How to Become a Professional Caregiver

5 Steps to Turn Your Passion and Skills Into a New Career as a Professional Caregiver
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Gertrude Hii Beimers decided she wanted to be a professional caregiver during years of caring for her husband, who died a few years ago of Lou Gehrig's disease. So she got her certified nursing assistant (CNA) degree and started work for Catalina In-Home Services in Tucson, Arizona, providing home care. "Like a lot of other direct care workers," she said, "I found my way to my career through caring for a member of my own family."

Her story is not unusual these days, with these two trends conflating at rapid speed: people living longer and requiring help with chronic illnesses, and boomers like Beimers wanting to make a living doing something meaningful.

"My spiritual beliefs led me to help people, and I needed to work full time after my husband passed," she said. "I realized that I can do this work and get paid."

Pat Berardo also had a personal reason for making her transition. After 14 years of caring for her parents and mother-in-law, Berardo left her career in marketing at the start of 2012 to start For Excellence in Care, a business that pairs professional companions with elderly patients in the New York metropolitan area. "While more people are seeing the market potential, there's a lack of consistent quality with professional caregivers," she says. "That means there's great opportunity for new people who want to enter this field. That was my motivation -- to bring greater consistency and quality to this void."

How do you know if you possess the qualities that would make professional caregiving the right choice for you?

"To be good at this and also be able to weather the downsides, professional caregivers need to be consistent, unflappable, focused, compassionate, patient, and motivated by finding a purpose and the rewards you'll get by making a difference with older and infirm people," Berardo says.

It's a rewarding profession, but it's more challenging than some who've dabbled in caregiving might think, if they haven't done the work full time. "You may be a great cook at home and love making a wonderful meal for your family, but that doesn't mean you're cut out to be a chef," says Berardo.

If you think you want to explore professional caregiving, here are five concrete steps for you to take:

  1. Consider your motivations.
    Before you set the wheels of change in motion, clarify why you want to become a professional caregiver. Do you possess both the interest and the traits that will make you successful on the job?
  2. Ask for feedback.
    "Talk to professional caregivers to learn about the time and money investment in education, salary, and career trajectory," says Devra Fishman, who volunteers part time in a hospice in Washington, D.C. "You may also consider volunteering first to get a sense of the environment, challenges, and rewards."
  3. Explore your options.
    Attend caregiver's classes to learn the basics of this profession. Consider beginning your work as a companion through organizations like For Excellence in Care, which offers critical caregiving support -- everything short of medical care in the home. Apply for work at a home care agency, since many offer training. Check out organizations like the Family Caregiver Alliance, which offers workshops, seminars, and classes for individuals who want to work as professional caregivers.
  4. Get training and/or a degree.
    While a degree isn't always a requirement to become a caregiver, training is an asset when seeking and working with clients. Where to start? Some colleges provide courses for prospective caregivers. Take a relatively quick course and become a certified home health aide (CHHA). One option for finding a course near you is to visit the American Red Cross and search for nurse assistant and home health aide training in your state. If you choose to get an advanced degree, common ones to explore are nurse, LPN (licensed practical nurse), or CNA (certified nursing assistant).
  5. Investigate salaries.
    Make sure you're OK with potential salaries, which vary by location, facility, and degree. "Pay for a CNA can be low and we work long shifts, for at least 50 hours a week," says Beimers. Berardo adds, "If you're looking to go into this field, you'll make the most money if you're hired directly by a family or facility, since you won't be working through a fee-based agency that will take a cut of your wages."

For now, Beimers is happy with her choice of degree and profession, even if the pay isn't ideal. "Two years after starting this fulltime, I still love it," she says. "To do this work, you have to love the people. I know that getting an LPN degree might lead to higher pay, but that option takes more time, and I really like working one-on-one with patients."

Dave Singleton

Dave Singleton is an award-winning writer, editor and author, who writes for numerous publications and websites on a variety of topics, including health, caregiving, pop culture, food, travel, social trends, relationships, and LGBT life. See full bio

about 1 year, said...

I am a life long caregiver. I think you are supplying good basic information about getting started as a caregiver. I noticed that you are not listing the national accrediting body for caregivers on your site or this posting? This would be the American Caregiver Association. They also oversee the National Caregiver Registry, which you get put into once you complete one of their courses. The reason that I point this out is because the American Caregiver Association now offers a new "Master Caregiver Certification", which I recently acquired. To get this level of caregiver certification the caregiver has to complete several courses with the ACA, and have a minimum of five (5) years of work experience as a caregiver., etc. Master Caregiver Certification is a great way to add another feather in your caregiver hat for those who want to pursue a higher level of expertise without have to go back to college to do i!. Just thought I would mention this to you since your post is about training and certification for caregivers.. Thanks for the great information that you are providing to us caregivers:)

over 2 years, said...

Thank you for posting this article...good idea for me..I'm going to comply all requirements needed..

about 3 years, said...

Home Instead is currently seeking professional in-home caregivers. More info:

almost 5 years, said...

I appreciate working for Catalina In Home Services. It means having the company behind me, a twenty-four support which is of vital importance for me. I could not imagine doing it any other way. The fact it is this company of Catalina In Home Services makes all the difference also. Its founder and President, Judy Clinco, is a woman of vision, driven by a sense of mission. She untiringly works to better our lot as direct caregivers, and gain us recognition as "professional caregivers." We are that, "professional caregivers." It does make all the difference and our clients experience that. Our clients know when they sign us on, that they can count on us unfailingly to be there and provide the best of services. And we are happy. I have yet to meet a caregiver who is disgruntled, the company appreciates and loves us and we know it. And, this is my personal experiences.

almost 5 years, said...

Thank you for an informative article. I had no idea there was a course for a CHHA.

almost 5 years, said...

Thank you for posting this article. I have been looking for a meaningful career in retirement and I think this might just be it.

almost 5 years, said...

Several options for caregiver training were given that I did not know about. The points to consider when making this decision are well worth pondering. Good article.

almost 5 years, said...

Wow - Florida has a high cost. The caregivers that we hire through an agency receive $18-20/hour, and we pay the agency $25-30/hour and I'm in California!

almost 5 years, said...

Knowing other caregivers prefer to work for themselves and not an agency. I'm in Palm Beach County, and on my own get twenty an hour. But will do more for the one in need than Agency's allow. Not to mention, money wise, I save the one in need money because the agency's charge $40,00 per hour and pay employee $10.00. Most of these employees I have seen in action act disgruntled. Sad, sad, sad, One thing to be mentioned, get your own background check and make copies to send to a family Also, I got from an Elder Affairs attorney, a caregivers contract that includes responseabilitys of both parties. Spells everything out in detail, protecting both sides of the fence. Lots of prayers are a must.

almost 5 years, said...

Actually, I have been considering at the urging of my Sister-in-Law, becoming a Care Manager - I don't have the physical strength to do hands-on caregiving, but I have a gift of being able to manage care (physician visits, appointments, activities, family coordination/communication). My father's Dr.'s all comment on how they love the way my Father is prepared for all his appointments, and I have what they need at hand in the way of historical data on health, and can help with filling out the physician portions of the forms. Something to think about as the Boomers all get older (I'm at the tail end of the Boomers.