Career paths for Nursing Support Workers

Healthcare Assistants and Support Workers can now pursue one of three exciting new career pathways, leading to Band 4 or Band 5 roles

There are now a number of exciting new opportunities available to Nursing Support Workers who are looking to progress and develop within their career.

This page looks at three different career pathways currently available, all of which lead to band 4 or band 5 roles, with some key facts and information for each.


Nursing Associate (England only at present)

  • 2 year long programme leading to a foundation degree 
  • Band 4 once qualified
  • Learning 'on the job' alongside academic studies
  • Paid at band 3 level whilst training
  • To be regulated by the NMC

Nursing Associate 

The Nursing Associate role is set as a level 5 apprenticeship. It was designed to bridge the gap between healthcare support workers and registered nurses, to deliver hands-on, person-centred care as part of a multidisciplinary team in a range of different settings. 

Qualified Nursing Associates will have the option to study towards becoming a registered Nurse, by putting their training and qualifications towards a shortened nursing degree programme, or completing a shortened degree-level Nurse Apprenticeship

To see which educational institutes offer the Nursing Associate course, please see the NMC approved programme search, and select "Nursing Associate" within the "course" field. 

If you're interested in this role:

  • Speak to your employer for more info about how to apply
  • If you are unable to apply with your current employer, speak to other employers and NHS Trusts to enquire about possible career opportunities 
  • Speak to universities that offer this programme
  • Contact your local RCN learning rep if there one at your place of work
  • Contact your Practice Development team or equivalent if there is one at your place of work
  • RCN Careers can support you with applying for jobs, interview coaching, or career coaching

Useful links:

Nursing Apprenticeship (England and Wales only at present)

  • 4 year programme leading to a degree and nursing registration
  • Band 5 once qualified 
  • Learning on the job alongside academic studies
  • Pay whilst training - to be decided
  • Small first intake September 2017, with more to follow in early 2018

Nursing Apprenticeship

The Nursing Degree Apprenticeship (NDA) will enable individuals to train "on the job," to become a graduate registered nurse through an apprentice route, meaning they will be paid whilst training.

Apprentices will be released by their employer to study part-time in a higher education institution and will train in a range of practice placement settings. They will learn at Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) approved education providers and will be expected to achieve the same standards as other student nurses.

If you're interested in this role:

  • Speak to your employer for more info on opportunities and about how to apply
  • If you are unable to apply with your current employer, speak to other employers and NHS Trusts to enquire about possible career opportunities 
  • Speak to universities that offer this programme
  • Opportunities may also be advertised via NHS Jobs and Find an apprenticeship.
  • Contact your local RCN learning rep if there one at your place of work
  • Contact your Practice Development team or equivalent if there is one at your place of work
  • RCN Careers can support you with applying for jobs, interview coaching, or career coaching

Useful links:

Assistant Practitioner 

  • 18 - 24 month programme leading to a foundation degree
  • Band 4 level once qualified 
  • Learning on the job alongside academic studies 
  • Paid at a band 3 whilst training
  • Not regulated by the NMC
  • To apply, search NHS jobs for trainee vacancies, or speak to your employer

Assistant Practitioners

Assistant Practitioners, (sometimes also called Associate Practitioners) are a growing part of the healthcare workforce. They have skills and experience in a particular area of clinical practice. 

Although they are not registered practitioners they have a high level of skill through their experience and training. They take on more responsibilities than health care assistants, under the supervision of registered colleagues in a range of different settings.

One of the most popular ways to become an AP is to complete a foundation degree (or equivalent) in health care, which involves a combination of study and supervised practice. Interested candidates should speak to their employer, or check the NHS jobs website for trainee assistant practitioner / trainee associate practitioner vacancies. In most cases they would be paid at band 3 level whilst training with the opportunity to work at band 4 level once qualified and once recruited into a role.

Assistant Practitioners may be able to use their foundation degree as APL (Accreditation for Prior Learning) and apply for a shortened undergraduate degree programme such as a nursing degree. Individual universities will be able to provide more information.

If you're interested in this role:

  • Speak to your employer for more info on opportunities and about how to apply
  • If you are unable to apply with your current employer, speak to other employers and NHS Trusts to enquire about possible career opportunities 
  • Speak to universities that offer this programme
  • Contact your local RCN learning rep if there one at your place of work
  • Contact your Practice Development team or equivalent if there is one at your place of work
  • RCN Careers can support you with applying for jobs, interview coaching, or career coaching

Useful resources:

Nurses walking down the corridor

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