What a healthcare assistant is and how to become one

For many healthcare professionals, the first step on the career ladder is to become a healthcare assistant (HCA). But the HCA position is an important one in its own right, with a key role in ensuring patients are as comfortable as possible throughout their time in a hospital, GP surgery, or health centre.

Interested in becoming a healthcare assistant? In this article, we’ll discuss what healthcare assistants do, how to become one, and what questions you might be asked during the interview process.

What is a healthcare assistant?

Healthcare assistants provide care and support to patients under the guidance of more senior healthcare professionals, such as midwives and nurses.

Because they work in a variety of healthcare environments, from community settings to hospitals to GP surgeries, the roles and responsibilities of a healthcare assistant can vary widely. For instance, they might be responsible for:

  • Supporting with clinical duties
  • Washing and dressing patients
  • Helping less mobile patients to move around
  • Making beds and generally helping patients to feel comfortable
  • Taking patients’ temperatures, pulse rates, weights, and respirations
  • Serving meals and, where necessary, helping patients to eat
  • Communicating with patients, their relatives, and carers
  • Attending meetings with other healthcare professionals
  • Checking inventory levels and ordering supplies
  • Educating patients on healthy practices
  • Taking blood samples

Succeeding in the healthcare assistant role requires a range of hard and soft skills, from the ability to remain calm in stressful environments, to communicating clearly with patients, carers, family members, and other healthcare professionals.


What qualifications do I need to be a healthcare assistant?

Healthcare assistants need to pass an enhanced background check before they can start in the role.

Beyond that, there are no specific qualifications required to become an HCA. However, as we’ll discuss in the next section, many healthcare assistants start out by studying at college or completing an intermediate apprenticeship.

How to become a healthcare assistant

The most common routes to becoming a HCA are completing a college course, taking an apprenticeship, or gaining on-the-job experience in a healthcare setting. We’ll discuss those paths in more depth here.

Studying a college course

To be clear, getting a college qualification isn’t a requirement of becoming a healthcare assistant. But it might help you stand out from other candidates if you study a relevant course, such as:

  • Level 2 Diploma in Preparing for Further Study in Health, Social Care and Social Work
  • Level 2 Diploma in Health and Social Care
  • Level 3 National Extended Diploma in Health and Social Care
  • T Level in Health

Work placements play a part in most health and social care courses. Not only is this a good way to gain valuable on-the-job experience, but it also gives you a feel for the role, and helps you meet potential hiring managers.

Entry requirements can vary from one course to another, but you’ll generally need:

  • Level 2 course requirements: 2+ GCSEs at grades 9 to 3 (A* to D), or equivalent
  • Level 3 course requirements: 4 – 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), or equivalent
  • T level requirements: 4 – 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), or equivalent, including English and maths

Completing an apprenticeship

If you prefer a less academic route, taking an intermediate apprenticeship as a healthcare support worker can also help you become an healthcare assistant. To be eligible, you’ll typically need some GCSEs (the number will vary depending on the apprenticeship provider), including English and maths.

Gaining practical experience

Another option is to start out as a trainee within a healthcare environment, such as at a residential home, then acquire on-the-job qualifications.

If you can’t find an entry-level healthcare role in your area, you could also look for opportunities to volunteer at a healthcare setting, or in a personal care role. For opportunities in your area, visit the National Council for Voluntary Organisations or speak to your local NHS trust’s voluntary services coordinator.

Examples of healthcare assistant interview questions

The best way to anticipate the types of interview questions you might be asked is to study the job specification, paying particular attention to the skills and experiences listed. However, some common healthcare assistant interview questions include:

  • What made you want to become a healthcare assistant?
  • How would you handle the stressful aspects of the HCA role?
  • What skills do you think a successful healthcare assistant requires?
  • Tell us about an example of a time when you gave outstanding patient care
  • How would you cope with a confused or upset patient?

Beyond that, you should expect to be asked a variety of more general questions. Click through these common interview questions for examples of how to answer them:

What’s next?

Ready to apply for a healthcare assistant role? Browse our healthcare assistant vacancies, or submit your CV today.


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