How to Become a Caregiving Professional

What Makes a Great Caregiver?

Are you kind, caring, compassionate, and patient? Do you have a love of serving others and a desire to help people, especially the elderly, improve their quality of life? Do you enjoy spending time with older adults? Then you might be interested in how to become a caregiver pro. In addition to these important character traits, an effective professional caregiver must:

  • Be reliable and dependable, and generally act in a professional manner.
  • Communicate clearly and effectively with clients, their families, and other healthcare professionals–and if needed, law enforcement officers or attorneys.
  • Get along well with sometimes-difficult personalities, and be willing to build a positive patient and caregiver relationship.
  • Have mental, emotional, and physical stamina.
  • Have a basic knowledge of health care terms, medical conditions, and medications.
  • Be sensitive to family situations and crises.
  • Be literate enough to follow written orders and leave messages as well as read and understand prescription medication labels.
  • Have reliable transportation and a mobile phone.
  • Be honest and willing to put the health and well-being of the care recipient first.

Managing the Challenges of Being a Caregiver

Professional caregiving can be a very rewarding profession, but it can also be a challenging one. Caregivers work hard for their pay, which is not always as high as could be wished. There may not be any paid leave, and the hours could be long. It will be important to contract with the right home care agency to ensure that needs for pay and adequate time off are met.

In-home caregivers, especially those who have been providing long-term care, can be prone to burnout, as care recipients can be demanding and the work can be physically and emotionally draining. Older adults living with alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia or mental illness could strain the patience of even the most kind-hearted. A person with developmental disabilities, or one who needs end-of-life care could also be a challenge for any professional caregiver.

Therefore it is important for caregivers to protect their own mental health and plan time for their own self-care, with activities that will help restore their energy and keep their spirits high. Studies have shown that caregivers who have firm spiritual convictions, a belief in loving and serving others, a strong sense of community and feel that caregiving is their calling in life are the most successful.

What Are the Job Requirements?

Requirements for being a professional caregiver vary depending on the level of training and education desired. Caregivers employed by home care agencies are usually certified nursing assistants (CNAs), home health aides (HHAs) or personal care attendants (PCAs).

  • Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) Certified nursing assistants are state-licensed nursing assistants who have received classroom and hands-on training, as well as passed an exam. They have a basic health care education and can help monitor their patients’ medical conditions. They have the most training (out of CNAs, HHAs, and PCAs) and can dispense the most caregiving services, including some treatments that registered nurses would have traditionally provided.
  • Home Health Aide (HHA) Home health aids are also state-licensed and must meet the same kinds of requirements as CNAs, however their health care training is very limited.
  • Personal Care Attendant (PCA) PCAs, also known as personal care assistants/aides, or homemakers, do not need any formal education, usually not even a high school degree. Many states do require that they have a certain number of supervised training hours.

What do Care Professionals do?

Caregiving professionals may find jobs in long-term care facilities, VA medical centers, or hospitals, but they can also be providers of emotional support, companionship and assistance for the elderly or disabled who live in their own homes. The assistance in-home caregivers provide usually revolves around the basic activities of daily living (ADLs) and instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs).

The Activities of Daily Living, or ADLs, refer to six specific tasks of basic self-care:

  • Personal hygiene
  • Dressing
  • Transferring
  • Toileting
  • Eating
  • Ambulating

The Instrumental Activities of Daily Living, or IADLs, are more advanced activities related to independent living:

The level of care required is often referred to in terms of the ADLs and IADLs that a client needs help with. The following are examples of duties that might be required:

Personal Care

  • Eating: assist feeding, provide nutritious meals and adequate fluids.
  • Bathing: assist bathing, transferring in/out of tub/shower, bed-baths as needed.
  • Dressing & Grooming: assist with dressing, glasses, hearing aids, special orthotics (i.e. braces), hair care, shaving, oral hygiene.
  • Ambulation: assist walking, safe use of assistive devices, range of motion and strengthening exercises.
  • Toileting: assist to bathroom, bedside commode, urinal, bedpan usage.
  • Incontinence: assist changing diapers, undergarments, pads, related skin care.

Household Tasks

  • Light Housekeeping: clean and keep tidy all living areas.
  • Laundry: wash and change bed linens and launder clothing, etc.
  • Meals: cook, grocery shop, prepare food ahead for later meals.
  • Organization: schedule daily tasks and appointments, sort mail, etc.

Transportation, Companionship, General Safety

  • Drive and escort on errands, shopping and doctor appointments.
  • Encourage social participation, escort on outings and to recreational events, everyday stimulating conversation, phone call assistance.
  • Supervise in home to avoid falls, household accidents and ensure easy access to emergency contacts.

Support Doctor-approved Medical Plan of Care

  • Help perform prescribed therapy exercises, report progress to supervisor.
  • Remind to take medications, manage prescriptions.

Salary and Benefits

What Can I Earn as a Home Care Professional?

Caregiver payment rates from in-home care agencies vary by the type of care you are expected to provide, your geographic location and by your experience, qualifications and tenure with the agency. In general, a caregiver with 2+ years professional caregiving experience who cares for a typical client (e.g. an 85 yr old woman, living alone, needing moderate assistance with ADLs and IADLs) would earn between $10 to $13.50 per hour depending on geography. In some areas, caregivers can earn up to $15 an hour. You may want to contact an area agency for assistance with this question.

What is a Typical Benefit Package?

The agency pays employer taxes which include Social Security, workers’ compensation, and disability insurance. Some agencies also make health insurance contributions, education allowances, and/or reimburse for mileage. Of course, agencies are also required to comply with all labor, wage, and work-hour regulations, including paying overtime when necessary.

What Hours Will I Work? Are Flexible Hours Available?

The hours you are expected to work vary widely by client. Some clients only want or need a few hours of care, a few days a week. Some clients need around-the-clock care. Most agencies have a minimum work requirement, for example 4 hours per day for 4 days per week. Your agency will discuss the specific hours of care you are expected to provide before you accept any caregiving assignment. The more flexible you are with your hours, the more job opportunities you will have. Some cases may involve live-in or sleep-over care. In those situations you should be allowed a reasonable number of hours of continuous, uninterrupted sleep and meals should be included.

What Kind of Client Will I Have?

Most clients, in addition to needing assistance with ADLs, IADLs and general supervision, also have one or more specific health or psychological conditions related to advanced age. Co-morbidity (meaning two or more together) conditions of the elderly include: dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, joint replacement, fractures and osteoporosis. Many also have vision problems such as macular degeneration, and hearing difficulties are common.  An experienced caregiver will most likely have cared for clients with many of these conditions. A new caregiver will begin by caring for clients in need of companionship only, or of light ADL/IADL care.