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

Nurses walking down the corridor

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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, set as a level 5 apprenticeship, 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. Following their training, Nursing Associates will work within teams with direct or indirect supervision to deliver aspects of nursing care, complementing the work of registered nurses

7,500 people were recruited as Trainee Nursing Associates in 2017 and 2018, with plans to train an additional 7,500 in 2019.

Qualified Nursing Associates can also go on to train as a register nurse but putting their training towards a shortened nursing degree, or completing a shortened degree-level nurse apprenticeship

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

Useful links:

wanting to go on and study towards NMC regis

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 will enable people to train "on the job," to become a graduate registered nurse through an apprentice route, meaning they will 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.

The first nursing apprenticeships started in September 2017, with lots more being offered in 2018. 

If you’re already working as a health care assistant and are interested in this route, you should express your interest to your employer and request further information. 

Useful resources:

Department of Health: Nursing degree apprenticeship factsheet

Apprenticeships, traineeships and cadet schemes (Health Careers website)

Search Universities offering Nursing Apprenticeship training

Prospects: Information and Advice about the Nursing Apprenticeship

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 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.

APs 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.

Useful resources:

Health careers - AP overview 

NHS employers - Assistant Practitioners 

Apprenticeship standard for Assistant Practitioners (job role and skills)