Updated March 2023
Considering becoming a health care aide (HCA)? The personalized support HCAs offer patients makes this career path particularly rewarding—and increasingly important.
As Canada's population ages, demand for in-home and daily health care support is on the rise. But working as a health care aide is challenging. It takes resilience, physical and emotional stamina, and a clear understanding of how to provide safe and effective patient care.
Read on to discover 10 of the most important hard and soft skills you'll need to succeed in this career.
1. Proficient in safe patient care techniques
Health care aides must master several technical and mechanical skills in order to safely and effectively care for their patients.
- Safely moving, positioning, and transferring patients with or without equipment
- Dressing wounds, changing bandages, and applying topical medications
- Noticing and recording changes in patient behaviour
- Correctly administering medication as prescribed by a doctor
- Performing CPR and first aid
These are crucial patient care techniques and procedures HCAs learn first in health care aide training and then continue to refine through practical work experience.
2. Accepting of different cultures
Whether working in a long-term care facility or directly in patients' homes, health care aides encounter people from all walks of life. It is impossible for HCAs to do their job well if they harbour prejudice toward patients from different backgrounds.
Social acceptance and open-mindedness are key prerequisites to work in this field. Health care aides must strive to understand different cultural practices and norms, and treat every patient with equal respect and consideration.
3. Compassionate and patient
HCAs often work closely with older patients who suffer from debilitating cognitive diseases, such as Alzheimer's and dementia. Or they may work with children and young adults coping with intellectual or physical disabilities.
It is inevitable that HCAs will sometimes encounter challenging patients who do not wish to or simply cannot follow instructions or participate in their own care.
Compassion and patience are fundamental soft skills for health care aides, who must find ways to support each patient while ensuring all relevant health and safety needs are met.
4. Excellent communicator
Effective communication is the cornerstone of a successful health care aide career. This skill has both "hard" and "soft" applications, which are equally important.
The first is a practical (hard skill) component: the ability to speak, read, and write in English. HCAs must be able to communicate easily with patients, family members, and other members of their patients' health care team.
They must also be able to read and follow instructions and procedures and write clear observations of patients under their care.
The second (soft skill) communication component is the ability to build rapport with patients and families. Health care aides do so much more than provide basic daily care. They support families struggling with the illness of a loved one, offer companionship and emotional support to patients, and do everything they can to ensure the highest possible quality of life for those in their care.
5. Flexible, adaptive & cool under pressure
A big part of the health care aide experience is coping with unpredictability. For example, it is quite common for a patient emergency to arise, throwing off the day's schedule of home visits.
Or a fellow HCA may call in sick, leaving the residence short-handed on the floor, and the remaining health care aides must pick up the slack.
No matter what unexpected events take place during the work day, HCAs must be ready to adapt and regroup. Flexibility, calm under pressure, and quick thinking are key assets in this role.
6. Familiar with relevant medical & pharmaceutical vocabulary
Although they may not always work in hospitals, HCAs are very important members of the patient care team, and must know how to speak the "language" of medicine. When delivering patient observations to a head nurse, for example, or reviewing a patient's condition and prescribed medications, HCAs must be comfortable working with relevant medical and pharmaceutical terms.
This knowledge spans anatomy, physiology, names and symptoms of common disorders and illnesses, common prescription drugs, etc. Newcomers to the field can expect to receive a firm grounding in medical terminology during health care aide training.
7. Physically fit
Working as a health care aide requires physical stamina. HCAs spend many hours on their feet and are usually required to lift, move, and otherwise support patients—and in busy nursing homes, they often care for six or more patients at once.
8. Emotionally fit
Emotional fitness is just as important as physical fitness for HCAs.
Given that they often work closely with chronically ill patients and families who are coming to terms with a loved one's illness, health care aides must know how to cope with grief, anxiety, and the consequences of loss.
HCAs are a shoulder to lean on for families and patients, but must also know how to look after their own emotional well-being.
9. Proficient in self-care
Physical and emotional self-care is essential for health care aides. Chronic fatigue and burnout can occur when HCAs do not dedicate enough time and energy to replenishing themselves.
Successful health care aides have regular routines in place for burning off stress, coping with loss, and re-energizing the mind, body, and spirit.
10. Responsible, honest & ethical
Families and patients put a great deal of faith in HCAs. Health care aides are welcomed into homes, hospitals, and the personal lives of the patients they serve.
Honesty, good judgment, and reliability are absolutely crucial for maintaining the bond of trust and ensuring patients feel safe and protected.
Interested in learning more about starting a health care aide career?
Consider Herzing College's Health Care Aide Program, delivered at the Winnipeg campus. Training takes just 6.5 months to complete and includes an eight-week internship.
Visit the program page to request free information, or chat live with an admissions advisor. You can book a campus tour and get assistance with your application. We're here to help!