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 28 Mar 24

If you dream of becoming a registered nurse but don’t have the qualifications, becoming a healthcare assistant could be the answer and lead to further NHS career progression.

A rewarding opportunity with jobs in hospitals and care homes, healthcare assistants can specialise in physiotherapy, midwifery, and other care-based niches. You might also find opportunities to work in a patient’s home or another hands-on environment, which can lead to many career development possibilities.

From starting as a healthcare assistant to becoming a registered nurse, this article will outline the most popular routes available, how to get started, and more.

How to Become a Healthcare Assistant 

Starting a career as a healthcare assistant offers a brilliant entry point to the sector, especially if you have a passion for helping patients, but don’t have the qualifications to become a registered nurse.

Instead of a university degree, a healthcare assistant will usually only need good literacy and numeracy skills to gain employment. In your average job description, this will equate to GCSEs in English, maths, and science, with grades A* to C in the old system and 9 to 4 in the new one.

You’ll probably be expected to have basic IT and word processing capabilities, too, as well as strong communication skills.

Find out more about the healthcare jobs in your area at the link below.

Develop Your Career and Become a Registered Nurse

Working as a healthcare assistant isn’t just a stepping stone to a senior nursing role. It’ll also provide you with valuable insights into British healthcare, and vital experience when applying for training courses and other jobs.

On top of this, the NHS encourages applicants of all ages and backgrounds to pursue nursing by offering bursaries and apprenticeships, and as an NHS healthcare assistant, you can work your way up to a nursing degree course. Most universities will offer part-time study options and various pre-registration programmes, too, so there are lots of options available.

These opportunities are generally only available for staff working in the NHS, particularly those who have an NVQ level 3 working as associate practitioners or assistants.

Nursing Associate Apprenticeship Opportunities

​In 2016, the government introduced many nursing apprenticeships around the UK. Giving you the chance to earn an income while you learn, you can now get into the nursing profession if you can’t invest the time and/or money for a full-time degree.

What is a Nursing Associate?

​The role of a nursing associate is relatively new, and training offers the opportunity to provide patient care alongside healthcare assistants and registered nurses. During training, budding nursing associates will be employed in a specific healthcare setting such as a community or mental health hospital, care home or hospice, or even a patient’s home.

As part of the two-year programme, you’ll gain as much experience as possible in various health and care settings, travelling to placements and working a combination of different shift patterns.

The goal of the training is to equip you with the relevant knowledge, skills, and behaviours to work as a nursing associate as a career.

*This programme is only available in England at the time of writing.

Training and Development for Becoming a Nursing Associate

How long does it take to become a nurse in the UK?

​In the training stage, you’ll undertake academic learning one day a week and carry out work-based learning, as discussed above, for the rest of the week. You’ll need to demonstrate your ability to study to level 5 foundation degree level and commit to completing the nursing associate apprenticeship programme.

In addition, you’ll be expected to develop an understanding of all elements of the nursing process and caring for individuals with specific conditions. These include dementia, mental health issues, and learning disabilities, to name a few. Qualified nursing associates are also required to work to a nationally recognised code of conduct.

More About Nursing Apprenticeships

​The nursing apprenticeship scheme is built to train registered nurses without needing a university degree. Apprentices are released by their employer to study part-time in a higher education institution and train in a range of practice placement settings, learning from Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) approved providers.

*This programme is only available in England and Wales at the time of writing.

Moving from Nursing Associate to a Nursing Degree Apprenticeship 

It’s possible to move from a nursing associate to a nursing degree apprenticeship. The main difference is that nursing associates work and study towards a level 5 qualification, whilst a degree apprentice works and studies towards a level 6 nursing degree.

It’s also possible to count the experience gained as a nursing associate towards the degree-level apprenticeship, which reduces the length of the apprenticeship.

You’ve Become a Registered Nurse... Now What?

No matter what band you’re hoping to progress to, every nurse should take the following steps to maximise the professional and personal skills needed for career progression.

  • Sign up for email alerts to keep up to date with industry news and improve your knowledge.
  • Communicate with experienced colleagues or senior professionals if you have any issues or questions.
  • Be as punctual as possible to demonstrate commitment and professionalism.
  • Show a willingness to learn and go the extra mile for your patients.

And remember, taking on a new role will equip you with new skills and experiences. You’ll also learn more about the company as you go and have access to a wider network of colleagues who can help you progress.

Are you Looking for a Nursing job? We Can Help!

​If you're looking to pursue any kind of nursing career in the NHS, our team of recruitment consultants is looking for quality candidates to fill health and social care roles across England and Scotland.

Check out some current nursing roles at the link below.