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Candidate Advice

Can a Healthcare Assistant become a Nurse?


Healthcare Assistants (HCAs) are in great demand in the UK and are essential to any medical team.  You are there to provide care to patients and assist doctors and nurses with their tasks.  Many care settings are available for Healthcare Assistants, from Hospitals and Clinics to Hospice and Mental Health Facilities.  For some, the role of HCA offers a rewarding career.  Others may see this as a stepping stone to more senior positions in the health sector.  So can a Healthcare Assistant become a nurse?

Here, Faye Brain, Senior Recruitment Consultant at our Telford branch, explains the ways an HCA can progress their career to become a Registered Nurse.

The differences between a Healthcare Assistant and a Nurse

To become a Healthcare Assistant, no formal qualifications are required.  However, some organisations will look for those new to the care industry to complete the Care Certificate.  This is a work-based training and assessment program you will usually complete during the first few months in a role.  To become a Registered Nurse, you must have gone to university and completed a Nursing degree in one of the four fields.  These are Adult nursing, Children’s nursing, Learning disability nursing and Mental health nursing.  A nursing degree will provide hands-on experience alongside formal “classroom” learning.  When you have completed your education and training, you need to register with the Nursing & Midwifery Council.

The first step – Nursing Associate

The Nursing Associate role is relatively new – it was introduced to bridge the gap between Healthcare Assistant and Nurse.  As this is a foundation degree (Level 5 qualification), these courses have entry requirements.  As well as having some experience in a health care role, you’ll need GCSEs grade 9 to 4 (A to C) in maths and English, or Functional Skills Level 2 in maths and English.  Most nursing associate trainee programmes are delivered through apprenticeships and are available in various health and care settings.

You can find these vacancies with employers, like hospitals, GP practices, Primary care Networks, and social care settings.  This means that nurse associates have wider opportunities and more flexibility to move between acute, social and community and primary care.  You can apply directly to universities that offer the Nursing Associate foundation degree course.  Once you’ve finished your training, qualified nursing associates can continue in this role.  Although you are not a registered nurse, with further training it’s possible to ‘top up’ your qualification to become one.

Attending University for a Nursing Degree

The traditional route of completing an approved nursing degree course full-time will take three years.  All nursing degrees combine a mixture of academic study and practice learning placements.  Entry requirements for nursing degree courses vary, as every university sets its own.  But you will likely need at least two (usually three) A-levels or equivalent qualifications at level 3, plus supporting GCSEs including English, maths, and science.  Some universities offer courses with a foundation year for those without the necessary entry qualifications.  Having experience as an HCA will improve your chances of gaining a place on these courses.

If you already have a degree in a relevant subject or a foundation degree as a nursing associate, you can often get recognition for this.  This process of gaining accreditation of prior experience and learning (APEL) can enable you to do the course in two rather than three years.  You could also consider studying for your degree part-time or through the Open University, which can take five to six years.  This would allow you to continue working as a healthcare assistant while completing your nursing degree.

A Registered Nurse Degree Apprenticeship (RNDA)

An RNDA offers a flexible route to becoming a nurse as it doesn’t require you to study full-time at university.  You would have to find a position as an RNDA.  Your employer will then give you time during your scheduled week to study at university part-time.  As part of the apprenticeship, you will work and train in several different placements, like hospitals, GP practices, care homes and mental health facilities.

It usually takes four years to complete your RNDA, but like a nursing degree, this can be reduced with APEL.  For example, your apprenticeship could be reduced to two years if you have an appropriate level 5 qualification.  In these cases, your apprenticeship might be called a ‘top up’ RNDA or ‘conversion’ to a registered nurse course.  Like the role of Nursing Associate, vacancies for RNDA are advertised on the NHS Jobs website and the Find an apprenticeship website.

Can a Healthcare Assistant become a Nurse?

Yes, of course they can!  With training, qualifications and support from your employer, there is no reason why you can’t progress from HCA to nurse.  Beginning your career in healthcare as an HCA will give you a great opportunity for career development in many healthcare sectors. Nursing is quite simply just one of them.

The role will allow you to build a foundation in various fields and help you find the right setting and specialisation for your nursing degree.  It doesn’t provide a shortcut to becoming a registered nurse.  But it will help you gain experience and improve your chances of getting a place to study nursing.  Or it will give you the knowledge, experience and skills to secure a role as a trainee nursing associate or an RNDA.  And as you are already working in patient care, you will have acquired some skills that a registered nurse requires.

If you are interested in taking your first steps into the healthcare industry or working as an HCA and looking for a role to develop your career, get in touch today.

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