How to become a healthcare assistant (With salaries)
Updated 19 September 2023
Working in healthcare can be demanding, but it's often a highly rewarding career choice. If you're interested in becoming a healthcare assistant, it's important to understand the role and what qualifications and skills you need to work in this field. Working as a healthcare assistant can involve a wide variety of different responsibilities and can place you in various environments with different requirements. In this article, we look at the role in more detail and guide you through how to become a healthcare assistant.
How to become a healthcare assistant
If you're wondering how to become a healthcare assistant and are looking at this career path for the first time, there are different routes into the field. You can start working in this role regardless of whether you have past experience. When you apply for a role, make sure you have a clear understanding of the nature of the work in the job you've applied for. You can often arrange to visit the workplace informally to get a better understanding of the environment and the nature of the job. Follow these steps to become a healthcare assistant:
1. Gain experience as a carer or care assistant
Care assistants are very much in-demand, and working in this role can be a great experience to help you move into working as a healthcare assistant, whether you're working for the NHS or a private organisation. Gaining experience as a carer or care assistant shows that you have a genuine interest in the work and demonstrates that you have the right skills. This might give you an advantage over other candidates.
2. Do volunteer care work
Voluntary work is a good way to get a better understanding of the requirements of being a healthcare assistant and also helps you to develop the necessary skills whilst you continue with other paid work. If you have a family member, friend or neighbour who needs care, working with them could be a great opportunity to find out if this is a career you're interested in. As with paid care work, volunteering demonstrates that you're enthusiastic and have a real interest in this type of work.
Related: How to find volunteer work
3. Apply for healthcare assistant roles straightaway
You do not need any specific entry-level requirements to work as a healthcare assistant, so you can apply for healthcare assistant roles with no prior experience. If you have the right qualities, you can begin a job and complete the necessary training whilst you work. This then makes it easier to apply for other healthcare assistant roles in the future.
What is a healthcare assistant?
As a healthcare assistant, medical settings like GP practices, hospitals and NHS trusts employ you. You could work for the NHS or for a private organisation. The exact duties of the role depend on the environment you're working in. A healthcare assistant working on an in-patient ward in a hospital has different responsibilities to someone who works at a GP practice. Regardless of where you're working, a healthcare assistant is responsible for supporting the overall care of patients.
In the past, healthcare assistants were known as nursing assistants or nursing auxiliaries, but these terms are now less common. It's easy to confuse the role of a healthcare assistant with that of a care assistant. Whilst there are overlapping responsibilities, being a healthcare assistant is a distinct career path from being a care assistant. The main difference is that care assistants usually work in care settings rather than medical environments. This includes working in social care environments such as residential care homes or providing care services for people in their own homes.
What does a healthcare assistant do?
Healthcare assistants take on a variety of tasks with the aim of supporting medical staff and caring for patients on a day-to-day basis, maintaining their dignity and keeping them as comfortable as possible. These include personal care tasks such as assistance with washing, dressing and going to the toilet. You might also assist patients with eating and drinking. You may also need to physically support patients, for example, helping them to get in and out of bed or helping them to move around. You need to maintain robust documentation and record-keeping to ensure clear communication with colleagues.
A nurse or other senior member of staff usually supervises healthcare assistants. You're expected to keep the supervising nurse informed of any changes you notice in a patient or concerns that you have. Mandatory training is provided before you carry out tasks on your own. Working as a healthcare assistant offers ample opportunities to learn new skills and develop your career, especially if you're interested in continuing work within healthcare. If you work in an NHS setting, the NHS may provide you additional training on taking baseline observations after you've completed the initial training, including:
checking blood pressure
observing blood oxygen levels and respiratory rate
additional skills such as how to take blood or catheterise a patient
How much does a healthcare assistant earn?
The average salary for a healthcare assistant is £10.79 per hour. However, there is some variance depending on where you are located in the UK. For example, in London, this rises to £12.26 per hour but drops to £10.17 in Bournemouth.
Skills and qualifications for healthcare assistants
The following skills and qualifications are necessary for healthcare assistants:
If you want to work as a healthcare assistant, there are some important skills and characteristics you need. You might have gained these skills through previous work experience, for example, developing your communication skills in a customer-facing role, or you might be able to demonstrate these skills through your experience as a parent or caring for an older family member. These skills include:
Communication skills: This is vital because healthcare assistants work closely with both colleagues and patients. The way you communicate with patients is important because you need to treat them with care and dignity at all times.
Compassion: Healthcare assistants spend much of their time supporting people who are unwell and might not be able to do things for themselves. Therefore, a caring and compassionate attitude is essential.
Patience: The patients you work with might do things at a slower pace than normal, so having patience and empathy is important.
Physical strength: You might need to physically support patients and help them to move around in your role. Most days, you also spend a lot of time standing up, so you need good levels of physical strength to cope with this.
Being a team player: The demands of a healthcare environment are constantly changing, and you need to be a good team player to effectively support your colleagues. Similarly, you need to be able to use your own initiative when appropriate to support your team effectively.
Willingness to work actively: Being a healthcare assistant is an active role that involves direct contact with patients. You need to be comfortable with this and be willing to actively provide support.
You don't need any formal qualifications before you start working as a healthcare assistant. However, good basic literacy and numeracy skills are helpful. Once you've been hired as a new healthcare assistant, you need to complete the Care Certificate. This is a compulsory work-based training programme that equips you with the skills you need to work as a healthcare assistant. You receive the necessary training in the first six months of your role.
Career progression for healthcare assistants
Working as a healthcare assistant gives you plenty of opportunities to develop your career. This role gives you transferrable skills that you can use in other fields, including in other positions within healthcare. Once you've completed the basic training, most employers offer further training to help you develop your skills. The nature of this depends on the environment you work in; you can ask about what opportunities for progression are available at the interview stage. In a hospital setting, it might include learning additional skills like measuring patients' vital signs or catheterisation.
Working as a healthcare assistant is a great step if you want to eventually work as a nurse. If you're interested in working as a nurse, it's usually possible to take a nursing apprenticeship or train as a nursing associate whilst you work as a healthcare assistant. If you're interested in pursuing other areas of healthcare, gaining experience as a healthcare assistant gives you the opportunity to progress into other healthcare roles such as training as a paramedic, working in a pharmacy or working as a physiotherapist.
Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.
Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.
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