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How to become a health play specialist

To become a health play specialist, you’ll need a foundation degree in Healthcare Play Specialism and experience working with children in a healthcare environment. You must also be registered with the Healthcare Play Specialist Education Trust (HPSET).

What is a health play specialist?

A health play specialist uses therapeutic play and recreational activities to support children, young people and families. Health play services are available to all families coming into the hospital for an inpatient stay or when visiting the emergency department or an outpatient clinic. 

Therapeutic play and interactions can be used to: 

  • Help children adapt to unfamiliar surroundings.
  • Reduce stress and anxiety, help children develop coping strategies, and provide an outlet for expressing their feelings. 
  • Support children in understanding their illness or injury, care plan, and treatment. 
  • Prepare children for surgery or procedures, which could include role play with preparation dolls and the chance to see and handle medical equipment. 
  • Distract children during diagnostic tests and medical procedures. 
  • Promote recovery and rehabilitation. 

Some health play specialists start their NHS careers as health play assistants. Others may have experience from volunteering in health play services.

Health play specialist interacting with a child

Starting your career as a health play specialist

Choosing subjects at school

School subjects that could lead to a career as a health play specialist include:

  • English
  • Maths
  • Biology
  • Care
  • Childcare and development
  • Psychology 

Speak to your guidance teacher or careers adviser about subjects offered at your school.

Workplacements and volunteering

You may find it helpful to get some healthcare experience by doing a work placement or volunteering. You’ll get training, increase your knowledge, and learn new skills. This could help you when applying to college, university, or a new job with NHSScotland. 

Education and training pathway

To become a health play specialist, you’ll need a foundation degree in Healthcare Play Specialism.

College courses

To secure a place on a foundation degree course, you’ll need National 5 English and Maths, or equivalent, and one of the following:

  • HNC Childhood Practice at SCQF level 7
  • SVQ Playwork at SCQF level 6

Search for college courses on My World of Work.

Healthcare Play Specialism foundation degree

The foundation degree is offered at 4 colleges in the UK. They are:

  • Cardiff and Vale College
  • North East Surrey College of Technology
  • Leeds City College
  • North Warwickshire and South Leicestershire College

Find out more about the foundation degree in Healthcare Play Specialism.

Healthcare Play Specialist Education Trust (HPSET)

Once you complete the foundation degree, you'll register as a play specialist with the Healthcare Play Specialist Education Trust (HPSET). Some boards will consider evidence of continuing professional development as an alternative to HPSET registration.

If you’re returning to a career as a health play specialist, you can re-register if your membership has lapsed. 

Learn more about HPSET.

Course search

Search for Health Play Specialism foundation degree courses on UCAS.

Get to know the role

As a health play specialist, you’ll support children and their families and carers during hospital appointments and stays.

Typical tasks for a health play specialist include:

  • Provide normalising and developmental play activities for children and young people visiting hospital. 

  • Mentor and supervise health play assistants and volunteers within the team. 

  • Keep up to date with best practice within play techniques and monitor effectiveness in practice. 

  • Provide and maintain age-appropriate play equipment and materials. 

  • Respect patients’ individuality, values, cultural, and religious diversity to meet their care needs. 

  • Work within the defined policies, procedures, standards and protocols. 

  • Be proactive in keeping your knowledge and understanding of current research and best practice up to date. 

  • Review and reflect on your practice through the effective use of clinical supervision and appraisal. 

You'll need these skills:

  • communicating
  • problem-solving
  • critical thinking
  • creativity
  • initiative
  • resilience
  • teamworking

Health play specialists usually work within a multidisciplinary team. You could work with:

  • play services coordinator
  • play assistant
  • volunteers
  • nurses
  • occupational therapists
  • physiotherapists

You could work in: 

  • hospitals
  • health centres
  • playrooms
  • treatment areas

Career progression

As you develop in your NHS career and gain more experience you could become a senior health play specialist. Alternatively, you could train as:

  •  a children’s nurse
  •  an occupational therapist

For more ideas, explore our careers.

Professional bodies

Once you’ve qualified as a health play specialist, you'll register with the  can also join the Healthcare Play Specialist Education Trust (HPSET). You can also join the National Association of Health Play Specialists (NAHPS).

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Help with recruitment

Help with recruitment

We'll guide you through the recruitment process, from applying online to interview preparation.

Help with recruitment

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