How to become a Healthcare Assistant

How to become a Healthcare Assistant
How to become a Healthcare Assistant

posted 13 Dec 23

Healthcare assistants look after patients and help to make their experience of care as stress free and comfortable as possible. In this role you will find yourself giving one-to-one support to individuals, and building a trusted and caring relationship with them to help them feel safe and looked after. 

An ageing population means that healthcare assistants (or HCAs) are in demand right now, so jobs are advertised regularly. This role can also act as a stepping stone to other care or NHS jobs, giving you room to grow and develop.  

In this article we will explain how to become a HCA and lay out any  healthcare assistant qualifications you might need, as well as how to navigate a fulfilling career in healthcare. 

Understanding the healthcare assistant role 

Your job as a healthcare assistant is to look after people with compassion and care. You will be helping people who may be feeling at their most vulnerable, so those soft skills such as being able to listen, empathise and communicate are an essential part of the role. 

Working under the guidance of qualified healthcare professionals, as a HCA you are responsible for a wide range of duties that ensure the comfort and well-being of patients. These include helping patients with personal care tasks such as bathing, dressing, and eating, taking vital signs like blood pressure and temperature, and assisting during health assessments. They also provide emotional support, engage patients in activities, and maintain healthcare documentation. Furthermore, HCAs might perform some basic medical procedures under supervision, like changing dressings or helping with physical therapy exercises. As such, being able to follow instructions and understand the different roles is important. But you will also need to use your initiative and work independently at times.   

Entry routes to becoming a healthcare assistant 

There are no set entry requirements when it comes to how to become a healthcare assistant, but you will need to show employers that you are able to communicate effectively, take instructions, and understand the compassion and empathy needed for this role. GCSEs (or equivalent) in English and maths or a healthcare qualification, such as BTEC or NVQ, will be helpful when it comes to applying for jobs. 

Apprenticeships in healthcare 

There are a number of different apprenticeships in healthcare, often run through the NHS, that can give you a foot on the career ladder and help you to earn while you train. This might include the NCFE CACHE level 2 Certificate in Healthcare Support Services, or the NCFE CACHE level 3 Diploma in Healthcare Support. Traditionally an apprenticeship in healthcare will last for about 18 months, during which time you will gain experience in different departments such as radiography, nutrition or on hospital wards.  

The variety of experience that an apprenticeship can offer means you will be able to find a specialism that enthuses you, and gain an understanding of how to get there and advance your career. Plus, you will be paid as you earn. 

Training and development 

As a healthcare assistant you will be given basic training to start your role, and then, depending on who you work for, you may have access to further training and certification, such as the Care Certificate. The Care Certificate is a set of industry standards followed by health and social care workers. It will give you a strong understanding of the ethics of the role, and help you to progress your career within the industry. It is worth enquiring about access to this, as and when you take on a new job. 

Career progression 

Career progression 

Being a healthcare assistant can give you experience and training opportunities that open up various career paths within the NHS or care sector. You could become a senior healthcare assistant, or follow a route into nursing by applying for roles as an assistant practitioner or nursing associate. This role will also give you valuable insight into the wider healthcare sector. With further training and experience you could move into areas such as podiatry, midwifery or occupational therapy, for example. 

Working environments 

As a healthcare assistant you could find yourself working in a variety of environments, from hospitals and GP surgeries, to care homes and in people’s homes, where you might be working alongside family members.  

Sometimes your role will be to chat and give someone company, making cheerful conversation over a cup of tea. Other times you might find yourself in a more clinical setting, where the pace is faster and you will need to listen to instructions and make quick decisions. It is a job with variety, which is why healthcare assistants are able to gain such a breadth of experience and use that to progress their career. 

Challenges and rewards of being a healthcare assistant 

Being a healthcare assistant can be emotionally challenging. You will be seeing people at their most vulnerable and have to remain calm and kind. It can also be a physical job as you may be helping patients in and out of bed or helping to wash and dress them, so you will need some strength. But with these challenges comes the reward of knowing that you are making a positive difference to people’s lives. You will be helping them through tough times and learning as you go. 

Is a healthcare assistant the right role for you?  

As a healthcare assistant you can access an entry level job that has opportunities for advancement and training within it. You will be an essential cog in the healthcare process, and your role will be to help and guide people through some of life’s most difficult moments. 

Resources and further reading 

Professional associations and networking groups 

Learn more about a career in Health & Social Care

The Health & Social Care profession is crucial in making a positive impact on people’s lives. We’re here to help you, so you can progress your career and continue to vitally support the people and communities you care about.

Learn more about a career in Health & Social Care