As a result of increased pressures on health services, it is easy to overlook the value of education for all healthcare professionals.
I work on a paediatric/teenage oncology ward as a healthcare assitant (HCA). It is an emotionally demanding environment, but one which is both interesting and rewarding.I enjoy learning and keeping my knowledge up to date, but training opportunities for HCAs within my trust are non-existent.
Despite these constraints, I have been proactive in seeking out educational opportunities related to my role outside the trust. I have attained an MSc in palliative care and progressed on to have work published in an academic journal.
Workplace support to undertake such learning hasn’t been forthcoming; there has been no financial assistance and a reluctance to allow time off to attend the sessions.
I was informed that as an established and experienced HCA I did not require further training. HCA training was on a ‘need to know’ basis and in essence I ‘knew enough’.
The pivotal point here is that I do ‘need to know’. I am certainly not advocating that HCAs need, or indeed want to be educated to masters level.
“I have learned to integrate theory with practice through the acquisition of literature searching skills”
However, the knowledge, skills and competencies acquired through on-going learning have been hugely beneficial to my work and are consciously applied in my day-to-day role.
I have learned to integrate theory with practice through the acquisition of literature searching skills. This has facilitated a new understanding of the rationale behind aspects of care I provide. I now have a have a greater understanding of how to provide culturally appropriate and spiritual care. I have also cascaded this learning to other HCA colleagues to share good practice.
Many difficult conversations occur within my working environment.
Patients do not always ask the dreaded “am I dying” question in scheduled consultations. It is often within the relative comfort of receiving personal care in the bathroom, or en-route to a scan, tasks which are typically the domain of the HCA that this question may arise.
I do ‘need to know’ how to effectively respond to such questions. I also ‘need to know’ how to pick up the pieces following delivery of bad news. I am now able to apply newly learned communication skills confidently to such situations that would have previously been avoided.
Completion of the care certificate ensures minimum standards have been met by HCAs. However, learning needs to be continuous and available in house to maintain ongoing development.
“Training will provide acknowledgement of the value of HCAs”
Training will provide acknowledgement of the value of HCAs, avoid unfulfilled job expectations and is key in attracting and retaining good employees.
Personally, learning has been a natural motivator. This has resulted in increased self-esteem and has encouraged a willingness to challenge both myself and others, in what was previously unquestioned practice.
We must value HCAs by investing in their education and training because they do ‘need to know’. This requires discernable changes in thinking but may ultimately translate into providing the best patient care.
Elaine Wright is a healthcare assistant at an NHS trust