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If you are caring and compassionate and like the idea of offering hands-on care and having a lot of contact with patients, a job as a health care assistant (HCA) might be for you.

Where they work

Sometimes known as clinical support workers, nursing assistants, nursing auxiliaries or auxiliary nurses, HCAs work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, prisons, GP surgeries, care homes and hospices. A vital part of the nursing team, HCAs support registered nurses in the delivery of nursing care, and may work with infants, children and young people, the elderly, and those with mental health needs or learning disabilities.

What the job involves

As a healthcare assistant, you will work under the supervision and guidance of qualified nursing staff, and may also work alongside doctors, midwives and other healthcare professionals as part of the wider healthcare team. Day-to-day tasks will differ depending on where you work. If you are based in a hospital, typical duties may include:

  • helping patients wash and dress
  • serving meals and helping to feed patients
  • making beds
  • helping people to move around (using equipment to lift and move patients)
  • talking to patients, making them comfortable and reassuring them
  • toileting
  • tidying the ward
  • monitoring patients’ conditions (taking temperatures, pulse, respirations and weight)

In a health centre or GP surgery, you may:

  • sterilise medical equipment
  • carry out health checks
  • restock consulting rooms
  • process lab samples
  • take blood samples
  • offer patients basic health education

Personal qualities and skills

A kind, caring and cheerful disposition is essential for the role. You must be happy to provide hands-on care, which includes helping patients with personal tasks such as washing and toileting. Good communication skills (including active listening), as well as organisation and observational skills are a necessity. You’ll need to have common sense and be able to use your own initiative, as well as follow procedures and work well within a team.

Entry requirements

You don’t need any qualifications to work as a HCA – but in order to be hired as one, an employer will want to see that you have relevant experience or aptitude for the job.

Some employers ask for GCSEs (or equivalent) in English and maths, and may also require candidates to have a healthcare qualification, such as BTEC or NVQ.

If you don’t have any experience, such as caring for a relative, it’s worth volunteering or doing some work experience to give you an idea of whether the job is right for you. You may also find apprenticeships in healthcare that can give you experience to apply for HCA posts.

Some employers may require you to pass a background check from the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).