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Healthcare sector Career Pathways For School Leavers

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For people who want to make a difference in the world and help others, healthcare is the industry for you.

To say that it’s a large sector would be an understatement - the NHS employs over 2 million people alone - and there is a huge range of roles that fall under this sector. It’s an industry that demands a highly skilled and highly dedicated workforce and offers many opportunities for school leavers.

As a school leaver who wants to work in healthcare, you have various options. Vital roles that don’t require a degree include dental nurse, dental hygienist, nursing assistant, paramedic, Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner (under the NHS’s Improving Access to Psychological Treatment (IAPT) initiative), and Operating Department Practitioner. In animal care, you could become a veterinary assistant or technician.

Working in healthcare could mean spending your days in hospital, facilitating care in departments including Accident & Emergency, oncology, maternity, paediatrics, mental health or Intensive Care. You could work in a dental surgery, assisting the dentist in treating patients. If you’re a paramedic, you’re likely to spend most of your time out in the community, attending emergency situations. Other healthcare professions will work in local GP surgeries making sure that people are getting the care that they need.

Healthcare doesn’t just encompass the care of humans, but animals too. If you choose to pursue a career within veterinary science as a school-leaver you could be working with a whole host of animals, from pets to farmyard animals, to zoo or wildlife safari animals. An apprenticeship in this area will enable you to study for an animal care qualification alongside working with the animals.


To work in healthcare you’ll need to be empathetic and caring, while also being able to maintain professionalism and not become too emotionally involved with your patients. However, training is usually provided for this on the job, alongside all the scientific knowledge that you’ll need to have for your role.

Most roles within healthcare will also require excellent communication skills in order to provide a good service to patients who could potentially be very upset. In these moments, you have to remain calm, collected and professional.

The healthcare industry is always developing with new treatments and new technologies constantly emerging. For professionals, this means that you’ll have to dedicate yourself to lifelong learning to keep up.

Outside your professional skills, there are a number of others that you’ll need across the board. These include:

Progression opportunities

You should be in a position to apply for assistant level roles in healthcare after you complete your apprenticeship if this is the route you decide to go down.

After this, progression routes are usually clearly mapped out (especially in the NHS) and you will have key competencies to demonstrates goals to achieve before you can move up to the next level.

NHS roles are typically set by bands. In nursing, for example, bands 1-4 consist of roles including nursery nurse, healthcare assistant, emergency care assistant and theatre support worker. These are the kinds of roles that you’re likely to be qualified for as a school leaver. You can then take further training to qualify as a nurse if you wish.

The same is true for careers in dental nursing, low-level veterinary science and in most other healthcare practitioner roles. To progress higher, look into professional qualifications and how they can elevate your skills.

Career development

If you’ve completed an apprenticeship in this area, you could consider going on to university afterward in order to increase your professional standing. This would be helpful if you want to move into a highly-skilled clinical role, e.g. nursing.

Continued professional development (CPD) is extra training that is deemed extremely important by the healthcare sector as it helps to ensure that professionals are well-equipped to deliver the best care possible to patients - no matter what area of healthcare you are working in. It also demonstrates that you are dedicated to your own self-development and will assist in progressing your career.

Earning potential

As an apprentice, you’ll earn a minimum of £3.70 per hour if you’re under 19 or in the first year of your apprenticeship, or the National Minimum Wage if you’re over 19. This works out at around £150 - £240 per week.

Here are the pay brackets for bands 1 to 4 (where you’re likely to begin and progress your career as a school leaver) in 2017-18, according to the Royal College of Nursing:
Band 1 – £15,404 - £15,671
Brand 2 – £15,404 - £18,157
Band 3 – £16,968 - £19,852
Band 4 – £19,409 - £22,683
Here are the average salaries for some other jobs in this area, according to the National Careers Service:

Newly qualified dental nurse –£17,000 - £19,750
Dental nurse specialist – £22,000 - £28,500
Dental hygienist - £28,600 - £32,760
Paramedic - £36,400 - £42,120
Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner/ Psychotherapist - £32,000 to £83,500
Operating Department Practitioner -£22,000 to £35,000
Veterinary technician/animal technician/animal technologist – £15,000 to £40,000

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Qualification requirements & subjects to study

To get a job in this sector as a school leaver, it’s a good idea to undertake a vocational qualification. A diploma, certificate or short course can give you the practical skills you need to get a job in this sector.

Two-year professional training courses or foundation degrees are the norm for dental nurses, paramedics, whilst Operating Department Practitioners will need to take a Diploma of Higher Education (DipHE) that’s approved by the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC).

Professional organisations such as the NHS’s Health Careers, as well as colleges, can provide or help you find these qualifications.

Alternatively, you could look at apprenticeships in healthcare. Apprenticeships will see you studying and working for a company at the same time. You will work alongside experienced staff and will have one day off per week to study, usually at a local technical college or equivalent. This can be a great route for those who know what they want to do early.

Further Reading

College of Paramedics
Health Careers (NHS)
Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC)
British Medical Journal (BMJ)
British Dental Industry Association
General Dental Council
British Dental Association
Nursing Times
Nursing & Midwifery Council
Royal College of Nursing
British Nursing Association
National Care Association
British Veterinary Nursing Association
British Veterinary Association
Association of Veterinary Students UK & Ireland (AVS)
Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS)