HW Careers

A Career In Healthcare is Possible Without a Perfect Matric

You’re set on a healthcare career. You’ve sweated your way through matric and got your marks. Perhaps some of your marks aren’t as good as you had expected and your healthcare career plans are no longer as clear. Maybe you started working after school, and now you’re nearly 30. However, you still remember dreaming about wanting to work in a lab solving medical mysteries.

The marks we get in school have a huge impact on our future. But too often, we see what our marks won’t let us do, rather than what they will. 

A perfect matric score is not required to jumpstart a healthcare career.

Your matric results can limit your after school options but, that doesn’t mean that you have ZERO options. Not everyone can be a doctor, just like not everyone on a soccer team can be a striker. Healthcare is a team effort that relies on a range of people with multiple qualifications and skills. Many of these careers don’t require straight A’s to enter and some don’t require pure maths. (It’s still a good idea to get it though)

there’s more than one way to start a career

Nearly 77% of Grade 12s passed matric in 2021. Less than half of them (36.4%) achieved a bachelor’s pass or qualified for entrance to university. That doesn’t mean they don’t have the ability, skill and drive to reach their dreams. 

Matric results don’t necessarily reflect a student’s future abilities. They’re not necessarily indicative of a talent for teamwork, passion for helping people or the ability to keep calm in a crisis.

Government and civil society are fully aware of the challenges South African learners and workers face. This is why policies and programs such as learnerships exist. They are specifically designed to help people develop, despite the tough circumstances that might have held them back before.

Learnerships are focused on training people to do a specific job, giving you a clear start to a particular career. 

what are the basics requirements for healthcare learnerships?

There are standard basic requirements for all health sector learnerships. You don’t need top marks to qualify for lots of careers. However, having matric subjects like biology and science will help. You need a matric and must be an unemployed South African resident or citizen (with valid SA ID). Additionally, you have to be between 18 and 30 to 35 years old, depending on the learnership.

You need to speak and write English and have a decent pass in at least Maths Literacy. You also have to be able to work a computer. You can only have one learnership at a time. You can’t be studying anywhere else and you can’t have a full-time job because you are working and studying at the same time.

You can find current learnerships on the SA Learnership website. You will need a Curriculum Vitae (CV) and contacts for people who will give you a reference. You will also need certified copies of any qualifications, of your ID, as well as proof of address for the last three months. 

Most companies will want you to apply online, while government learnerships often need you to apply in writing or in person. Learnerships only pay stipends, so you will need some financial support while you study and work. After qualifying, you may have to work for that company for a similar time as the duration of your learnership.

3 healthcare careers you can achieve without pure maths

We all know about doctors and nurses, but they are supported by hundreds of people doing other jobs that we often don’t think about. Many positions don’t require years of study to qualify. Furthermore, a number of learnership programmes are short courses of a few months up to 2 years long. Here are 3 healthcare careers you can qualify for without needing Pure Maths.


A phlebotomist works with patients’ blood and other fluids. They draw blood, take readings, run tests, sterilise and look after the equipment and handle patient records.

Because they handle blood and needles, phlebotomists need to be able to work carefully and calmly. They need to be able to cope with difficult patients and they also have to deal with details that must be correct. These include labelling, testing blood types, and even knowing how different foods can affect a blood test.

Generally, phlebotomist learnerships require at least D-symbol matric passes in English, Biology, Maths or Maths Literacy. You also need to be computer literate. A full learnership is usually 2 years long and you will be able to register as a qualified phlebotomist with the HPCSA.

Pharmacy Assistant

A pharmacy assistant supports the pharmacist in running a pharmacy. They are responsible for tasks like preparing and filling prescriptions, handling patient information, and working with medical aids and doctors. They are also responsible for managing drug inventories, accounts, and sales in a retail pharmacy.

Whatever setting you work in (retail or a clinic), there will be lots of contact with people. Because of this, good communication skills and patience are a must. Attention to detail and being well-organised are also important qualities to have. You need to be literate in writing, reading, numbers and computers. You are working with drugs and must follow the law and professional codes of conduct. Being ethical and trustworthy is of utmost importance.

Pharmacy Assistant Learnerships will generally require you to have good English skills (at least a 50% pass). You will also need a similar pass for Maths, and up to 60% for Maths Literacy. You won’t be performing any medical procedures, so you don’t usually need Biology. However, you will learn about how drugs impact the body, their benefits and dangers, and the complex business of healthcare. You work under a registered pharmacist and receive a recognised NQF qualification.

Dental Assistant

Dental assistant assisting a dentist in examining a patient's teeth

A dental assistant supports the operations of a dental practice. They work side-by-side with the dentist while they see patients. An assistant has duties in the medical rooms like managing the dental equipment and tools, keeping everything sterilised, and helping the dentist during procedures. At the front desk, they manage patient records, run appointments, and order supplies and equipment.

A lot of dental assistants do study full-time at a college or university for a formal qualification. However, you can achieve a healthcare career as a dental assistant without first studying, or without a formal qualification.

The large majority of dentists have their own businesses and run their own small practises. Sometimes they work alone or with just one or two other dentists. Being a dental assistant is a very practical job. Some dentists are open and willing to train and qualify an assistant to their ways and systems. Some do this without requiring getting a post-matric qualification first.

BUT, you will still need to have the same basic qualities needed for any healthcare training or learnership. This includes matric with (ideally) biology and a decent pass in maths literacy, good English skills and computer literacy. Also required are good communication skills, patience, being organised, reliable and trustworthy and hard-working.

learnerships are in a professional environment – time to adult!

With high unemployment, people are desperate for any opportunity, and some people will take advantage of this. Make sure that any learnership or training programme you apply for is real. They should be in line with the right government department, and clearly defines what training, work and qualifications you will do and achieve.

With many people looking to jumpstart a healthcare career, competition can be tough

Be extremely careful of anyone demanding payment. An official learnership offered in line with legislation to earn you a registered qualification will be paying you, not the other way round.

Make sure you clearly understand everything you need to do to apply. Have all the right forms, meet any deadlines, and only give out certified copies of any documents. Make sure you keep the originals.

If you want to improve your matric marks and your options for a healthcare career, you can re-write some of your subjects, even years after you first wrote matric. This site is a good starting point.

Matric is usually over before most people are 20 years old, and we spend decades working, growing, changing jobs, sometimes careers. With programmes like learnerships that give you support and resources, you can have years to build an exciting and rewarding career.

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