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We explore the career opportunities for RGN and RMN qualified nurses to become practice nurses in a GP surgery or walk-in centre, and where a practice nurse career can lead you.
17th May 2011
General practice nurses are an essential part of a GP surgery and consequently the healthcare provision for an entire community. They are a key point of contact for patients attending a GP surgery and can provide a whole range of health promotion and nursing care services.
Practice nurse jobs are available in most parts of the UK, and although the primary location for a practice nurse is a GP surgery, there are other opportunities within both the NHS and private sector as well. Practice nurse jobs are occasionally advertised by private sector companies who have been are appointed to recruit for public sector practice nurse vacancies. Don’t be hesitant about applying for a practice nurse job if it’s advertised by a recruitment agency, you could still end up working in an NHS environment even though it’s advertised by a private sector company.
Taking a practice nurse job can be an option that some nurses choose because it can allow for a more family orientated working routine, without the need for night and weekend shifts. A practice nurse will often be based at the GP surgery during opening hours, which remain constant so a regular routine can be established without the worry of changing shift patterns. A practice nurse job may also be subject to a job share arrangement, so you can choose not to work a full time position, and yet still maintain regular working hours each week.
The role of a practice nurse
A practice nurse works alongside a GP to provide a range of services to members of the public in a routine environment. The RCN uses the term general practice nurse (GPN) to define the role. Practice nurses provide an essential range of health promotion, screening, treatment and care services for all members of the community. It’s a hugely varied job and no two days are the same, which is why some nurses choose to take a practice nurse job.
There are several key aspects of a practice nursing job, and these include health promotion and advice, providing minor treatments, administering vaccination programmes and performing health screening checks. There is also a large amount of communication required to liaise with other GPs and members of the allied health professional staff. A practice nurse may also be responsible for regular contact with patients that have chronic illnesses, and reporting back to all other health professionals in the multi-disciplinary team. A practice nurse will regularly collaborate with other healthcare professionals, so effective communication is essential as there can be as many as 10 other people that need to be updated with a patient’s condition.
Health promotion activities can include running stop smoking clinics and weight loss advice centres, and as the appointed practice nurse you will organise and deliver the information required to help people be more healthy. The practice nurse is also usually responsible for delivering contraceptive advice and fitting contraceptive devices as part of the health promotion activities, although this is usually carried out at 1 to 1 consultation level.
A practice nurse usually works at a GP surgery, but as a practice nurse you could also work at an NHS walk in centre or for an out of hours doctor service. The majority of practice nurse jobs are public sector based, but there are private sector companies that recruit practice nurses for roles within large corporate organisations. In this scenario a practice nurse will work alongside an occupational health nurse, occupational therapist and possibly a physiotherapist to promote a healthy lifestyle for employees and provide basic healthcare screening and treatments.
How to become a practice nurse
It’s most common for adult RGN nurses and mental health nurses to become practice nurses, but any qualified nurse can become a practice nurse with 1- 2 years post qualifying experience. Practice nursing is not normally a role that a newly qualified nurse can take up unless the employer offers a preceptorship and additional training alongside the job. Some NHS trusts do offer newly qualified nurses practice nurse preceptorship places, but they aren’t that common as most practice nurse vacancies require you to have post qualifying experience before applying to a practice nurse job.
As a qualified nurse you will already be aware of your own competencies, and this self-awareness is very much carried forward into a practice nursing job. General practice nursing is very varied and you will encounter all members of the community from babies, children through to adults and the elderly, so the ability to monitor your actions in comparison with your own competencies is key. You will also need to be resourceful, committed and able to give a continuity of service to patients who regularly require nursing care. Practice nursing is an area where you can often build up a rapport with patients you see regularly in order to support them better in their journey.
Career opportunities for practice nurses
Practice nursing provides such a wide variety of experiences for any qualified and experienced nurse, it can lead to many different career paths. A practice nurse is already a crucial part of the community nursing team, so one natural progression is to move on to a health visitor job or district nurse nurse job, both of which are different roles. In order to become a health visitor you will need to undertake a postgraduate course in public health visiting practice, which will usually take a year to complete. It’s usually a master qualification that combines study with practical learning experience. Becoming a district nurse also requires you to undertake postgraduate training in the form of a specialist practitioner programme, but both courses allow a higher level of clinical decision making and leadership in your job.
Another career path for an experienced practice nurse could be nurse practitioner. A nurse practitioner is an Advanced Nurse Practitioner (to give it its full title) and they are able to make autonomous decisions, diagnose and treat patients not yet diagnosed by a general practitioner, screen patients for diseases and make ongoing care plans. In order to become a nurse practitioner, you will need to complete a course of study at honours level on top to your nursing qualification. This is carried out a university and most courses combine a mixture of academic study and practical experience. If you do decide to become a nurse practitioner, you could choose to specialise in a particular area of nursing that really interests you. For example, you could choose primary care, emergency care or paediatrics. The role of Advanced Nurse Practitioner is still evolving and the RCN is constantly working to ensure that capabilities of an ANP are not thwarted by the structure of the NHS, which wouldn’t normally allow a nurse to carry out the kind of tasks that an ANP is qualified to do.
As a newly qualified nurse practitioner, health visitor or district nurse working within the NHS, you could expect a salary in the band 6 range, which currently is £25,528 to £34,189 depending on your level of experience and responsibility.
You can read more about the role of the Advanced Nurse Practitioner here
View current Nurse Practitioner Jobs here
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