The healthcare assistant role is integral to the NHS. It provides essential patient care and accounts for many of the daily support functions necessary to keep the care system going. It’s also a great job if you want lots of patient contact and to have a real impact on a person’s well-being. Luckily, there are no set requirements for this particular role. So if you’re thinking about starting off on a career path looking after others, here’s our advice on how to become a healthcare assistant.
What does a healthcare assistant do?
Sometimes referred to as nursing assistants or auxiliary nurses, a healthcare assistant can work in both hospital and community settings under the guidance of a qualified healthcare professional, usually a nurse. Depending on where you’re based and what the specific role is, as a health care assistant, you’ll be responsible for all kinds of things, from helping others to perform basic daily tasks such as washing and dressing, to monitoring changes in a patient’s condition, or just making people feel at ease when they are feeling vulnerable.
In terms of academics, most employers do like to see a good level of literacy and numeracy, so you might need GCSEs in English and Maths. Not always, but some trusts do also ask for a specific healthcare qualification, such as an NVQ or BTEC. But what’s more important than academics or qualifications is relevant work experience. So even if you have good grades behind you, it’s useful to get some relevant experience of working in care, whether this is paid or voluntary. A career in care is a challenging one and employers will want to see that you’re aware of the ups and downs you’ll come across in your new role. At the very least, you’ll need to be ready to show that you’ve found out about the job you’re interested in and what the work will involve.
If you don’t already have any relevant experience, work placements are a great place to start. These can be anything from a few days to a few weeks, part or full time, which means they can fit around your schedule. Likewise, a volunteer role is a perfect way to not only gain experience, but test the waters to see if you like a certain type of work. Many volunteers choose to donate a couple of hours of their time per week, but volunteering doesn’t have to be long term. You could volunteer for a one-off project rather than a weekly commitment.
Work experience and volunteer placements are often unpaid, so if you need something that pays a wage, look for an interim role that can act as a stepping stone into a healthcare assistant role. Any kind of work that involves an element of care will be helpful, such as working with young adults or the elderly. Even taking care of a family member will be helpful experience.
Ideally, you should look for experience in the area of healthcare that interests you. If you are struggling or aren’t sure which area you would prefer, then any healthcare experience should give you some insight into the profession.
If you want to volunteer, look to see what charities operate in your local area. You can also find opportunities through local NHS organisations such as GP surgeries or clinics. Alternatively local community or volunteer centres may be able to help you find suitable placements. If you’re searching for a work experience placement, many employers are often eager to hear from people willing to give up their time. Ask around locally and don’t be afraid to contact organisations directly to ask the question.
Landing your first role
There are many great online learning resources that outline what to expect in your first HCA role, from principles of the NHS to day to day responsibilities. Once you’re accepted onto your first healthcare assistant role, your employer will provide you with the relevant training that you need for that specific role. This will vary depending on where you work. The knowledge that you’ll need to work in mental health will be different to working in a residential home, so your training will be bespoke. Either way, you’ll be given great foundations with which to start your career in care.