How to climb the NHS career ladder from Healthcare Assistant to Registered Nurse

Tags: blog, Nursing, healthcare...

By Kate Hopkinson

If you have a strong desire to make a difference in the lives of others, but don’t quite have the qualifications to dive into the NHS as a registered nurse, then you may want to consider breaking into the industry as a healthcare assistant.

Whether you’re in a hospital or a care home, life as a Healthcare Assistant is both varied and rewarding, offering a wide array of healthcare niches to specialise in, such as physiotherapy or midwifery for example.

In this blog, I outline what you should do to kick-start your career as a Healthcare Assistant, and progress to become a registered nurse with NHS England. 

Becoming a Healthcare Assistant 

Kick-starting your NHS career as a Healthcare Assistant offers an ideal entry route to many careers within the healthcare sector, especially for people with commitment and enthusiasm rather than academic qualifications.

Although you may not need prestigious qualifications to start your career as a Healthcare Assistant, some employers will prefer you to have GCSE's (A-C) including English, maths and science, and basic IT and word processing skills. 

Developing your career to become a Registered Nurse

Although working as a Healthcare Assistant should not be mistaken as a means to fast-track into nurse training, it will give you an insight into the role of a Nurse and useful experience when applying for training courses.

The great thing about becoming a Healthcare Assistant is that you can work your way up to a level where you can then apply for a degree course. The NHS encourages applicants of all ages and backgrounds to pursue nursing by offering bursaries and apprenticeships.

There are also many different pre-registration programmes to choose from to suit your needs. If you only have availability to study part-time, there are many university courses that will take approximately five or six years to complete part-time. This career route is available for staff working within the NHS, most commonly those who have gained an NVQ Level 3 working as associate practitioners or assistants.

Earn while you learn - Nursing Apprenticeships to choose from

November 2016 saw the government introduce and rollout a number of nursing apprenticeships, meaning there are now a range of exciting opportunities available to health care assistants who are looking to progress and develop their careers.

These apprenticeships give individuals the opportunity to earn while they learn, offering an ideal route into nursing for those who are either unwilling or unable to invest time and money towards a full-time degree. Below are two of the most widely utilised apprenticeships in England:

Nursing Associate 

Nursing associate is a new role within the nursing team. Nursing associates work with healthcare assistants and registered nurses to deliver care for patients and the public.  During training, nursing associates are employed in a specific healthcare setting such as an acute, community or mental health hospital, care home or hospice.

To meet the requirements of the two-year training programme, you’ll work in a range of settings to gain as much experience as possible of different health and care settings and situations. This will mean travelling to placements and working a mix of shifts. 

Once you’ve finished your training, you’ll have the knowledge, understanding, skills, attitudes and behaviours to work as a nursing associate.  

*Please note this programme is only available in England at present

Training and Development

To become a nursing associate, you will undertake academic learning one day a week and work-based learning the rest of the week.  You will need to demonstrate your ability to study to level 5 foundation degree level, and commit to completing the Nursing Associate Apprenticeship programme.

It will be very important to plan and manage the competing demands of your job role, study and placement activities. You will need to develop an understanding of all elements of the nursing process and of caring for individuals with particular conditions such as dementia, ill mental health and learning disabilities/difficulties. Qualified nursing associates will be required to work to a nationally recognised code of conduct.

Nursing Apprenticeship

The nursing degree apprenticeship will enable people to train to become a graduate registered nurse through an apprentice route. Apprentices will be released by their employer to study part-time in a higher education institution and will train in a range of practice placement settings. They will learn at Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) approved education providers and will be expected to achieve the same standards as other student nurses.

*Please note this programme is only available in England and Wales at present.

Transitioning from Nursing Associate to the Nursing Apprenticeship Programme 

It is possible to progress from being a nursing associate to a nursing degree apprenticeship. A nursing associate will work and study towards a level 5 qualification. A nursing degree apprentice will work and study towards a level 6 nursing degree.

It may also be possible to count the learning and experience gained as a nursing associate towards the degree-level apprenticeship, and reduce the length of the apprenticeship.

Congratulations, you're a Registered Nurse...Now what?

No matter what band you are looking to progress to, every nurse should be taking these steps throughout their working life. These will help you maximise the essential professional and personal skills needed for career progression.

  • Sign up to email alerts to keep up to date with industry news and improve your base knowledge.
  • Make sure you talk to an experienced colleague or senior professional to answer any questions you may have.
  • Keep your sickness and punctuality ratio down to show you are a reliable and committed worker.
  • Keep your managers happy by showing you have a willingness to learn and go the extra mile for your patients.

Remember that taking on a new role or responsibility will always give you new skills and experiences, more information about the company, and a bigger network of colleagues who will vouch for your willingness to progress.

Looking for a Nursing job? We can help!

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