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Working in healthcare

How to become a healthcare assistant: is it a good career choice?


A healthcare assistant (HCA) is an extremely rewarding job and exists in all specialisms of nursing and healthcare. HCA’s support doctors and nurses by providing comfort and care to patients, going through a painful or difficult time.

You are constantly under the guidance of more senior healthcare professionals so you will always be learning. HCA roles are also extremely in demand so there are plenty of employment opportunities to develop into other healthcare fields. The roles of a HCA can vary widely from day to day. It’s a stimulating job, full of new challenges and opportunities to develop. You’ll learn what it’s like to work in healthcare and to become a healthcare professional.

HCA’s work in a variety of environments, from hospitals, GP surgeries, and even inside patients homes. The role is also sometimes known as a Nursing Assistant or Nursing Auxiliary. It’s ideal for someone with an interest in health and social care and passionate about helping others.

Can I become a healthcare assistant with no experience?

There are several routes into becoming a healthcare assistant, and different ways to find the perfect healthcare assistant job for you. You can gain practical experience by applying for trainee or entry level roles in a healthcare setting, such as a residential care home. You would be given comprehensive training under supervision, and have regular check-ins with senior staff as part of your role.

What qualifications do I need to become a healthcare assistant?

There are no formal qualifications required and you don’t need a clinical background to become a HCA. You do need to have level 2 english and level 1 maths and you will need an enhanced background check as you will be working with the public.

Although there aren’t any specific qualifications required, a Level 2 Diploma in Health and Social Care could help you get a great first role. There are also lots of resources available to help with your application here at Safehands. Learn how to write a compelling cover letter or discover why you want to work in healthcare.

What responsibilities does a healthcare assistant have?

The tasks that a HCA carries out all focus on the care of the patient. They might be responsible for:

  • Supporting with clinical duties, such as taking blood samples and very occasionally inserting catheters
  • Spending time talking to patients, answering their questions and making sure they are comfortable
  • Taking patients temperatures, blood pressure, pulse, weight, respiratory rate and blood oxygen level
  • Washing and dressing patients, and helping them go to the toilet
  • Helping less mobile patients to move around or change position in bed
  • Making beds, cleaning equipment and making sure your surroundings are clean, safe and hygienic
  • Serving meals and helping patients to eat and drink if required
  • Communicating with patients, their relatives and carers
  • Attending meetings with other healthcare professionals
  • Educating patients on healthy practices

What traits are important for a successful healthcare assistant?

HCA’s need a combination of hard and soft skills. Hard skills are gained through hands-on experience and training. Soft skills are traits such as leadership, being a good communicator, working well as part of a team and having good time management.

You might have to deal with a patient who is confused or upset, so an ability to stay calm in a potentially stressful situation is important. You should be observant enough to recognise the signs of someone being unwell, and be a friendly face if someone needs some company and reassurance.

There could be experiences in your personal life that have already shown the traits of a successful HCA. This could be providing care for an elderly family member, babysitting, or looking after children.

What skills will I learn as a healthcare assistant?

In the first six months you will receive all the training you need for the role in post. Your employer has a duty to provide ongoing training and regular supervision throughout your employment. You might be required to undertake the Care Certificate, which trains new care workers in the skills they need for the role. The Care Certificate lists 15 minimum standards such as understanding the remit of the role, basic life support, and infection prevention.

As you are constantly dealing with people, you will develop excellent communication skills and need to work well within a team. You will be helping others, and perhaps most importantly, you will develop a deeper understanding of how to treat patients with compassion, dignity and care.

What are the progression opportunities for a healthcare assistant?

A HCA is a rewarding career in itself, but some also see it as a stepping stone to a more senior role in the health sector. A commonly asked question is whether a healthcare assistant can become a nurse, and the answer is a resounding yes. There are several routes into nursing which require various levels of education and training, and great career progression opportunities.

There are different qualifications you can study for whilst working as a HCA. Your employer should be open to discussing training opportunities to develop your skill set and advance your career.

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