AIMS.Guide

How being a Healthcare Assistant helped me

My name is Ben Brooks, I am a 4th year medical student at Newcastle University. Over my gap year and throughout medical school, I have worked as a Healthcare Assistant (HCA) in a major trauma centre. The purpose of this article is to give an overview of being a Healthcare Assistant. I’m going to discuss the roles and responsibilities of being a Healthcare Assistant, its benefits and disadvantages.

What is a Healthcare Assistant?

A Healthcare Assistant, otherwise known as a nurse assistant or auxiliary, is a member of the nursing team. Their major responsibility is to directly care for patients. At hospital wards, you will ensure patients are clean and comfortable and monitor the patient’s vital signs. The whole time, whilst working as part of a team.

Your job list may include:

  • Helping patients wash.
  • Taking patients to and from the toilet.
  • Helping patients to get around.
  • Ensuring patients are well fed, including helping them eat.
  • Monitoring vital signs and performing ECGs.

Healthcare Assistants are seen in many areas of healthcare such as General Practice or A&E. These may have slightly different roles such as taking blood, restocking, and cleaning consultation rooms.

This is an incredibly rewarding job and can be HUGELY beneficial in getting into medical school.

Why did I become a Healthcare Assistant?

I realised quite late in comparison to most people that I wanted to do healthcare. I was set on a career in finance until I decided to pursue something more fulfilling and I only came to this decision when I was in year 13. This meant I needed to take a bit of time to get to experience to support my application. Therefore I decided to take a gap year.

Luckily, I had a friend who suggested becoming a Healthcare Assistant and it seemed like a perfect fit. It would give me real-world experience in healthcare, test the waters and see if healthcare work was for me, all the while supporting myself financially on my gap year.

What are the benefits of being a Healthcare Assistant?

There are many benefits to being a Healthcare Assistant. These range from elevating your medical application, starting to gain clinical communication skills, and gaining financial support.

Benefits when applying to medical school

An obvious benefit is that it will help you get into medical school!  First, your CV will be a cut above the rest. You will have experiences to write about that are meaningful, genuine. These are extremely hard to recreate unless you have worked in healthcare or cared for someone in another aspect.

Secondly, the experience will massively help you in interviews. A lot of MMI and panel interviews will have a few questions such as “Tell me about a time you have shown resilience” or “tell me about a time you have shown empathy.” In these kinds of questions, I always referred to my experience as a Healthcare Assistant.

There will undoubtedly be things you find difficult or sad or times when you went above and beyond to help someone get through their illness. It is these answers during an interview that will set you apart from the candidates. I credit my successful interviews in medical school to my experience as a Healthcare Assistant in A&E. I could tell I impressed the examiners by talking about some of the challenging and rewarding experiences I’ve had.

Being a Healthcare Assistant is a great job! It can be tough, and the work can be messy. However, it is really rewarding to be involved in the intimate aspect of healthcare. You will quickly get to know your patients, as well as the other hospital staff, and I think it is a huge privilege to meet people from all walks of life and be involved in making them better.

Benefits when at medical school

Ben in work as a Healthcare Assistant in a major trauma centre

If you need to support yourself financially through medical school, agency (or bank) Healthcare Assistant work is a great opportunity. It pays well (roughly £8.50 an hour during the day, £12 on Saturdays and overnight starting at 8:00 pm, and up to £18 an hour on Sundays) if you work antisocial hours. The best part is you can choose when and how often you work, which is useful whilst studying for a medical degree!

You will learn how hospitals function. Doctors do not get very involved in the logistics of hospital care, particularly at a junior level. Working as a Healthcare Assistant can really help you appreciate how the cogs turn in a hospital. Things like patient transport, waste removal, and medical and linen stocking. These roles are essential to a functioning hospital and are often underappreciated.  The staff who work in these roles say they can spot a doctor who has worked as a Healthcare Assistant from a mile away because of the way these doctors treat them and get stuck in.

What are the bad parts about being a Healthcare Assistant?

Being a Healthcare Assistant is not a glamorous job, the hours can also be difficult and long. A 37.5-hour contract does not sound like a huge amount, but with night shifts being almost universal it will feel like more than that. I struggled with changing between night and day shifts.

The work itself can also be difficult. Although you do not have any clinical responsibility you can be put under lots of pressure, there are lots of patients who will need a lot of your time and it can be exhausting work! You will have to do some very intimate and sometimes challenging personal care. Cleaning and toileting patients can be unpleasant, but it is important to remember how vital it is to the patient’s overall care, and that the patients often find it more uncomfortable than you do. You will also be expected to help with acute scenarios, this can include anything from fetching important equipment to performing CPR.

Finally, it can be emotionally challenging. You will encounter unwell patients, lots of pain, confusion, and even death. This is the reality of working in healthcare. In some ways, it is a good test to see how you react to working with people who are sick, as this is who you will spend most of your career interacting with as a doctor. However, there will always be a team around you. If you need to talk through what you have seen, they will be there to support you. In my experience, everyone is very good at looking out for each other.

Summary:

  • Being a Healthcare Assistant is an extremely rewarding job.
  • It will really help with your application, particularly the personal statement and at the interview (the toughest bit).
  • There are always jobs available which you can apply for.
  • You will learn valuable practical skills and improve communication.
  • It can help you financially.
  • There are many ways to work as a Healthcare Assistant depending on your current situation – there is something to suit everyone!

✍️ This resource was written by

  • Ben is a 5th-year Medical Student at Newcastle University. He is passionate about widening participation, surfing, and vegan pizza.

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