How to Become a Certified Caregiver for Aging Adults: Step-By-Step

Updated

Certified Care Manager, Aging Life Care Professional, and National Master Guardian Emeritus

If you are thinking about becoming a certified caregiver, you will be entering one of the fastest-growing occupations in the country. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 9% increase for certified nursing assistants and personal care aides (personal care aides do not have certification requirements.)

Jump ahead to these sections:

We have the perfect storm of increasing care needs and a rapidly aging population. Add to that a changing healthcare environment that includes everything from assisted living communities, to rehab facilities, home health, home care, continuing retirement communities, outpatient clinics, and hospitals.

Steps for Becoming a Certified Caregiver for Aging Adults

The steps for becoming a certified caregiver for aging adults is not a complicated process, but one that may vary from state to state. It is worth keeping in mind that each state dictates what a certified caregiver can do, and the training will reflect those job responsibilities. Also, where you work also determines the skill set you will need to do your job. 

1. Understand the reasons people want to become certified caregivers

The reasons people want to become caregivers are as varied as the individuals themselves. The job market is very strong for certified caregivers, so finding a job in the area you want should be relatively easy with commitment and a desire to give to your community. Some of the reasons you may want to become caregiver are the following:

  • You like helping people. Being a certified caregiver is a people job. You will be helping people with tasks like bathing, dressing, transferring, activities, and companionship. The people you serve will have different backgrounds and experiences. Learning about people is one of the rewards of the job.
  • You like variety. There are few jobs that have the variety that caregiving does. One client may have dementia, whereas another one has a clear mind, but significant medical problems. Other clients may need care for a short period of time while they recover from an accident or illness. 
  • You want flexibility. Most certified caregiving jobs allow for a flexible schedule. This means you can work your schedule around your other home and life responsibilities.
  • Extra income after retirement. Becoming a certified caregiver after retirement is not unusual. Some older, but healthy individuals gravitate to a profession that taps into their desire to provide compassionate care to others. The flexibility of the profession can mean extra income for part-time work.
  • A stepping stone. Many people become certified caregivers because they plan on becoming nurses. Working as a certified nursing assistant is an asset when applying to nursing school. For people already in nursing school, working as a part-time certified caregiver can offer flexibility, experience, and along needed income. 

2. Know the people skills you will need

Being a certified caregiver means being able to rely upon a complex set of people skills. You will be dealing not only with the client that you serve, but family members as well. Some skills to keep in mind:

  • Empathy. The ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand how they feel.
  • Compassion. Being able to feel what the other person must be going through.
  • Conflict management. Yes, conflicts do happen with families and you may find yourself right in the middle of it. Sometimes an aging person may refuse help. It may not be your job to solve conflicts, but you may need to manage your emotions and work to adjust to the situation the best you can.
  • Responding to emergencies. Whatever company you work for will have emergency response systems in place. Your job will be to follow those protocols in a calm and focused way. Knowing how and what to do during an emergency is a life long skill.
  • A desire to learn more. Caregiving requires several skill sets. For example, if you may find yourself taking care of someone with dementia, you find it helpful to learn out more about the disease so you can be better prepared to help. You may want to read some books on caregiving to give you a wider perspective.

3. Acknowledge the drawbacks of a caregiving job

Becoming and working as a certified caregiver is not without its drawbacks. The first one is wages. Before you jump into the field, have a good idea of what pay you can expect. Pay varies according to the state where you live. Look here for state by state average hourly pay for caregivers. 

You will have to travel in your own car to see clients unless you are working in assisted living or skilled nursing. In some cases, the mileage may be reimbursed but travel time might not be. 

Some caregiver duties may be physically challenging. Certain clients may need help transferring, walking, or getting to the bathroom. If you have several clients like this the work can be exhausting. 

Although many agencies work with caregivers to give them the shifts they want, be prepared to be asked to work hours that may not fit your schedule. As with many jobs, you don’t get to choose your clients, so be prepared to work with difficult and complicated clients and patients. 

4. How to get started

The first step to getting started on becoming a certified caregiver is to understand the terms that apply depending on the state where you live. Some interchangeable terms are: Certified Nurse Aides, Certified Nursing Assistants, or State Registered Nurse Aides.

Review what is required by your state. Every state is different and the testing reflects what an aide is allowed to do per state requirements. Some states allow for many medical tasks, and others are very restrictive. For example, some states allow a certified caregiver to administer medications, and others only allow a caregiver to give reminders.

Find a testing location in your state.  Some testing and training sites are located at nursing schools, through agencies that want to hire you, the Red Cross, CNA training centers, or even online. 

Requirements may include but are not limited to the following: criminal background check and a written examination. Before you are hired by an agency, they may also require a drug test. The certified nursing examination may include knowledge of the following skills.

  • Catheter care 
  • Blood pressure checks 
  • Range of motion 
  • Transfers 
  • Oral care
  • Perineal care
  • Pulse and respirations
  • Safety protocols

You may also be required to practice some of these skills in front of an evaluator.

Then, you'll have to wait for your certificate to be mailed to you and then apply for jobs.

5. Check out places you can work and what you can do

Here is where things get a little complicated. If you are going into this field thinking that you can use a variety of clinical skills, check the state you live in first. Every state is different in terms of what you will be allowed to do with your clients or patients.

The best place to view your state’s requirements is through the AARP Long Term Services and Supports State Scorecard. This resource will give you an idea of what tasks are legally allowed.

Certified caregivers work in a variety of settings. Some choose home care agencies. Others prefer assisted living or nursing home settings. Others prefer to work with home health care companies. Each setting has its advantages and disadvantages, and pay may vary as well.

6. Learn how to interview agencies and companies

Once you have your certificate verifying you are a certified caregiver, you will have many options to choose from. Be prepared to ask questions that will help you decide which company or setting might be best for you. Some questions to consider:

  • “What will my schedule look like and is there flexibility?”
  • “Will I be paid for mileage and/or travel time?”
  • “What kind of ongoing training can I expect?”
  • “Are there benefits with this job? Specifically, health insurance, paid time off, sick leave and family leave?”
  • “What kind of pay raises can I expect and when?”
  • “How physical will the job be?”

7. Become a self advocate

In all honesty, certified nursing assistants are generally well regarded for the hard work they put into their jobs. However, in these fast-paced environments, you may sometimes feel like a pawn in a chess game where you are moved around from client to client. 

Remember this: a good caregiver should be a well-respected member of the healthcare team. If you feel you are not getting the hours, pay, or clients that you deserve, communicate that in a clear and professional manner.

If you are dissatisfied with the manner in which you are treated, think about looking for another agency or company. Your chances of being hired by someone better are high.

Frequently Asked Questions: Becoming a Certified Caregiver for Aging Adults

Unlike other medical and nursing degrees, becoming a certified caregiver is slightly different in each state. Also, the term “caregiver” can be misleading as there are professional caregivers that are not certified and yet provide many of the same duties as certified caregivers. Then there are online companies that pair caregivers with customers. Some of those caregivers will be certified, but many will not be. Next, some families hire people they know in the community, through their church or by placing an ad. 

Each method of getting a job as a certified caregiver has its advantages and disadvantages. It is unnecessary to be a certified caregiver in all three options, but doing so may make you more marketable and allow you to perform medical tasks permitted by state law. Let’s look at the three main ways certified caregivers are employed and the pros and cons of each.

Through a company

Many companies, as a condition of employment, will offer training to become certified. Companies that hire certified caregivers include home care, home health, assisted living, and healthcare settings.

Pros

  • The advantage of working for a company is that they take care of your salary, have liability insurance, find work for you, and offer other benefits.
  • Companies often offer ongoing training to improve your skills.
  • Some caregivers enjoy the camaraderie and closeness of a company setting.

Cons

  • Working for a company, you will likely make less an hour because they have overhead expenses.
  • You may not have much control over your schedule.
  • You may be required to have reliable transportation and may not be compensated for travel and auto expenses.

Online

Online companies like Care.com allow you to post your resume and connect with clients who want your services.

Pros

  • You will make more per hour since you can negotiate salary with your client. And, as you make more, the client pays less since they aren’t dealing with company pricing.
  • You have control over your schedule and can negotiate hours to suit your lifestyle and other obligations. 
  • You can pick the clients you want to work with, and each of you posts a profile to review. 

Cons

  • The biggest downside to working through an online company is liability. A company will cover you with its liability policy. Online you are on your own, and if you are sued, you could have hefty attorneys fees.
  • Unless the online company handles payroll for you, it will be your responsibility to take out taxes and report income to the IRS.
  • There are no health or other benefits, with few exceptions like joinhonor.com. 

Community Hiring

Community hiring is when you make your own arrangements with a client for care. There is no intermediary involved.

Pros

  • You are in control over every aspect of the negotiations and can name your salary.
  • You have flexibility in scheduling and tasks you are willing to provide.

Cons

  • You have no protections whatsoever, meaning that you can be fired at will or sued. Liability insurance is strongly recommended.
  • You are responsible for payroll and taxes.
  • You have no health or other benefits except those that you arrange yourself.

How much does it cost to become a certified caregiver?

The cost to become a certified caregiver will vary depending on where you live and the curriculum. Expect to pay between $50 to $75. Some companies will offer free training if you agree to work with them.

To become a certified nursing assistant (CNA) also depends on state requirements. For example, in California, to become a CNA costs about $235. In Miami, Florida, the cost is $1,895.

What’s the difference between a caregiver and a certified nursing assistant (CNA)?

The terms caregiver and certified nursing assistant are often used interchangeably, but they are different. The main difference between the two is required education and training. 

CNAs must complete education and training hours (75-100 hours), take an exam, and pass a background check to work in their preferred field. Each state differs in terms of medical tasks CNAs can perform. For example, CNAs can check vital signs, draw blood, administer medications, and work with medical technology such as medical record-keeping and billing.

A caregiver, by contrast, is not permitted to perform these medical duties as they don’t have the education and training. However, states do require minimal training to work as a caregiver for a company. Sometimes as little as 10 hours. In the case of hiring through an individual, it is possible to avoid any training at all. 

Both caregivers and CNAs will perform tasks like bathing and feeding patients, assisting with bathing, dressing, and hygiene, toileting, and feeding.

How much money do caregivers for aging adults typically make?

Caregiver and CNA pay will depend on the state and the company you work for. ZipRecruiter lists the average CNA salary with hourly rates ranging from a low of $10.73 an hour to $14.73. A caregiver working through an online company or privately can make more per hour.

Can you become a caregiver with no experience?

You can enter the field of caregiving with no experience, but depending on state requirements, you will have to get some training. Even if you want to become a CNA, you can find work in nursing homes or other areas to perform some duties while getting your certification. The same holds true of becoming a caregiver. If a state requires no caregiver training then you can be hired by a company and they will do on the job training. 

Do you need a college degree to become a caregiver?

You do not need a college degree to become a caregiver, and most caregivers tend to not have secondary degrees as such. Many caregivers have a high school diploma or GED, but some states don’t require any formal education at all.

How long does it take to become a caregiver?

The length of time to become a caregiver depends entirely on state requirements and your schedule. Many CNA courses are online so that you can go at your own pace. The number of hours of training is entirely state dependent, and time will vary.

Some potential caregivers want to take their time and make sure they feel adequately trained before beginning work. Others are confident they can learn on the job and take any required courses while they are working. 

A Caregiver for the Ages

If you are thinking about becoming a certified caregiver, know that your skills and compassion are in high demand and likely to grow. Although the aging population is in great need, other populations require the skills of caregivers as well. This includes children, the disabled, and people with intellectual disabilities.

Find your passion and be a part of a valued and important profession.


Sources:
  1. “Workforce Data Center.” Professional Healthcare Institute. phinational.org
  2. “Starting Out: A Nursing Assistant and Nurse Aide Overview.” Nursing Licensure. nursinglicensure.org
  3. “The Long-Term Services and Supports State Scorecard, One Year In: Keep ‘Picking Up the Pace.’ AARP. blog.aarp.org
  4. “Occupational Outlook Handbook.” United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. bls.gov 
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