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How to get into a care career in the UK

Learn more about different types of care careers and how to get into one below, with input from NHS Healthcare Support Worker, Sophie. This article was written in collaboration with the We Are The NHS campaign.

How To Get Into A Care Career

If you want to work in the care sector, there are many different roles that help people live fulfilling lives. In this article, we look at the different types of care jobs available and the steps you can take to get into a care career.

We also spoke to NHS Healthcare Support Worker, Sophie, in collaboration with the We are the NHS campaign to get some first-hand advice. If you are ready to make a difference in the lives of others, keep reading!

What is health and social care?

‘Health and social care’ describes the various services that are available to support people with their physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. This includes everything from personal care (such as help with washing and dressing) to more complex needs, such as palliative care or support for those living with dementia. If you want to learn more about social care, take a deep dive with our article: What is social care?

You can also check out our Introduction to Social Care ExpertTrack by The Open University. You’ll explore why it’s important, how to work in the sector and the significant role of unpaid carers. 

Health and social care jobs

Health and social care jobs are some of the most important in our society. They play a vital role in providing support and care for those who need it most, and carers make a real difference in people’s lives. 

There are many different types of health and social care jobs, from working with children and families to providing support for older people. Whatever type of job you’re interested in, there are great opportunities within health and social care.

If you’re passionate about making a difference and want to work in an environment where you can help people by providing quality care, then a career in health and social care could be the perfect choice for you.

As Sophie, a healthcare support worker for the NHS told us, “The rewarding aspect is you can go home and say to yourself, wow, I did that, I helped people today. I made their day that extra bit better. It’s about supporting the family and feeling that buzz from your actions.”

What does a care worker do?

A care worker is someone who provides practical and emotional support to people who need assistance with their everyday lives. This includes helping them with personal care tasks, providing companionship, and assisting with things like shopping or cooking. 

Care workers also administer medicine and carry out basic medical tasks, such as taking blood pressure readings. The Medicine Administration for Carers course by the University of East Anglia provides essential information around the “6 Rs” of medicine administration.

The benefits and challenges of working as a carer

Working as a carer can be an immensely rewarding experience. But, it’s also important to remember that being a carer comes with its own unique set of challenges. From managing difficult behaviours to challenging emotional situations, there’s a lot to juggle on a day-to-day basis. For those up for the challenge, working as a carer can be an incredibly fulfilling career.

The benefits of a career in care

There are many benefits to working in the care sector – here are just a few:

  • Making a real difference to people’s lives. One of the best things about this work is that you’ll see the positive impact of your work daily. Sophie from the NHS told us, “Everybody in a hospital setting is away from their home. They may be confused or uncomfortable, but having that one person to talk to them and reassure them is sometimes all they need. To see a smile and feel welcomed and relaxed really improves a patient’s stay.”
  • Working in a variety of settings. There are many different types of care jobs available, so you can find one that suits your skills and interests, whether that’s working in a hospital, residential care home, or in a community setting.
  • Choosing your hours. You’ll often have the flexibility to choose the shifts that you work. This can be great if you need to fit your job around other commitments, such as caring for a family member or studying for a qualification.
  • Good career progression. With experience and further training, you can move into management roles or specialise in a particular area of care. Interested in moving into a managerial role? Read about what healthcare management is and what it involves.

The challenges of a career in care

Like any job, working in care comes with its own set of challenges, so here are some you should be aware of:

  • You need emotional resilience. Working in care can be emotionally demanding as you’ll be seeing the effects of illness and disability daily. 
  • You need excellent communication skills. From talking with patients and their families to liaising with other members of the care team, you’ll need to communicate effectively to do your job well. Learn how to develop this skill in the Developing Clinical Empathy: Making a Difference in Patient Care course by St George’s, University of London.
  • Managing difficult behaviours. You may have to look after people with challenging behaviours and health problems, such as psychosis and schizophrenia. In some circumstances, these issues can cause people to act in ways that are potentially harmful to themselves or others, so to learn more about how to help people who are struggling, try our Caring for People with Psychosis and Schizophrenia course by King’s College London.
  • Keeping physically fit. Many care jobs involve being on your feet during your shift and helping people move, so it’s important to be physically fit and able to handle the demands of the job.

Where can you work in a care job?

There are many different types of care jobs available. Whether you want to work for the NHS, in a private hospital, at a residential care home, or in a community setting, there is sure to be a role that’s perfect for you.

Careers in the NHS

The NHS is one of the largest employers of carers in the UK and the roles available are wide and varied. You can check out the NHS Careers website for more job advice.

Wonder what it’s like working for the NHS? Sophie has positive things to say about her experience as a carer: “It’s a great feeling of success that comes through teamwork and cooperation with your fellow staff members – we’re all like one big family!”

Let’s dive into the main care careers that exist within the NHS – hopefully, you’ll see something that interests you.

Hospital roles

  • Nurses play a vital role in the care of patients, working closely with doctors to ensure that patients receive the best possible care. If nursing is your area of interest, take a look at our top 5 nursing courses.
  • Healthcare assistants provide basic care and support to patients and may also carry out administrative tasks, such as booking appointments and taking blood pressure readings.
  • Midwives are responsible for giving care and support to pregnant women and their families.
  • Occupational therapists help people regain independence after an illness or injury and may also work with people who have disabilities to help them lead more independent lives.
  • Physiotherapists help people to recover from injuries and improve their mobility. Like occupational therapists, they may also work with people who have disabilities to help them maintain their independence.

Community healthcare roles

  • District nurses provide care and support to patients in their own homes. They also work closely with GP surgeries and other health professionals to ensure that patients receive the best possible personalised care. To learn more about why that’s so important, read our article, What is personalised care?
  • Health visitors provide support and advice to families with young children. They also offer immunisations and health checks for babies and toddlers at home.
  • School nurses work in primary and secondary schools, providing healthcare to pupils and staff. They also offer advice on healthy living, such as diet and exercise.
  • Community psychiatric nurses provide care and support to people with mental health conditions. They work closely with other health professionals, such as GPs and psychiatrists, to ensure that patients receive the best possible care.

Care worker jobs

  • Care home nurses are responsible for providing nursing care to residents. Check out a day in the life of a care home nurse to see how they work closely with other members of the care team to ensure that residents receive the best possible support. Learn more about this role by taking the Care Home Nursing: Changing Perceptions by the University of Dundee.
  • Care assistants help residents with washing, dressing, helping them to eat and drink, and more. 
  • Home carers provide personal care and support to people in their own homes, which can include washing, dressing, and helping them to eat and drink.
  • Residential care workers provide care and support to people who live in care homes and includes helping them with personal care, providing meals, and organising activities.
  • Daycare workers help people in daycare services, including older people, people with disabilities, and children.
  • Live-in carers live with people who need support in their homes and will help with washing, dressing, and eating and drinking while providing companionship. A person-centred care approach is key to success in this role — understand what this looks like through our open step on person-centred care and support.

When people think about care home residents, they often think about older generations. However, it’s important to keep in mind that you might assist people with serious illnesses such as cancer, or those who have survived cancer but are struggling with the aftermath. 

To dive deeper, take our course on Cancer Survivorship for Primary Care Practitioners or Cancer and the Older Person: Improving Care, Outcomes and Experience, both by the University of Melbourne and the VCCC Alliance.

Social worker jobs

  • Child and family social workers support families who are experiencing difficulties. They also work with children who are in care or who have been abused or neglected, creating a care plan for them to ensure that their needs are met.
  • Adult social workers support adults who are experiencing difficulties, including older people, those with disabilities, and people with mental health conditions.
  • Housing officers work with families who are homeless or at risk of homelessness and may also work with tenants to resolve disputes.
  • Probation officers work with offenders who have been released from prison providing support and advice to help them lead law-abiding lives.
  • Education welfare officers work with families who are struggling to send their children to school and sometimes work with schools to improve attendance rates.

Private health and social care jobs

When choosing a job in the healthcare industry, you’ll have the option to work for the public or private sector. There are a few key differences between these and one of the biggest is job security. In the public sector, your job is more secure as you’ll be working for the government. In the private sector, companies could downsize or close during difficult economic times – although this doesn’t mean that all jobs in the private healthcare sector are inherently unstable.

Another key difference is pay. In general, salaries in the private sector are higher than in the public sector because private companies can offer competitive wages to attract top talent. Working hours can be more flexible in the private sector, too, which can be a big perk for parents or people with other commitments outside of work.

However, working for the NHS provides you with other significant work benefits such as a generous pension scheme, health service discounts through initiatives such as the Blue Light card, and 27 days of annual leave.

Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide whether you prefer the public or private healthcare industry. If you want to learn more about the wider industry, take a look at our article exploring the healthcare sector.

How to become a care worker

Ready to become a care worker? Let’s look at the steps you need to take to get started in this rewarding career.

What qualifications do you need to become a care worker?

There are no specific qualifications required to become a care worker, but many employers expect you to have at least a basic level of education, such as GCSEs or equivalent. You’ll also need to demonstrate that you have the necessary skills and attributes for the role.

If you want to work in a specific area of social care, you may need to complete additional training. If you also want a competitive advantage over other candidates, it’s strongly recommended to complete a health and social care qualification at college or university level. For some inspiration, take a look at our list of the best courses for careers in care and healthcare.

Top tips from an NHS care worker

Regardless of experience, it’s important to be fundamentally well suited to the job. NHS Healthcare support worker, Sophie, says that the key qualities you need to be successful in care are compassion, respect, and friendliness.

She also gave this advice: “My top tip for somebody working in care is to be patient and to look after your health and wellbeing. Being a carer has its struggles, but it’s such a rewarding role knowing you have helped someone. Remember to take time for yourself!”

Training courses to become a care worker

There are many different courses available to complete a health and social care qualification. If you’re interested in working for the NHS, our courses on Personalised Care – Step One, followed by Step Two, are great places to start. Delivered by the NHS, these courses will give you the skills and knowledge necessary to work as a peer support worker. 

If you’re interested in working in social care, there are many different qualifications available. The Step into Social Care course by City & Guilds gives you an overview of the social care sector and develops the skills needed to work in social care. You can also find out more information about social care on the NHS website.

Further education as a care worker

After any initial training, there are many opportunities for further education as a care worker, including completing a higher-level degree. You could also undertake specialist training in areas such as palliative care or learning disability nursing. Other types of specialist courses like the Transgender Healthcare: Caring for Trans Patients by St George’s, University of London, can help you develop a healthcare specialism and become an expert.

There are many short courses available to keep up to date with changes in the sector and develop your knowledge and skills, like the Social Care During COVID-19: Coping with Self-Isolation and Social Distancing by The Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, which will help social care workers to understand the challenges that COVID-19 has brought to patients.

The Inclusive Leadership in Health and Care by NHS Leadership Academy is another great course for anyone interested in healthcare, teaching you to build an inclusive culture within public healthcare organisations.

If you’re looking to upskill alongside the evolution of the healthcare industry, read our blog post on the future of healthcare technology

Final thoughts

Becoming a care worker is a great way to make a difference in the lives of others. It can be a demanding and challenging role, but also an extremely rewarding one. Find out more about how your work can change lives on the We Are The NHS page.

Remember that further education and professional development is always an option, so you can continue to build your skills and knowledge throughout your career. Your care journey starts now!

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