Updated: Apr 16
During my gap year, one of the key experiences that solidified my decision to study medicine was working as a healthcare assistant.
What is a healthcare assistant?
A healthcare assistant (HCA) works under the guidance of a qualified healthcare professional, usually a nurse. Sometimes staff working in HCA roles are known as nursing assistants, nursing auxiliaries or auxiliary nurses.
The work varies depending on where you're based. In a hospital, which is where I worked, my day-to-day tasks involved:
- Washing and dressing patients
- Serving meals and helping to feed patients
- Helping patients with mobility and toileting
- Making beds
- Talking to patients and making them comfortable
- Monitoring patients' conditions by taking temperatures, pulse, respirations and weight
Further information about the role can be found on the NHS site
So how did I get a job as a healthcare assistant?
I applied to be a healthcare assistant on https://www.healthjobsuk.com/
Healthcare assistant vacancies will be found under "Allied Healthcare Professionals"
You are required to have GCSE qualifications (A*-C including English and Maths) and submit a CV. This is a fantastic template CV for a HCA job that I would have used when applying:
I attended a test centre on the day of my interview to take an English and Maths test. You have to pass this test in order to progress to the next stage of the application process: interview. The test included an English comprehension test and GCSE level maths such as simple metric conversions (i.e. litres to millilitres), fractions, drug calculations and some mental maths sums. I recommend revising some of your GCSE maths and times tables!
The interview assesses if you are caring and kind, willing to be hands-on with patients, willing to do personal care tasks (washing, toileting etc.), able to follow instructions and procedures, able to work as part of a team and if you are able to take initiative (use your common sense)! Some of the questions I was asked were:
Why do you want the job? – I mentioned that I wanted to be a doctor and the role would aid my application to medical school. I wanted to get a better insight into what it was like to work for the NHS and had a passion for caring for patients. I had prior work experience such as volunteering in a school for young adults with learning difficulties, volunteering at a charity shop and a few weeks’ hospital work experience too.
Scenario question: ‘A patient’s bell goes off (meaning they are calling for assistance) and you are in the middle of washing a patient. What do you do?’ – Expect a scenario question. In this situation, I said I would recognise that the bell going off means that someone needs assistance. If urgent, I would leave the patient I am washing in a DIGNIFIED way (i.e. dried and dressed/covered) as I tend to the more urgent issue at hand. However, in a non-urgent situation, I would rely on my other HCA colleagues to answer the bell as I am currently washing someone. I must finish my current task – and take special care to maintain the patient’s dignity before I leave to go and see what’s going on. They want to see that you can prioritise your tasks and deal with situations appropriately.
What is being a HCA like? What have been your best and worst experiences on the job?
I have thoroughly enjoyed being a healthcare assistant however, working in a busy London hospital understandably has its difficulties. Most HCAs, like nurses, work 12.5-hour shifts. A day shift would mean that I started at 7.30am and finished at 8pm. During the winter months, I would not even see daylight! Night shifts start at 7.30pm and finish at 8am. I worked on a ward that was a combination of Elderly Medicine, Rheumatology AND Infectious Diseases. This meant that most of my role focused on personal care since majority of the patients were very elderly and struggled with mobility. I has to be very hands-on and do things I never expected (e.g. washing patients, changing incontinence pads/toileting). I got to know a lot of the patients since they stayed on the ward long-term – which made it all the more difficult when deaths occurred. Those were the worst experiences, but they also show you the reality of healthcare. Not everyone gets better.
On the other hand, the best experiences have been working with an amazing multidisciplinary team. I got to know my nursing team really well and we all supported one another. I also dealt with a range of infectious conditions that I would not have been able to see or learn about on other wards such as Tuberculosis and Malaria.
Advice for an incoming HCA
Be keen! Take every opportunity to learn more and DO more. The NHS work environment is fast-paced and often patients do not get to have a single conversation with the people who care for them – be that person if you can! Take the time to listen to patient stories and build relationships with them as well as your colleagues. By doing this, I was awarded the ‘Make a Difference Award’. A patient and their family nominated me for my kindness and positive contribution to their care and subsequent recovery. This has been one of the highlights of the job! You can read more about my award here.