My Experience as a Certified Nurse Aide/Patient Care Technician

Written by Katelin Stocker '24, Pre-PA

One of the most important components of an application to a health professions program is clinical experience. When exploring my options, I felt overwhelmed by the opportunities available to me. I finally settled on taking the Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) route through a 5-week course followed by a state certification exam to obtain a CNA license. However, I had no idea what it would be like to actually work as a CNA.

Currently, I work as a Patient Care Technician (PCT) at a hospital in Richmond, Virginia. This is a common role following CNA certification, usually in a hospital setting, because it has similar roles and responsibilities to that of a CNA. I work full-time hours (three 12-hour shifts) during summer and winter breaks in addition to a few shifts throughout each semester. I primarily work in an orthopedic unit but often float to different units, like Med-Surg, Women’s Health, Neurology, and more. Regardless of the unit, my responsibilities remain generally consistent.

I start my day by receiving bedside shift report from the night shift PCTs, which is when I introduce myself to my patients and learn about any significant information that will help me care for them. Next, I record each patient's vitals and will do so every four hours. Other tests I often perform throughout the day include blood glucose checks, electrocardiograms (ECGs), and bladder scans. My day is mostly filled with assisting patients with activities of daily living, including ambulation, hygiene care, and feeding. I stay busy answering call bells and helping the nurses when they need extra hands. If I have extra time, I converse with my patients and get to know them. My day ends when I give report to the next shift’s PCTs and say farewell to my patients. The shifts go by quickly, and I always feel fulfilled when I leave knowing that I spent my day helping others during a difficult time.

The 12-hour shifts give plenty of opportunities to make relationships with patients, especially when I work in the same unit multiple days in a row. The most rewarding part of my job is when I get to be with patients throughout their entire stay in the hospital: I am often the first person they see once they get to their rooms and the last person they see before they leave. I get to witness their recovery as well as the highs and lows that come along with it. I will always remember the patients that I’ve gotten close to, and I hope that they can say the same about me.

No matter what clinical experience you pursue, it is important to be reflective and thoughtful. Your role will be a stepping stone to getting into a health professions program, so be intentional about getting the most out of it as possible. Along with keeping track of your patient care hours, it may be helpful to make a log of impactful experiences that you have so you can recall them when writing a personal statement or preparing for interviews.

Working as a CNA or PCT isn’t always the most glamorous job, and it has its tough moments. But I can say with certainty that I’ve made a difference in many lives, which is worth every struggle. The job is truly what you make of it, and you will get out what you put in. I’ve learned countless valuable skills, and most importantly, I’ve understood how to make relationships with patients. I feel confident in saying that I wouldn’t trade my role as a PCT for any other healthcare experience.