Challenges currently facing the healthcare community in the United States is a shortage in the number of registered nurses and licensed physicians required in order to provide accessible medical care to the growing population. As demand for services increases, many industry experts predict that the rate at which advanced personnel are entering the workforce will not keep pace with the number of new patients seeking professional services. This trend is partly attributable to a generalized increase in the size of the population as well as the higher prevalence of chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. One approach that is being used to remedy this problem is the creation of more job opportunities for unlicensed personnel in all branches of the healthcare system. This has created a unique employment option for those who want to provide direct patient care, but who are uninterested in spending several years in college.
Unlicensed medical providers can be found working in just about every department that offers direct patient care to the public. These individuals have varying levels of competence and are assigned a variety of different titles based on the types of services they provide and the department in which they work. The most popular entry-level positions for those who are new to the healthcare environment include that of nursing assistant, home health aide, certified nurse aide, certified medication aide, and patient care technician. These employment opportunities generally require no college education, previous medical experience, or complex graduate training and certification. In most cases, employers who are looking to hire individuals for these openings will consider applicants who have either a high school diploma or GED. Although additional education does strengthen one's application, it is often not a requirement for employment for those working in
Individuals who work in generalized areas of practice are commonly expected to perform routine tasks under the direct supervision of a registered nurse who is responsible for determining the appropriateness of delegating activities to unlicensed personnel. Some of the most common tasks included in the assistant job description include vital sign collection, medical history documentation, monitoring for health status changes, assisting with feeding and walking, communicating with other members of the medical team, educating patients, and providing emotional support to those who are struggling to understand and accept their condition. Additional activities may be added based on the needs of the employer and the unique challenges encountered in a particular patient population. All technicians will be expected to be able to recognize when a patient requires advanced psychological support from a psychologist or psychiatrist.
Although most people enter the patient care technician profession as an entry-level employee, many choose to advance their career by completing the training and certification required to work in specialized fields such as surgery, dialysis, cardiology, or radiology. While these are not the only specialty fields available, they are some of the most popular. Because unlicensed assistants are expected to perform activities unique to their chosen specialty, they must complete training and certification programs that provide the knowledge and skills required to provide high quality and comprehensive care to patients who suffer from high risk and complicated conditions. Employers may also adopt their own competency standards based on the policies and procedures of the facility where the assistant has been hired.
Unlicensed personnel are an integral part of the healthcare system and are a key factor in supporting an efficient and effective provision of care process. Industry organizations such as the National Council of State Boards of Nursing and the American Nurses Association have publicly supported the use of assistants and technicians in healthcare facilities and have created guidelines for how tasks should be delegated and how to determine the level of supervision required. Those who are thinking about pursuing this career path should become familiar with the requirements in their state before signing an employment process or enrolling in a local training program and satisfying career as a patient care technician.