At the end of each of my placements I always ask a healthcare assistant if they would be willing to write a testimony for me.
I think it is important to gain feedback from all members of the team and I appreciate the comments and opinions of HCAs. The thing is, asking them is often met with a surprised response. Just a couple of weeks ago I had asked a HCA if they would mind to which the reply was ‘what me? Are you sure? I didn’t think they would care what I thought’.
Now I totally understand the response; I too have felt that way in my previous role as a HCA. At times I felt unappreciated and as though my opinion didn’t count for much and this type of response confirms that there are other HCAs that feel this way too. So why is this case? Well, I don’t believe that the attitudes of some healthcare professionals and dare I say some student nurses helps. For example, I overheard a conversation from a student nurse complaining that on their placement they had been given menial tasks to do. I was shocked to hear them add ‘that’s what the HCAs are for’. Unfortunately, in my experience this was not an isolated comment - I have encountered similar negativity before.
‘And all of this was taught to me by some fantastic HCAs’
I have further been told that an offputting aspect of being a HCA before you do your nurse training is that you may pick up sloppy habits. So, do we assume that HCAs deliver sloppy care? In the years I have worked in healthcare this has certainly not been what I witnessed. My role as a HCA gave me skills and knowledge that I believe has made my student nurse journey a little easier. As a first year student nurse I already felt confident with communicating with patients, relatives and members of a team. I was competent in delivering essential care and I was committed to broaden my knowledge and develop further. I understood what is was to show compassion and my background had given me the courage to question my mentors; and all of this was taught to me by some fantastic HCAs. I progressed well and incorporated these skills into my role as a student nurse. My role as a HCA positively contributed to - and in no way negatively affected - my transition.
People debate that the two the roles are very different and yes I agree that they are; from doing both I know that there are obvious differences. However, it must be acknowledged that a HCA feels the stress of a healthcare environment the same as a nurse, they too feel exhausted after a 12-hour shift and their emotions are drained on a daily basis. The role of the HCA is crucial to delivering patient care and the position they occupy cannot and should not be reduced to performing menial tasks; essential care should never be viewed as such. As part of a team, HCAs should be valued and their role respected. Nurses do have the accountability resting on their shoulders, but essential care is at the heart of both roles and something that a HCA and a nurse have an equal responsibility to provide.
My advice for student nurses is to always respect the HCAs that you work alongside and you will receive it in return; listen to their opinions and you will reap the benefit of their role. It is going to be hard when you qualify so please don’t make it harder for yourself by disregarding the importance of a vital part of the team.
For the HCA that didn’t think my university would care about their view on how I was progressing as a student nurse I want to assure you that both they and I most certainly do.
Leanne Siekiera is Student Nursing Times’ student editor for adult branch