If you're passionate about making a real difference to people's lives then take a look at the skills, qualifications and work experience you'll need to get started in the healthcare sector
The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are still being felt throughout the sector as all professionals navigate a new normal. Combine this with debates over vaccines, unrest around pay and a shortage of nurses and there are a lot of issues in this ultimately rewarding sector.
What areas of healthcare can I work in?
Employment opportunities can be grouped into:
- allied health (e.g. physiotherapy, radiography, and occupational therapy)
- ambulance services
- complementary therapies
- health informatics
- health promotion
- healthcare administration and management
- healthcare science (e.g. clinical engineering, biomedical science, and pathology)
- medical equipment sales
- medicine (e.g. doctors, surgeons, and GPs)
- medical research
- nutrition and diet
- optometry and opticians
- psychological therapies.
You could work in the National Health Service (NHS), private healthcare or private/non-profit organisations in a range of settings including:
- care homes or hospices
- community healthcare (e.g. doctors' surgeries, dental surgeries, health clinics)
- medical laboratories
- people's homes.
In large organisations such as the NHS and private healthcare providers such as Bupa, there are also jobs for graduates in:
- customer care
- human resources (HR)
- legal services
Who are the main graduate employers?
The largest employer in the UK healthcare sector is the NHS, which employs more than 1.5 million people - placing it in the top five largest workforces in the world. There are more than 350 different roles available within the NHS.
A significant proportion of the sector's workforce is in independent healthcare. In addition to their private sector functions, these providers are increasingly contracted to provide services on behalf of the NHS.
Independent healthcare organisations include:
- BMI Healthcare
- Care UK
- Ramsay Health Care UK
- Spire Healthcare.
Voluntary and non-profit organisations in the sector include:
- British Red Cross
- Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) UK
- Nuffield Health
- Save the Children
- Sue Ryder.
What's it like working in the sector?
Graduates entering the healthcare sector can expect:
- national pay rates for all NHS employees except doctors, dentists and senior managers, who are paid via a separate arrangement
- to wear a mask when dealing with all patients and further PPE when dealing directly with a COVID-19 contact, this can be uncomfortable but is necessary to keep everyone safe (correct as of March 2022)
- shift work with unsociable and often long working hours
- a range of different working conditions depending on the role and organisation
- a potentially stressful and emotionally challenging working environment particularly during the pandemic
- to be able to work anywhere in the country.
Since September 2020 all undergraduate and postgraduate midwifery, nursing and a number of other allied health profession students have been able to access a £5,000 maintenance grant that doesn’t need to be paid back. This could increase to £8,000 if you meet some additional criteria. To find out more take a look at gov.uk.
Take a look at healthcare job profiles to find out more about typical salaries and working conditions in your chosen career.
What skills do employers want?
Employers in the healthcare sector require candidates with:
- the ability to stay calm in high-pressure situations, such as during surgery
- attention to detail
- empathy and an approachable nature to deal with both patients and their families in what can be difficult times
- good communication skills, which will help when advising patients of their options
- the ability to work in a team as very rarely will you be able to help a patient without input from multiple people.
Do I need a related degree?
For many graduate healthcare careers, including medicine, nursing, midwifery and allied healthcare, you must be a registered healthcare professional. You'll need a relevant approved degree and to register with a professional body to work in these roles.
If you haven't studied an approved first degree, you could consider a graduate-entry accelerated course to start your clinical career. Some of these will require you to have a science or health-related degree, but others are open to graduates of any subject. In any case, you'll typically need at least a 2:2 and a substantial amount of work experience to be successful.
The NHS Modernising Scientific Careers scheme has resulted in more structured training for healthcare science roles. The NHS Practitioner Training Programme (PTP) combines study for a BSc with work-based training in areas such as life sciences, medical physics technology and clinical engineering.
For some roles such as paramedic, physiotherapist and occupational therapist, it's possible to work your way up from assistant level through in-service, work-based learning, including degree-level study. However, postgraduate study is an essential part of training in a number of roles such as pharmacy and clinical psychology.
In other areas, such as nursing and midwifery, you can consider taking post-registration courses at postgraduate level in order to specialise.
More information about routes into healthcare careers can be found by visiting the websites of relevant professional bodies, such as:
- General Dental Council (GDC)
- General Medical Council (GMC)
- General Optical Council (GOC)
- General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC)
- Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC)
- Nursing & Midwifery Council (NMC)
- The Royal College of Surgeons in England
- Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH)
How do I find a graduate job in healthcare?
Jobs within the NHS are advertised through NHS Jobs and individual NHS Trust websites. Jobs in independent healthcare are usually advertised on company websites or via specialist recruitment agencies.
The NHS Graduate Management Training Scheme has options in finance, HR, general management and health informatics. Graduates with a 2:2 in any subject are considered.
If you have a 2:1 degree in pure or applied science, you could consider the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP). This offers you the chance to take on paid work while studying towards a Masters degree in areas such as blood sciences, genetics and medical physics.
Visit Health Careers for the latest application details.
Vacancies for smaller organisations can be found by contacting them directly with a speculative application or through local press advertisements.