Caregiver Training 101

August 24, 2016

caregiYou’ve decided to engage a career in caregiving.  Congratulations!  Few occupations are as rewarding and fulfilling as providing care and helping improve someone’s quality of life.  It’s also a great time to be a caregiver as there’s never been a greater need for those with a passion for this work.  As the senior population continues to grow, innovation and opportunity for quality caregivers will continue to expand with it.  

While barriers to entering the field of personal caregiving are low, allowing many to enter the field with little to no experience in entry level positions, it’s important to understand the critical importance of proper training and continuing education.  Our client’s needs constantly change as age increases or conditions decline and at some point basic skills will no longer be sufficient to provide proper and safe care.  Insufficient training can have catastrophic consequences for both the client and the caregiver.  In addition, those seeking to continue their care career will need training and in many cases certification or licensing to move into more advanced procedures and responsibilities.  Many states have adopted rules requiring caregivers to have a minimum level of training and yearly continuing education to be employed in the field. There are many paths and options for caregivers to pursue education and gain the credentials required. While there are some variations, generally certification programs fall into the following categories: 

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) – Many caregivers start with a CNA certification, allowing them to provide direct assistance with a patient’s activities of daily living, such as bathing, eating, dressing or transferring from on location to another.  CNA’s also assist Registered Nurses or other medical professionals with medical procedures or administrative tasks.  CNA’s can be employed by medical centers, home care agencies and care communities such as assisted living or nursing facilities.  CNA certification programs typically can be completed in just a couple months and is usually a first step in a caregivers career.      

Home Health Aide (HHA) – This program is a supplemental certification based on state guidelines that allows a CNA to work with Home Health Agencies.  Depending on which state you live in, there are many other areas of specialization for CNA training.   

Licensed Vocational Nurse  or Practical Nurse (LVN or LPN) – LVNs provide basic nursing care including activities of daily living in addition to more involved care processes such as dressing wounds, collecting testing samples, taking vitals and other direct patient care processes.  LVN training typically takes around 1-2 years, depending on the program.  

Registered Nurse (RN)  – RN’s are trained for more complex patient care processes and responsibilities.  They’re also often charged with delegating responsibilities and procedures to others, such as LVN’s or CNA’s.  RNs coordinate patient care plans, directly administer medications, and oversee the care provided by CNA’s and LVN’s.  Registered Nurses programs can take anywhere from 2-4 years depending on what type of program offered.        


Training Options: 

There are several options to consider when determining which training program or school to attend. Your lifestyle, job and familial responsibilities all affect your available schedule and ability to be successful while learning.  It’s important to select a training pathway that works with your individual situation and is realistic for your needs.  Choosing the right program can make all the difference in successfully kicking off your care career!   

  • Please make sure to verify that a training program is recognized by a state’s accreditation board prior to enrolling  


Private Training Programs: 

As the need for trained caregivers continues to grow, more and more private certification programs are being developed to meet that demand.  These programs are typically in a classroom setting with curriculum combined with practical hands on experience using field medical equipment and simulated care scenarios.  These schools can offer programs from CNA, HHA to LVN and RN training.  While private programs can be more expensive, many can assist you with financial aid options such as loans or payment plans. Also, they usually have regular and more frequent training schedules as well as flexible schedule programs for students learning while working or raising a family.   


Public Schools: 

Many high schools are offering CNA programs for those looking to get an early start and hit the field right after graduation.  Talk to your school career counsellor regarding what opportunities exist.  For the rest of us, community colleges and public universities now often offer CNA, HHA, LVN and RN programs.  Depending on the school and program, these tend to be much less expensive than private school options, however scheduling is more limited and enrollment often fills fast for these programs, making availability more challenging.   


Home Care Agencies: 

Most Home care agencies should offer training to meet at least minimum standards prior to getting into the field, however some actually offer accredited certification packages as well.  Some agencies offer training programs specifically for their staff, while others actually allow open registration and certification through their training programs for a fee. 


Online Learning Options: 

For both caregivers starting out in the field or experienced licensed caregivers, there are countless options for continued education and professional certification online.  Online courses offer you the opportunity to take affordable courses on your schedule.  Many states have adopted minimum training standards and annual continuing education requirements.  Several online learning options have  incorporated training packages customized to meet specific state standards, such as those offered by the Care and Compliance Group or Care Academy.  Many of these programs are very affordable and offer certification in specializations that can help advance your career opportunities in this field.  Just be sure to verify that the training provider you choose is recognized by your state as meeting their standards.  There are even free online courses offered by agencies such as the Alzheimer’s Association for continued professional development without the cost!      


As you can see, there are many training opportunities for anyone seeking to enter the caregiving field or advance their career. As a trained caregiver focused on continuing your education and professional development, you’ll find there are countless rewarding employment opportunities available to you!   

Don’t forget, once you’ve completed your training or when you’re searching for a new opportunity, be sure to build a caregiver profile on and be instantly notified of new care jobs as they’re posted.  Best wishes in your care career and thank you for the work that you do!  


About the Author

Doug Breuer is co-founder of and has worked in senior care for the last 9 years for the State of Oregon. From investigating cases of elder abuse to managing the delivery of long term care to residents of Central Oregon, Doug has been involved in all aspects of senior care.

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