary of a PCA is $31,263 while an HHA earns $35,021 as per industry standards. The figures may also change depending on the agency you choose to work for.

When choosing between these three professions, it’s important to consider whether you meet the basic entry requirements. The salary may also be a motivating factor if you already meet the basic requirements.

PCA vs. HHA: Which is the Best For You?

When deciding whether to become a PCA vs HHA, what should be the most important consideration? It all depends on whether you meet the basic entry requirements for each. However, other factors may also come into play.

When to choose a personal care aide

PCAs are ideal when the care recipient is a senior who requires assistance with ADL but not regular medical care. If you don’t meet the entry requirements for HHA, you may begin as a PCA and build your skills and career to become an HHA.

When to choose a home health aide career path

If you already meet the basic entry requirements for HHA, pursuing this career path is ideal. The job itself is more engaging than that of a PCA because you’ll be experiencing various scenarios with different clients. Comparing PCA vs. HHA, the latter is more invigorating as you don’t do the same things repeatedly. It’s a better option for those whose interests wear out easily from doing repetitive tasks.

Whichever path you choose, acquiring PCA HHA certification gives you an upper hand when interviewing for positions with employers. A certification is a demonstration of your knowledge, practical skills, and qualifications.

Common Skills for PCAs and HHA

Common Skills for PCAs and HHA

Other than education, training, and certification, there are several other skills that you’ll need to get started with the PCA or HHA career path.

Compassion

The number one skill that both PCA and HHA need is compassion, as their jobs entail helping those with impairments, injuries, chronic ailments, or old age. It needs you to be empathetic and an active listener to concerns to build trust and a strong connection with the client.

Communication

Being able to communicate with both care recipients and family members is crucial. Both caregiver professionals need strong communication to understand the needs of clients and report their health status to physicians. Communication is also essential to grasping the requirements of family members and directions from nurses and doctors.

Physical Resilience

Whether PCA vs. HHA, you require physical strength to endure the duties and roles such as occupational assistance and ADL. Both jobs involve standing for hours, moving up and down, running errands, and helping patients with movement, among other physically demanding duties.

Healthcare Knowledge and Training

While PCAs’ main duties involve assisting with ADLs, it’s equally important to have strong healthcare knowledge. This becomes essential in identifying symptoms that may occur due to allergies or progressing diseases like dementia. You also get to learn about which condition causes irreversible dementiaand how to help patients cope and improve their quality of life.

Upskill Yourself for PCA and HHA Career Growth

While it may be difficult to access HHA and PCA free training, Caregiver Courses make it much easier to upskill yourself toward your caregiver career progression.  Caregiver Courses offers comprehensive courses that prepare you for your PCA or HHA career. In addition to the education and training as required by your state, these courses with certification upon completion will demonstrate your knowledge and expertise as a caregiver.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the difference between PCA vs HHA?

Personal care aides (PCA) are trained professionals who assist patients with activities of daily living (ADLs).  They do not need state-administered training but require a high school diploma,  vocational training, and certification to practice.

Home health aides (HHAs) are trained professionals who in addition to assisting with ADL, can also offer basic medical assistance. They need a high school diploma, pass state-administered exams, and undergo training to be licensed to practice.

Is PCA better than HHA?

While both professional caregivers play crucial roles, PCAs assist with ADL only while HHAs can additionally provide basic medical care. HHAs also have a higher hourly rate pay than PCAs.

Can PCA work in a hospital setting?

Yes, PCAs can work in hospitals and nursing homes under the supervision of a qualified registered nurse (RN) or a licensed nurse practitioner (LNP).

How can I upgrade to HHA from PCA?

Upgrading to HHA from PCA requires you to meet your state’s requirements for HHA. While your PCA experience may come in handy, you need to undertake basic healthcare training as well. After passing the state’s licensing requirements, you also need to upskill with caregiver certifications to raise your profile. Usually, employers prefer HHAs who also have other certifications to demonstrate proficiency.

Can PCAs and HHAs be self-employed?

Yes, PCAs and HHAs can be self-employed by building their profiles as independent contractors. You can build a strong freelancer profile to market your services directly to clients. Alternatively, you may use agencies that link you with clients.

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