How to Become a Healthcare Support Worker: Providing the Care in Healthcare

Healthcare support worker is an umbrella term for a variety of professions involved in keeping healthcare services working. Positions include, home health aides, nursing aides, pharmacy aides, occupational and physical therapy assistants, medical assistants, dental assistants, and veterinary assistants, among others. In general, support workers can receive on-the-job training for their roles and do not require extensive certification. Becoming a health support worker can allow candidates to enter the workforce with minimal qualifications to pursue jobs in a sector experiencing significant growth and to gain hands-on experience, which can be used later in combination with additional training and education to advance into various branches of health service and administration

Healthcare Support Worker: Education Degree Requirements

Although all healthcare support workers participate significantly in the care process, requirements and duties for healthcare support workers vary. Typically, a high school education is usually required, along with a good math, science, and health background. Many positions will also require candidates to undergo a formal training program and pass a certification exam, while still others, such as positions as medical assistants and occupational therapist assistants, suggest that candidates earn either a six-month certification or two-year associate’s degree. Also important for healthcare support positions, are good communication skills, the ability to closely follow directions, and a strong sense of empathy and sensitivity to the needs of patients.

  • Home health aides and personal and home care aides help the aged, chronically ill, disabled and cognitively impaired with the tasks of daily life in their homes, residential care facilities, hospices, and day programs. Home health aides generally do not need a high school diploma and are trained in basic safety and to respond to emergencies. Home health aides whose wages are covered by Medicare/Medicaid are required to complete 75 hours of training and a state certification or competency evaluation. Other state requirements vary.
  • Nursing and psychiatric aides help in the care of the mentally and physically ill in hospital, nursing care, and mental health environments. Like home health aides, nursing and psychiatric aides provide direct care to patients, but in addition, they are part of the formal chain of medical care, reporting to and performing routine tasks under the supervision of nursing and medical staff. Aides may be responsible for taking vitals, preparing equipment, escorting patients to and from procedures, and observing physical and mental conditions of patients to report to supervisors. Nursing and psychiatric aides can receive training in high schools, vocational centers, nursing care facilities, and community colleges, covering body mechanics, nutrition, infection control, communication, and personal care skills. Some states demand formal training, but most learn skills on the job. Aides in nursing care facilities must complete 75 hours of state-approved training to qualify as Certified Nurse Assistants (CNAs).

  • Occupational therapist assistants and aides assist occupational therapists in rehabilitating patients to improve quality of life and the ability to perform the tasks of daily living with exercises and activities described in a treatment plan. Assistants monitor clients to make sure activities are conducted safely and correctly, record results, help with paperwork for insurance purposes, and perform basic clerical duties. Occupational therapist assistants must complete a two-year associate’s degree through the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education, which includes topics in mental health, adult physical disabilities, gerontology, and pediatrics, as well as 16 weeks of supervised fieldwork.

  • Dental assistants assist with patient care, office, and lab tasks, including sterilizing and preparing instruments, maintaining dental records, and readying patients for treatment, as well as aiding dentists during procedures and providing oral hygiene instruction. Most states do not require formal certification or education, but the Commission on Dental Accreditation accredits about 280 programs nationally for those wishing to complete dental-assisting programs, which include classroom, lab, and preclinical material and culminate in either a certificate or associate’s degree. On-the-job training will probably be necessary, with or without previous formal instruction. Depending on the state, a Certified Dental Assistant credential, administered by the Dental Assisting National Board, may also be required in some states.

Becoming a Healthcare Support Worker: Career Outlook

These are just a few of the many options within the field of healthcare support work, and while figures for each job vary somewhat, like most jobs in the healthcare sector, significant growth is expected over the next several years. In fact, 10 of the 30 fastest growing occupation though 2018 are in healthcare support. Median wages across this wide range of jobs ran around $24,760 a year in 2010, but may vary by occupation and work setting. Healthcare support workers are the backbone of the healthcare industry, and while direct opportunities for advancement are limited, work in healthcare support can offer valuable experience useful for workers considering higher education in the field to advance to greater levels of responsibility. To learn more about how to become a healthcare support worker, begin exploring healthcare schools today.