Health Care Assistants: Everything You Need to Know Before Becoming One


Like any profession in the healthcare industry, Health Care Assistants (HCAs) hold vital roles and responsibilities that have the means to impact lives. As valued and important members of the team, Health Care Assistants work eagerly to promote and maintain the health, safety, independence, comfort, and well-being of their clients.

This blog will cover the 101 on Health Care Assistants and answer some of the top questions students have on the role and industry. Keep on reading to learn more!

What Do Health Care Assistants Do?  

While Health Care Assistants exercise a wide variety of tasks and responsibilities, the overarching role of an HCA (or a care aide) is to provide personal care assistance and services in a caring, compassionate manner that recognizes and supports the unique needs, abilities, and backgrounds of their clients. Understanding this, Health Care Assistants are the ones responsible for providing catered care and assistance for clients – ensuring they are safe, comfortable, and content. As members of the health care team, they work with direction and supervision from other health professionals.

Some of the more specific Health Care Assistant duties and responsibilities include: Providing care and assistance for clients experiencing complex health, cognitive, and/or mental health challenges; recognizing and responding to self-development, learning, and health-enhancements needs; and communicating clearly and accurately with clients and families within a variety of community and facility contexts, bearing in mind sensitive situations. Additionally, Health Care Assistants are also responsible for using an informed problem-solving approach to provide care and assistance to clients – helping promote their physical, psychological, social, cognitive, and/or spiritual well-being.

Overall, HCAs are accountable for monitoring their clients’ health accordingly and properly and embody the responsibilities of a care aide.

What Traits Should I Have as a Health Care Assistant?

Health Care Assistants can be considered to be a jack of all trades with the variety of their tasks and responsibilities. Their tasks vary from feeding patients, to taking temperatures, to dressing wounds, to even helping patients move around. In fact, every day on the job is different, so you’ll never find them bored or tired of the job.

Considering how much of their role revolves around people, HCAs need to be caring, friendly, respectful, and able to get along with all kinds of people – they need to be people persons and have the heart and compassion to help those in need.

With the nature of the role, Health Care Assistants also need to be attentive listeners and observers, particularly in the case when patients are unable to ask for help even when they need it. Because of this, they need to be able to spot a client’s needs with the onset of any symptoms and signs. 

Health Care Assistants are also very patient and dependable people because they need to be able to handle and work with patients who are more challenging and demanding. Furthermore, HCAs should be relatively physically fit as they may need to lift objects and do some heavy work from time to time. 

What’s the Difference Between a Health Care Assistant and a Practical Nurse?

One of the most frequently asked questions our students have is “what is the difference between a Health Care Assistant and a Practical Nurse?” So, what is the difference?

For a pronounced answer, one of the biggest differences between the two is that Health Care Assistants execute more general roles. Students pursuing studies as an HCA receive training that is similar to a practical nurse’s, however, the main distinction is that HCAs receive more emphasis on support and administration.

Generally, practical nurses are more specialized so they tend to work with doctors in hospitals and clinics. On the other hand, Health Care Assistants work more administrative roles so they work less with nursing tasks like specimen sampling, wound care, and vital signs monitoring.

Another thing to note is that, particularly at Sprott Shaw, our Health Care Assistant Program is shorter than our Practical Nursing Program – so it’s an appropriate and excellent option for students who want to get from education to the workplace as soon as possible. In fact, students can become a Health Care Assistant in as little as 7 months!

Where Do Health Care Assistants Work?

Considering the landscape of the healthcare industry, there will always be a consistent demand and appeal for Health Care Assistant jobs and positions in all facets.

With the nature of the role and industry, HCAs can work in a variety of environments and locations. However, the most prominent areas are hospitals, acute/complex care facilities, rest homes, care homes, special care units, adult daycares, and agencies within the local community.

More specifically, graduates from Sprott Shaw’s Health Care Assistant Program have been hired at the following esteemed companies and associations: Kelowna General Hospital, CBI Health Group, Vancouver Coastal Health, Fraser Health Authority, Shaughnessy Care Centre, Sea to Sky Community Services, Interior Health, Haven Hill Retirement Centre, and many more!

At Sprott Shaw, the Health Care Assistant Program is a pathway to the Practical Nursing Program so students have the opportunity to pursue a career as a practical nurse. This Access Program is available at all locations where Practical Nursing is offered.

If you are interested in studying at Sprott Shaw College to become a Health Care Assistant, please contact one of our knowledgeable advisors below!

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