Direct Care Professionals and Why We Need Them
The human services field covers a wide range of professional opportunities. These professions may vary in opportunities and advancement depending on education, training and certification. Direct care professionals play a vital role in the healthcare system. Direct care professionals provide some of the most important services for the elderly and the disabled on a daily basis.
Direct care professionals provide assistance with daily activities such as housekeeping and preparing food. These services may be provided in the home or in a care facility. Direct service providers have the most contact with clients and perform more physical care such as assistance with dressing, bathing, etc. These professionals are critical as they serve on the front line to ensure the health and safety of the disabled.
Service coordinators and regulatory agencies depend on direct care staff to provide services and implement treatment plan goals. Direct service providers often provide progress reports that are important to agencies responsible for monitoring the quality of care and ensuring that services are provided as planned. Direct care professionals are often the first to notice signs of abuse or neglect and they can provide information that could potentially save a life.
Working as a direct care professional is a rewarding experience. It is a highly respected field, as they perform tasks that may be difficult for the average person (i.e. bathing, changing, etc.). The opportunities have a wide range depending on education and training.
Typical Direct Care Professionals
Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) - CNAs provide care to the elderly and the disabled in the home or in care facilities. They provide basic assistance such as bathing, feeding, and assisting with positioning. They may also take vital signs. The CNA must have a GED or high school diploma and complete a CNA certification program. These programs can range from a few weeks to a two year degree. CNAs also take an exam in order to complete certification.
Personal Care Attendants- Personal care attendants are similar to CNAs and perform basically the same tasks. The personal care attendant (PCA) may assist the patient in the home or in a facility. However, PCAs tend to be requested most often in the personal home. They complete tasks such as assisting with cooking, housekeeping, errands, bathing and much more. PCAs are often requested to assist patients at home following surgery or in hospice situations. PCAs typically require a high school diploma/GED and some training in providing health care. Training requirements may vary from agency to agency.
Medical Assistant- Medical Assistants perform most of the basic functions during a doctor visit. They typically take vital signs and conduct routine health assessments. They often prepare patient documentation and help with scheduling appointments. In some cases, the assistant spends more time with the patient that the doctor. The medical assistant is the key to helping the doctor’s office run smoothly. Medical assistants also go through a program and a certification process.
Nurse (LPN/RN)- Licensed Practical Nurses (LPN) and Registered Nurses (RN) provide more advanced forms of direct care. This care consists of (but not limited to) administering medications, tube feedings, bandage changing, wound care, etc. The LPN usually completes a one year program and has to take a state examination. The RN is usually required to complete a two year program and a state examination. The RN usually serves in a supervisory capacity over the LPN. They also have the potential to earn higher salaries than LPNs.
Supported Living Counselor- Supported living counselors provide services for clients that live in the home. Supported living counselors assist individuals with intellectual or mental health disabilities maintain their independence in the community. They assist with cooking, shopping, money management, and maintaining their living areas. They also provide specific trainings requested on their treatment plans.
Residential Counselor- Residential counselors provide counseling and support to individuals living in group homes or other residential treatment facilities. They assist residents in day to day activities and occasionally assist in crisis intervention. Depending on the agency, a two or four year degree in the human services field is required. Additional training in behavioral management may be required, as they tend to encounter residents that are physically and verbally aggressive.
Those who decide to become a direct care professional must have a great deal of compassion for people. Direct care professionals are in high demand and there are opportunities for career advancement. Of course, this depends on what type of direct care profession you pursue. Nurses have the most earning potential but also go through more extensive training.
Any career path has its drawbacks. The more direct contact you have with clients, the likelihood of staff injury or illness also increases. This is especially true in hospitals, nursing homes, or other residential facilities. Direct care providers are also more likely to be the target of verbal and physical abuse from clients. Direct care staff is more susceptible to these threats in residential and psychiatric facilities. Despite these concerns, the direct care profession remains in high demand and opportunities for advancement are available with the training and experience.
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