How to become a Healthcare Assistant

03 July 2018 | Careers Advice | Thomas Peacock

A healthcare assistant, or an HCA, is an integral role within most medical departments, offering vital support to the wider team. In addition to this, it can be a great place to start your medical career as it can lead to many other roles within the profession.

Healthcare assistants work in hospitals or other community settings, such as GP surgeries, under the guidance of a qualified healthcare professional. Work can be very varied, meaning no two days are the same.

If you’re thinking of becoming a healthcare assistant, read on for our comprehensive guide on what the role entails, what qualifications you’ll need and how to go down this exciting career path.

Qualifications required to become a healthcare assistant

There are no set entry requirements to become a healthcare assistant and the requirements do vary, however employers do at least expect you to have good literacy and numeracy skills as well as GCSEs (or the equivalent) in English and Maths.

As well as these, they may ask for a healthcare qualification, such as BTEC or NVQ. Typically, employers will also expect some form of relevant experience from either paid or voluntary work, which can demonstrate the necessary key skills required for the role.

In addition to these, some organisations offer apprenticeships in healthcare, which can give you the necessary experience to apply for HCA posts. Doing so can also help you to determine where you’re suited to the role and if it’s something you’d like to pursue.

Key skills required

Being a healthcare assistant requires a specific skill set and personality type. This includes being an empathetic person, with a caring and sensitive nature. Excellent communication skills, including active listening, are also essential.

In addition to this, you’ll need to be approachable and friendly so that you can openly interact and communicate with patients. After all, they need to feel comfortable enough to go into their health related problems with you.

Being cheerful and friendly, with a positive attitude, is also key. After all, you may be dealing with hard-hitting situations and taking on personal care tasks such as washing etc.

What does a typical day as a Healthcare Assistant look like?

Day to day, the work of a healthcare assistant can vary and depends on where you’re based and the field you’re working within. In a hospital for example, you may be:

  • Washing and dressing patients
  • Helping people to move around
  • Taking patients to the toilet
  • Making beds
  • Talking to patients and making them comfortable
  • Monitoring patients' conditions by taking temperatures, pulse, respirations and weight
  • Serving meals and helping to feed patients

In a health centres and GP surgeries, you may:

  • Sterilise equipment
  • Conduct health checks
  • Restock consulting rooms
  • Process lab samples
  • Take blood samples
  • Complete health education work

Typical salary expectations

As a healthcare assistant, you’ll typically work 37.5 hour weeks, though your shifts will vary every month. For example, you may work nights, have early starts or late evenings and even be required to work some weekends and Bank Holidays.

Careers within the medical sector in the UK are paid on the Agenda for Change (AfC) pay system and would typically start at band 2. However, this can vary depending on whether you’re working within the private or public healthcare sector and your level of experience.

  • A newly qualified assistant can earn anywhere between £15,000 to £18,000
  • More experienced Healthcare Assistants can earn around £20,000 and above

What career progression is available to a healthcare assistant?

A healthcare assistant is a great entry-level role that can open many doors within the medical sector. You can guarantee that you’ll learn plenty of new skills, while also building upon your existing ones. In addition to this, there’s ongoing training to ensure that you’re constantly developing.

Alongside gaining experience and further training, you could work towards becoming a senior healthcare assistant. Other roles you could then apply to train as include an assistant practitioner and a nursing associate.

With the appropriate qualifications and evidence of academic ability, you could even then go on to train as one of the many degree-level healthcare professionals, such as a nurse, podiatrist, midwife or occupational therapist.

What are the challenges of being a healthcare assistant?

Every role comes with its challenges, however, overcoming these can help to build on your experience and knowledge, helping to further your career.

The challenges you may face as a healthcare assistant include having to face unpleasant scenarios on a regular basis. The nature of the role, alongside unsociable hours, could also produce a stressful environment that can quite often become tiresome or emotionally draining.

Ready to become a healthcare assistant?

If you think you would be suited to the role of a healthcare assistant, why not spruce up your CV and start your job search today! You can read more about the role on the official NHS page.

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