Careers advice

What are the requirements to be a healthcare assistant in NZ?

What skills do you need?

If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that the hard work, talent and dedication of our healthcare professionals is more important than we ever imagined.

Becoming a healthcare assistant is a rewarding career opportunity that provides plenty of scope for ranging far and wide within the health sector while supplying an invaluable service to people in need of care.

So, if you’re thinking about applying to healthcare assistant jobs in NZ, you’re probably wondering what employers are looking to see. We’re going to dive into this, and also take a look at what the role of a HCA actually looks like.

What a healthcare assistant does in NZ

As a healthcare assistant, you’ll help patients out with what are called ‘activities of daily living' that they’re struggling to complete by themselves. This includes vital health activities like:

  • Bathing and toileting
  • Eating
  • Dressing
  • Grocery shopping
  • House keeping
  • Getting to and from appointments
  • Rehabilitation - e.g learning how to walk again

One of the most attractive things about getting a job as a healthcare assistant is that you could be doing these tasks in a wide range of health settings, from hospital wards to aged care facilities homes to door-to-door community healthcare.

Depending on your precise role (e.g. ward assistant vs. community assistant) you’re likely to be doing shift work that includes both evenings and weekends. This can include high intensity situations such as emergency department (ED) work, operating theatres and maternity wards.

Working in aged care facilities is just one of many options as a healthcare assistant in New Zealand.

Key skills to be a healthcare assistant

Some good news is that you don’t need to have a formal qualification to work as a healthcare assistant in New Zealand. That said, employers will definitely look favourably on you having a New Zealand Certificate in Health and Wellbeing. There are a number of these qualifications you can work through, starting at Level 2, and then branching out into a variety of specialties depending on the setting in which you’re working. However, if you don’t have one of these qualifications, don’t let that put you off applying for a job as a healthcare assistant, as many employers will simply put you on a track of working towards one of them – gaining skills and a wage, win win!

Other things that may help you land a job include a driver’s licence and a first aid certificate, which you can usually obtain easily on a weekend or across a few evenings.

As you’ll probably have realised from reading the above list, you’ll need to be able to draw on a lot of vital soft skills in your role as a healthcare assistant. Among the most important are:

Communication skills are crucial in healthcare assistant jobs.

  • Empathy: as a healthcare assistant, you’ll be working with people who are probably going through a tough time as a result of illness, injury or some of the problems that come with old age. Being able to empathise with these people, and show compassion while you’re working is going to be an invaluable asset.
  • Patience: in many ways, this goes hand-in-hand with empathy. When people are struggling physically or mentally, they can be difficult to deal with, even when you know that you’re trying to help them. Listening to patients’ concerns, even if they aren’t always logical, is vital to maintaining a good patient-carer relationship.
  • Communication: communication involves speaking and listening, and you’ll need to be able to do both effectively to be a successful healthcare assistant. This is especially true if you’re dealing with patients who have impaired cognitive function who might find things harder to understand than most.
  • Conflict resolution: while you, obviously, won’t be doing anything to instigate conflict, you should expect some pushback against patients for some of the things you’re trying to achieve. As such, you’ll need to be able to calmly, but firmly, explain why you’re doing what you’re doing.
  • Cultural awareness: NZ is a diverse country with people from all over the world. People with different backgrounds often have different sensitivities regarding what they expect from an interaction with a healthcare professional. As such, you should be able to understand things from their perspective, and work with the patient to find a way forward that achieves what you need to achieve, but ensures that they are comfortable.
  • Calmness: as mentioned, you’re likely to deal with high pressure and high emotion scenarios when working as a healthcare assistant. This means you’ll need to remain cool, calm and collected so that you can dedicate your full care and attention to helping them get better.
  • Organisation and time management: whether you’re working in a ward, in an aged care facility or out in the community, there’s a very high chance that you’ll be dealing with multiple patients in a day. To make sure you see everyone that you need to see, you’ll need to work efficiently and effectively, while at the same time making sure the patient feels that they’re receiving adequate care and attention.
  • Physical fitness: while you won’t be running marathons as a healthcare assistant, the job often involves long shifts on your feet, and potentially some heavy lifting if you’re helping patients with reduced mobility.