The health and social care industry is booming for apprentices, and has been the most popular industry for apprenticeships in the UK since 2011. However, the roles you can take up as a health and social care professional are not for those looking for an easy buck, as care jobs can be as demanding as they are enriching.
We sat down for a chat with Julie, who has been working in the health and social care industry for the last 24 years. She has worked in a range of roles, including caring for those with visual impairments, cerebral palsy, and people who have suffered from brain damage. She has also provided end of life care for those with a terminal illness.
Julie gave us an insight into what the job involves, the characteristics it takes to succeed, and gave some advice for those looking to begin a career in health and social care.
What have been the most rewarding parts of your job?
Julie: Working in end of life care was certainly my most difficult job yet, but it was also the most rewarding. The fact that you can be welcomed as a guest into somebody’s home and make the slightest difference to their lives is huge for me – whether it is something as simple as gathering the right equipment to make life easier for them, or sitting down to talk.
People don’t realise that working in care is not just about making people feel ok physically; in a way, you are a kind of counsellor. In fact, I had to do a year’s worth of counselling training for the end of life care position. You gain a real understanding of how best to communicate with people who are ill, and walk away with a real appreciation for people’s stories. It can be very humbling to know that you are a person they trust and can confide in, no matter how large or small their worries are. It feels rewarding to know that you are giving people dignity, even at their weakest.
What have been your biggest challenges?
Julie: A lot of the time, you’re dealing with patients at their most emotionally vulnerable. They are dealing with the fact that they don’t have as much strength as they used to, and it’s difficult to watch.
It isn’t a job for everyone, and you need the right character. A lot of people think you can come into this job as an easy way to earn a bit of money, not realising that it can be as emotionally difficult as it is physically, if not more. It’s hard not to feel emotionally involved, but you have to stay objective in order to keep up with the demands of the job.
It helps that I’ve always been very passionate about helping people; I wouldn’t recommend jobs like these unless you’re completely committed to making people’s lives just that little bit better.
As one of the sole carers for some people, it can also be difficult to gain people’s trust right away. You have to be very careful and selective about what you say, and have to adapt to the needs of each individual.
Wondering what apprenticeship would suit you?
Take the quiz to find out!
Have you worked alongside apprentices before?
Julie: I have worked with people coming out of school on traineeships and apprenticeships, and they’ve shadowed me before. They often said how thorough I am with everybody. But that is an essential part of the job, and at first it can be hard to adapt with many demanding and different personalities. But, after showing continuity and consistency with patients, apprentices soon get used to the level of care they need to give, and the demands of each individual.
I’ve always found that the people who are most successful in this role are honest; if they don’t know something, they will always admit that they don’t know. Asking questions will always help both yourself and the patient feel comfortable with each other. Apprentices should recognise when they can’t carry out a certain task, and look to refer to the right person. They should also attend all the training they can. Even those that have been working in care for years can learn something new in training.
Do you have any advice for those looking start a career in health and social care?
Julie: You have to be ahead of the game, be prepared at all times, be flexible and think on your feet. Proper health and social care is care in the holistic sense. You have to be thinking not just of their physical wellbeing, but their mental and emotional too. Are they in the most suitable location? How can you make things better?
You’ll find that communication skills are also key, including the ability to reason with people. Your speech should always be slow and calm. Listening is also a big one. Being a confidential ear for someone is a skill that is often undervalued.
Above all, you should treat people as individuals, and understand that needs are individual. It’s important not to judge. You should always try to understand the impact such an illness or situation can have on an each person, whatever the situation.