Health Care Assistant
Kaiāwhina Haumanu Hauora/Kaimahi Atawhai
Health care assistants support nurses and care for people in private homes, hospitals, general practices or rest homes.
Health care assistants usually earn
$20-$25 per hour
Source: DHBs, NZ Nurses Org and MSD, 2019.
Pay for health care assistants varies depending on experience, where they work, and how many hours a week they work.
Health care assistants employed by a district health board
- New health care assistants earn minimum wage.
- After one to three years' experience they earn between $21 and $22 an hour.
- With four to five years' experience they earn $22 to $23 an hour.
Support workers who provide care in people's homes
- Support workers with up to eight years' experience or a Level 2 qualification earn between $21 and $22 an hour.
- Those with over eight years' experience or a Level 3 or 4 qualification earn between $23 and $25 an hour.
Sources: District Health Boards and New Zealand Nurses Organisation, 'Nursing and Midwifery Multi-Employer Collective Agreement (MECA) 4 June 2018-31 July 2020', accessed September 2019; E tū, 'Let's Bring This Home', September 2019; and Ministry of Social Development, 'Factsheet: Care and Support Workers (Pay Equity) Settlement Agreement', July 2018.
- E tū website - 'Let's Bring This Home' (PDF - 733KB)
- Ministry of Social Development website - Factsheet: Care and Support Workers (Pay Equity) Settlement Agreement (PDF - 154KB)
- New Zealand Nurses Organisation website - District Health Boards and New Zealand Nurses Organisation, 'Nursing and Midwifery Multi-Employer Collective Agreement (MECA) 4 June 2018-31 July 2020' (PDF - 1.4MB)
- PAYE.net.nz website - use this calculator to convert pay and salary information
- Employment New Zealand website - information about minimum wage rates
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)
What you will do
Health care assistants may do some or all of the following:
- help patients or clients wash, dress and eat
- help with laundry, housework and shopping
- make sure patients or clients take the correct medicine
- help clients attend appointments
- help patients rehabilitate in areas such as social skills and walking.
In the evenings we get residents ready for bed. We put their nightwear on and make sure they have the right incontinence products.
Home Care Assistant
Skills and knowledge
Health care assistants need to have knowledge of:
- patient care
- the needs of the patients or clients they work with, such as elderly people, young people or people with disabilities
- first aid, including cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
- safe lifting techniques and how to use hoists.
They may also need to know about:
- hospital procedures
- health and safety procedures, including storage of dangerous goods.
Health care assistants:
- may work shifts, including evenings and weekends (home support workers usually work only during the day)
- work in clients' homes, clinics, rest homes and nursing homes or in hospitals – in emergency departments and intensive care, maternity wards, outpatient clinics, operating theatres and mental health clinics
- may be exposed to diseases and body fluids
- may travel locally to clients' homes.
What's the job really like?
Home Care Assistant
What's a typical shift like as a home care assistant at a rest home?
"I have 35 residents to look after. I check in with each resident and see how they are. Then I give them a time when I’ll come and help them."
What’s difficult about your job?
"You’ve got to learn to manage aggressive behaviour – with dementia people may swear at you, or threaten you.
"I’ve had a few tears at times. I’ve taken a big breath and thought, 'You can do this Lish, don’t take it to heart.' "
How did you find your Level 4 certificate training?
"My Level 4 New Zealand Certificate in Health and Wellbeing (Advanced Support) helped heaps. I put a lot more detail in my notes now about the care I’ve given.
"I did find some things hard. I had to answer questions like, 'How did I manage myself in a situation?' – such as with dementia. I wasn’t used to thinking about myself in the role."
How do you cope with the death of residents you’re fond of?
"That happens quite often. I pay my respects. I may have a few tears.
"It’s harder watching the family suffer. Relating to the family – supporting them – is part of the job, especially when caring for people at the end of their life."
What gives you satisfaction in your job?
"The elderly. I have had problems during my life but as soon as I walk through the door, everything changes. I’m there for a purpose – for them. I’ve found something I really enjoy doing."
There are no specific requirements to become a health care assistant.
However, employers usually prefer you to have, or work towards, a qualification such as a:
- New Zealand Certificate in Health and Wellbeing (Level 2)
- New Zealand Certificate in Health and Wellbeing – Health Assistance (Level 3), to work in hospitals and rest homes
- New Zealand Certificate in Health and Wellbeing – Support Work (Level 3), to provide care in private homes.
- Careerforce website - New Zealand Certificates in Health and Wellbeing for home and community support
You may also need:
- a first aid certificate
- a driver's licence.
The Vulnerable Children Act 2014 means that if you have certain serious convictions, you can’t be employed in a role where you are responsible for, or work alone with, children.
No specific secondary education is required for this job, but English, maths and biology to at least NCEA Level 1 are useful.
For Year 11 to 13 learners, the Gateway programme is a good way to gain relevant experience and skills.
Health care assistants need to be:
- patient and tolerant
- practical, organised and responsible
- friendly, helpful and compassionate
- able to follow instructions
- able to relate well to people from different cultures
- skilled at listening and communicating
- able to cope with stressful and emotional situations.
You need to be someone who can handle stress because if you’re short-staffed, there may be five people's bells ringing at once and you have to decide – who do you go to first?
Home Care Assistant
Useful experience for health care assistants includes:
- work in rest homes, nursing homes and hospitals
- work with families, the elderly or people with disabilities
- work helping people, or customer service
- first aid
- cleaning and housekeeping.
Health care assistants need to be reasonably fit, healthy and strong, with no back problems, as the work can be physically demanding.
Find out more about training
- Careerforce ITO
- 0800 277 486 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.careerforce.org.nz
- New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO)
- 0800 283 848 - email@example.com - www.nzno.org.nz
What are the chances of getting a job?
High demand for health care assistants
Although over 30,000 people work as health care assistants, vacancies are common due to:
- employers finding it hard to get staff
- high worker turnover because of the stress of the role
- a large and growing number of elderly people who need support that allows them to stay in their own home
- the increasing need for health care assistants in hospitals due to a shortage of registered nurses
- the ageing workforce – most health care assistants are between 55 and 64.
According to the Census, 33,513 health care assistants worked in New Zealand in 2018.
Ageing population increases demand for workers
The health care, aged care and community and disability sector will need 16,000 extra workers by 2021, according to the Industry Training Federation.
Types of employers varied
Most health care assistants work for:
- hospitals and nursing homes
- private companies providing home care
- specialist care providers – for spinal injury patients, for example
- church and welfare-based trusts
- home support services run by district health boards.
- E tū and PSA, 'Let's Bring This Home', September 2019, (www.etu.nz).
- New Zealand Aged Care Association, 'Visa Reforms to Benefit Older Kiwis in Care' (press release), 17 September 2019, (www.nsaca.org.nz).
- New Zealand Nurses Organisation, 'Heath Care Assistants in General Practice and Accident and Medical Settings', accessed October 2019, (www.nzno.org.nz).
- Stats NZ, '2018 Census Data', 2019.
- Stats NZ, 'Population Projections Overview', 8 March 2017, (www.archive.stats.govt.nz).
- Steer, E, product manager, Careerforce, careers.govt.nz interview, October 2019.
- Wenman, E, 'Call for More Workers to Join Health and Wellbeing Sectors', 15 May 2018, (www.stuff.co.nz).
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)
Progression and specialisations
Health care assistants may progress into management or administration roles. With further training, they may become enrolled or registered nurses, or phlebotomists (who collect blood samples).
Health care assistants can specialise in a number of roles, including:
- Health Care Assistant
- Health care assistants support nurses working with patients in aged residential care or medical practices.
- Home and Community Support Worker
- Home and community support workers help clients with bathing, dressing, eating, laundry and housework in private homes.
Last updated 12 July 2021