Climbing the NHS career ladder from Healthcare Assistant to Registered Nurse

Climbing the NHS career ladder from Healthcare Assistant to Registered Nurse
Climbing the NHS career ladder from Healthcare Assistant to Registered Nurse

posted 15 Nov 22

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 varied and rewarding. It offers a wide array of healthcare niches to specialise in, such as physiotherapy or midwifery, for example.

In this blog, we outline what you can do to kick-start your career as a Healthcare Assistant and progress to become a Registered Nurse with NHS England.

Becoming a Healthcare Assistant 

Starting your NHS career as a Healthcare Assistant offers an ideal entry route to many options within the healthcare sector, especially for people with the commitment and enthusiasm but not the necessary academic qualifications.

You shouldn’t need prestigious qualifications to start your career as a Healthcare Assistant. However, most employers will ask you to have GCSEs (A*-C in the old measurement system, 9-4 in the new), including English, Maths, 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 seen solely as a means to fast-track into nurse training, it will give you an insight into the role of a Nurse and 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 available, so you can choose one that suits your needs. For example, if you can only study part-time, there are many university courses that will allow you to do so. 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 Healthcare Assistants looking to progress and develop their careers.

These apprenticeships offer an opportunity to earn whilst you learn and an ideal route into nursing for those unable to invest time and money towards a full-time degree.

1. Nursing Associate 

​Nursing Associate is a new role within the nursing team. Nursing Associates work with Healthcare Assistants and Registered Nurses to deliver patient care. During training, Nursing Associates are employed in a specific healthcare setting such as an acute, community or mental health hospital, or care home/hospice.

To meet the requirements of the two-year training programme, you will gain as much experience as possible in a range of different health and care settings and situations, 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.

2. Training and development to become a Nursing Associate

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

As part of the training, you’ll develop an understanding of all elements of the nursing process and caring for individuals with particular conditions such as dementia, mental health and learning disabilities. Qualified Nursing Associates are required to work to a nationally recognised code of conduct.

3. Nursing apprenticeship

​The nursing apprenticeship will enable people to train to become a Graduate Registered Nurse without a university degree. Apprentices are 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 a Nursing Associate to a nursing degree apprenticeship. A Nursing Associate will work and study towards a level 5 qualification, whilst a nursing degree apprentice will work and study towards a level 6 nursing degree.

Also, it is possible to count the learning and experience gained as a Nursing Associate towards the degree-level apprenticeship, which reduces 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 take the following steps throughout their working life to 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.

Are you looking for a nursing job? We can help!

​If you're looking to pursue a nursing career within the NHS, our expert team of recruitment consultants are looking for quality candidates to fill health and social care roles across England and Scotland. Click below to view our current nursing jobs.