Communication, empathy, consistency—the qualities of a great caregiver come naturally to many. If you’re interested in pursuing a career in caregiving, you may be wondering what else it takes to begin taking on patients and providing dedicated care services.
Caregiving licensing and certification will vary by state, but there are also general education and training requirements that anyone planning to enter this field will need to know. In this guide, we’ll explore the most effective ways to prepare for a career in caregiving.
Step 1: Fulfill the educational requirements
With several branching career paths and employment opportunities, education requirements for caregivers can vary significantly. At a minimum, a high school diploma or GED is generally a requirement for entering any position in the industry, though exceptions may apply for some caregiving agencies.
That said, it’s not uncommon for caregivers to attain higher levels of education or even return to school later in life to advance their careers.
Many caregivers seek out secondary education in fields including:
- Nursing – Registered nurses (RNs) work to provide medical care for their patients, often working alongside caregivers in assisted-living facilities and nursing homes. Caregiving may offer a way to pivot your career while utilizing your specialized medical knowledge and skills for those from a nursing background.
- Health administration – For those deeply invested in the caregiving industry, health administration may allow you to further develop your caregiving skills while learning more about the industry. This role is more behind the scenes and involves overseeing the day-to-day operations and processes at the facility.
- Gerontology – Interested in learning more about the needs of the elderly? A degree in gerontology is primarily focused on health risks for those 65 and older. This specialized degree is a natural educational goal for those looking to expand their caregiving services while still serving the elderly community.
Fortunately, education opportunities abound for those interested in caregiving. As the industry expands and the demand for caregivers continues to grow, so do the chances for gainful employment. So long as you possess the compassion and hardworking attitude needed for the job, you’ll likely be a prime candidate.
Step 2: Earn your state certification
As mentioned, the certification process to becoming a state-licensed caregiver will depend on what state you choose to practice in.
Familiarize yourself with state requirements and reach out to state agencies with any questions or concerns you might have. Most often, state websites will provide detailed information regarding the certification process. But, if you’re scrambling for information, don’t hesitate to reach out to state facilities.
Generally, you can think of state requirements as falling into one of three categories:
- Low – There is no official license required to practice caregiving in many states. That said, minimum training hours are still a common stipulation. Across the country, eight hours of caregiving training is the minimum for a career in the field.
- Medium – Some states, including Florida, Georgia, Texas, and Virginia, require personal care licenses. These licenses are typically distributed by state-governed agencies and require specific training and coursework. In addition, many of these same states recommend training courses from the Professional Association of Caregivers, a national caregiving advocacy group.
- High – For states with the highest requirements for caregivers, it will take some time before you’re directly caring for patients. In New Jersey and Washington, you can expect to spend up to 76 hours of training before entering a position at a licensed caregiving institution.
Besides general certifications and personal care licenses, some states issue specialized certifications like a companion/homemaker license or a specialized business license for caregivers. Ensure you fully understand your state’s requirements and your responsibilities for training by doing preliminary research before you get too far on your caregiving journey.
Additionally, many agencies will require a background check, fingerprinting, and references to ensure you’re the right fit for the job. You may also need to prove you have reliable transportation and a valid state driver’s license.
As with any career opportunity, set yourself up for success by being forthcoming and professional regarding all job requirements.
Step 3: Consider volunteering
Field experience is a necessary part of caregiver training. If you’re looking to bolster your resume before beginning your caregiving career, you can gain valuable experience and networking opportunities as a volunteer caregiver. For many, volunteering is their entryway into full-time professional caregiving. It can also allow you to test the waters and see if a caregiving career is right for you.
Fortunately, there are several ways to engage in volunteer caregiving, including:
- Working with a friend or loved one – Do you have an elderly grandparent who needs care or a close family friend looking for caregiving assistance? Look within your network to find opportunities to provide unofficial caregiving services.
- Nonprofit organizations – As more nonprofit organizations expand into the caregiving sector, volunteers are continually in high demand. Consider looking for a nonprofit organization that can provide you with hands-on experience, working side-by-side with a trained caregiver to provide you with insights into the industry.
- Community service organizations – Look to your local community to assist those in need. Many community organizations provide meals, transportation, and companionship support to the elderly or infirmed. You can make a positive impact on your community while developing essential skills.
- Student organizations – If you’re currently pursuing your education, your school may offer various caregiving outreach programs. Student organizations or institutionally-backed caregiving organizations can always use a helping hand. You may even earn some extra credit.
The possibilities for volunteering are nearly endless. You may only need to commit a few hours a week, and most volunteer organizations are highly flexible regarding scheduling. Plus, it’s deeply rewarding to give your time to those in need. Your generosity will go a long way to building a career in the caregiving industry.
Step 4: Complete your training
Alongside the aforementioned state certifications, general caregiving training is invaluable to those entering the field. To keep up with the varied demands of caregiving, you’ll need to be well-prepared before starting any position.
In addition to state and federally mandated training hours, it’s advised to seek out training programs that involve the following certifications:
- First aid – Caregiving patients may be particularly vulnerable to injuries and critical health risks. As such, be prepared with general first aid knowledge so you can act quickly and effectively during an emergency. Expect the best but be prepared for the worst, whether you’re dealing with bruises and scrapes or responding to burns and breaks.
- CPR – In the event of cardiac arrest, CPR can save lives. Consider taking a local CPR certification class to increase your knowledge base and earn your certification.
- Hygiene and personal care training – Investigate proper procedures and helpful tips for dealing with patients’ hygiene needs. Personal care training may include tips for increased privacy during bathing, demonstrations for assisting patients with limited mobility, or techniques for properly shifting a bedridden patient to avoid rashes or sores.
- Nutrition education – Meal planning and preparation are key components of caregiving. Consider taking a nutrition class to gain insight into dietary health for those of all abilities and ages.
- Hospice care – Considering a career in hospice care? Enroll in a program designed to educate caregivers on the practical and emotional needs of those in this final form of care.
And as always, don’t neglect self-care. Your well-being is just as important as your patient’s needs. To avoid burnout or exhaustion, consider seeking out programs and groups designed to assist with caregiver needs.
Step 5: Develop your skills
You’ll likely begin developing your caregiving skills before entering a patient's home or taking your first steps into a caregiving facility.
Frequently, individuals interested in the field have already been recognized for displaying some of the prerequisite skills needed for the job.
Common skills required for caregivers include:
- Technical knowledge – Familiarize yourself with the common medicines, treatments, and devices that caregivers deal with daily. From blood pressure readers to heart rate monitors, you’ll need a working knowledge of a variety of medical tools, along with an understanding of various medical terms.
- Physical strength – You don’t need to be a professional bodybuilder, but caregiving does require a level of strength. With the advent of motorized beds and mobility aids, you won’t be expected to hold up a patient alone, although you will be expected to spend long hours on your feet and handle a variety of heavy medical devices.
- Communication – Your job, first and foremost, is to understand your patient’s needs. More often than not, that means listening and conversing with your patient to assess their health and comfort. Additionally, you’ll frequently engage in written and verbal communications with doctors and family members.
There’s no perfecting these essential skills, and as you continue your work as a caregiver, you can expect to further refine your professional expertise.
Remember that caregiving is often about soft skills and general personability. Christian Rabito of New Orleans-based Home Instead, says, “It's mostly non-medical tasks from companionship, light housekeeping, transportation, personal care, the emphasis is always on the companionship because that's really what makes them thrive in that environment.”
Potential career options of a caregiver:
Once you get all the necessary license and certification, there are several career options for you in the field of caregiving, such as:
Home Health Field
- Nursing Assistant
- Personal Care Aide
- Human Service Assistant
- Home Care Aide
- Family Caregivers
- Dementia Care Aide
- Respite Care Aide
Nextdoor: Expand your caregiving career
All the training in the world will not matter if you don’t carry out caregiver duties sincerely. Caregiving is unlike any other, and with the proper preparation, you’ll be well on your way to a fulfilling career. If you’re ready to unlock your full potential in this industry, Nextdoor can help connect you with your community. Aside from figuring out how to start a home care business, we can also help you craft a home care business plan.
Claim your business page, craft your first business post, and start making real connections with your neighbors. It’s never been easier than with Nextdoor. And with more than 55 million local business recommendations already made, you can look forward to more people discovering your caretaking services every day.
HCSW. Comparing 4 Major Career Paths for Caregivers. https://healthcaresalaryworld.com/comparing-4-major-career-paths-caregivers/#google_vignette
Care Giver List. How Caregiver Training Requirements Vary by State. https://www.caregiverlist.com/caregiver-training-requirements-by-state.aspx
PAC. Professional Association of Caregivers. https://professionalassociationofcaregivers.org/
KVUE. First-time caregivers receive training on how to care for older adults.
WWLTV. Local company hiring more than 100 at-home caregivers.
Indeed. Learn About Being a Caregiver.