Hospitals can be as large as towns and employ thousands of people in a huge variety of roles. It isn’t just medical staff that are needed but all of those other people that mean that facilities are well maintained and that the whole ecosystem operates as it should in order to give patients the best possible care.
Here are a few roles that you may or may not have considered within the healthcare environment:
Nurses form the largest group of staff in the NHS and are a crucial part of the healthcare team working in every sort of health setting with people of all ages and backgrounds.
Top of the list of requirements is a caring nature backed up by the ability to make decisions and communicate with other staff as well.
To work as a nurse in the NHS, you must be registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), which means you’ll need a degree in nursing. (Diploma courses are no longer available.) It is possible to work your way up from a healthcare assistant and progress to apply for a place on a degree course. (The Nursing Careers website has information about the wide range of career options as well as a variety of suggested entry routes into nursing.)
Depending on experience and training, there are plenty of opportunities for nurses of all kinds to rise up the ranks to manage teams, run wards and even reach consultant level. Roles include: adult nurses, mental health nurses, paediatric nurses, learning and disability nurses, district nurses, neonatal nurses, health visitors, practice nurses, school nurses and theatre nurses.
In some senses, hospitals and (more obviously) care homes, work along similar lines to those of hotels. The difference between the two in terms of outcomes is generally ‘being tidy and clean’ versus ‘being clean – to clinical standards’. Housekeepers work alongside senior nurses and are an important part of the ward team that delivers clinical care by ensuring that the wards are not only clean, tidy and pleasant but also safe – in terms of the work they contribute towards infection control (through cleanliness). In fact, housekeepers work with other service departments within medical environments to ensure that national standards in areas such as hygiene, catering, maintenance, receiving visitors and handling complaints are met. They may also have some responsibility for transport and clerical matters such as the invaluable internal postal system that sees notes, records, equipment and prescription items circulate around the site.
Whilst there are no minimum requirements for the post, experience in providing similar services such as those required within a hotel or Army barracks or medical centre would be advantageous. Experience in management or logistics-style roles might also be useful to draw upon.
Gardeners and Grounds Staff
Medical premises are, generally speaking, bustling places that need to function efficiently. This can mean keeping paths and roadways clear and tidy of obstructions to make sure that they are accessible to patients (who may have specific mobility challenges) as well as visitors and of course, emergency vehicles.
There is also a demand for places where patients can spend time in a calm atmosphere and in relative fresh air – such as gardens or on lawns etc. The connection between a healthy mind and a healthy body has been recognised for a long time now and the benefits of psychological wellbeing are accepted as fact. (The role will undoubtedly include looking after plants, pruning trees and shrubs and weeding borders.)
Head gardeners will usually need a vocational qualification (in gardening or horticulture), such as a Royal Horticultural Society certificate, relevant QCF or BTEC qualification whilst at a lower level it may sometimes be possible to obtain a job on the basis of previous experience or proven ability. In addition, gardeners and grounds staff need to be able to undertake physical work outside in all weathers, be adaptable (they might be expected to do a range of different jobs), and an ability to work as part of a team.
Infection control is important in all medical environments these days. Backing up those on the frontline – in theatres and on the wards – are the people working in labs based (usually) in hospitals.
Microbiology is the study of organisms (bacterial, viral, fungal and parasitic) that cause infections. Microbiologists work to identify clinically important organisms and give support and advice on the most effective drug to use for treatment. Examples include; MRSA, Clostridium difficile (aka: c-difficile) and norovirus infections.
Microbiology plays a key role in preventing, diagnosing and controlling infections, both for individual patients and, more generally, within a hospital or community. A contagious outbreak in a hospital can be serious since patients are likely to belong to vulnerable groups (very young, very old or with underlying illnesses and low immunity).
Diagnostic laboratories and pathology departments utilise a range of specialist culture and non-culture technologies and platforms, including molecular techniques such as, Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) and Sequencing. Preparing cultures of micro-organisms and using a variety of tests and procedures enable microbiologists to help analyse and support the response to infection. (As you progress there will likely be opportunity for you to research and become specialist in areas of microbiology such as: bacteriology, virology, mycology and parasitology.)
There are two entry routes that you might consider: firstly, as a healthcare scientist, after a relevant degree (at a minimum of a 2:1 classification or a 2:2 with appropriate postgraduate qualifications), by applying for a place on the graduate-entry NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP); or secondly, as a consultant healthcare scientist, after gaining postgraduate qualifications and/or considerable relevant experience through Higher Specialist Scientific Training (HSST).
It can be advantageous to have gained some experience of working in a relevant environment before applying for a place on a course or job vacancy. You should also highlight how your experiences enable you to work under pressure and achieve accurate results.
Graduates entering the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP) will be employed in a fixed-term, salaried training post and will study towards a masters degree qualification in Clinical Science (Infection Sciences). Those entering Higher Specialist Scientific Training (HSST) will study towards doctoral level qualifications. (Programmes are often supported by the development of workplace-based assessment tools, assessment of equivalent learning and the development of academic careers.)
As medicine moves towards a more personalised profiling, record keeping and data management is becoming more and more important. With this in mind, there is still a demand for proficient secretaries and typists. A secretary will always need good word processing skills but may also (depending on their role/department) be required to work with databases and spreadsheets as well as run a filing system. Generally, this is not a ‘customer-facing’ role unless you work for a GP in which case you may be required to answer phones or run the reception desk as well.
Secretaries/typists may need a relevant RSA qualification at level I or II, or an equivalent level after which they may then be able to work towards becoming a post as a ‘medical secretary’ which requires more of a working knowledge of medical matters.
The role of hospital porter is surprisingly varied (and sometimes overlooked in terms of importance). One minute they might be transporting a heavy filing cabinet from one building to another and the next, moving a frail or very ill patient into an operating theatre (in comfort and safety) which clearly requires a different skillset.
Porters also need to be able to transport complex and valuable medical equipment around the site efficiently and without damaging it – so their moving, handling and logistics skills need to be pretty good. (Sometimes, because of their physical strength, porters are requested to help out with other maintenance works etc.)
There are no qualification entry requirements but you’ll need to be physically fit and able to cope with lifting and walking considerable distances. A driving licence may be required, especially on a large or split site. Porters are likely to be trained in Health & Safety matters as well as lifting techniques where necessary. After gaining some experience, you could become a supervisor or porter team leader. Further promotion to head porter, or porter manager, may depend upon obtaining management qualifications.
Hospitals and medical environments are often places of urgency and drama and as a result the movement of large numbers of people and equipment through their environs can take its toll to the point where painters and decorators have full time roles in keeping everything up to scratch. Medical buildings need to be kept well decorated since it not only relaxes the patients but means that rooms are also easier to clean. Cracks or dents are good news for germs and bad news for Matron who will be attempting to keep a tight grip on infection control protocols.
You will usually need a specific skill and/or vocational qualification such as a City and Guilds or NVQ qualification. It may sometimes be possible to obtain such a role on the basis of previous experience or proven ability.
The Greek philosopher, Themistocles, said: “Let food be your medicine, and medicine be your food”. With this ancient quote still in mind, you might definitely argue that hospital catering is very important – and indeed it is. Catering staff need to produce food and drink that is nutritious, appetising and appropriate for patients’ medical and cultural needs. (To some extent, food will be a part of the patients’ recovery.)
Chefs, cooks or catering assistants tend to be based in the kitchen, working on a shift basis with the other members of the kitchen team. As a head chef you will also spend some time in an office designing menus that adhere to cost parameters and fit in with healthy eating and choice guidelines.
Catering staff need excellent cookery skills, an awareness of food hygiene and nutrition issues, and in some management roles, specific organisational and management skills.
Chefs and Catering managers will usually need City & Guilds certificates 7061/2/3 or a relevant NVQ (e.g. in food preparation and catering), depending on the role. Other catering staff may not need any academic qualifications, although some employers may require qualifications in areas such as customer care or food hygiene.
Catering staff tend to work shifts, including weekends.
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Staff
ICT staff are responsible for the development, management and support of the ICT infrastructure within an NHS organisation, including the internal and external electronic communication networks, including: wide area networks (WANs) and local area networks (LANs) that link the operational systems within healthcare organisations, hardware such as desktop computers and printers – and software systems such as email and systems used for pathology reports and patient administration.
ICT staff can be employed directly by the NHS and may need to have a good understanding of healthcare, while others will be employed by contractors and won’t necessarily need an in-depth knowledge of health to undertake their work.
Roles in medical IT include: service desk operator, ICT support technician, ICT test analyst, systems developer, network manager and telecommunications manager.
Staff working in information communication and technology can develop their careers through the Health Informatics Career Framework.
A telecommunications manager will typically manage the telephony system within a hospital or trust. This may include mobile communications devices (including mobile phones and pagers) as well as fixed line systems. In some instances, the job could involve updating the system or designing a new hospital telephony network. Naturally, you’ll need extensive experience in telecommunications and as manager this will include dealing with budgets and workers in your team.