• 21 April 2020
  • 6 min read

How I became a Blood Borne Virus (BBV) Clinical Nurse Specialist

  • Holly McDowall
    Clinical Nurse
"I think empathy and an awareness of the effects of poverty, trauma and the coping mechanisms and behaviours that people turn to are invaluable."

Clinical Nurse Specialist in HIV and Hepatitis, Holly McDowall, gives a detailed overview of her career as a Blood Borne Virus Specialist and outlines the needs of the role.

Topics covered in this article

How I became a Blood Borne Virus (BBV) Clinical Nurse Specialist

What I love about my job

What does a typical day look like?

What are some interview tips for this job role?

What are the ideal soft skills?

What qualifications do you need to become a BBV clinical Nurse specialist?

What are the different types of roles for my job?

What kind of settings does a BBV Nurse work in?

What are the career prospects for a BBV Nurse?

What challenges are faced by a BBV Nurse?

What is the current state of BBV Nursing in the UK?

What is the future of BBV Nursing in the UK?

How I became a Blood Borne Virus (BBV) Clinical Nurse Specialist

I was a Specialist Sexual Health Nurse for about 5 years and needed a change; but didn’t want to come too far out my comfort zone.

Sexual health gave me a lot of exposure to patients at risk of BBV’s; such as HIV, hep B and C.

This involved sensitively conducted assessments, testing, prevention and onward referral.

Therefore, working in the BBV team and managing the care of those diagnosed, seemed a natural progression.

What I love about my job

The medicines currently available in the UK to treat HIV are amazing and allow people greater freedom, with less side effects, better suppression of the virus and longevity into old age.

By treating HIV like a chronic condition, we get to build a close relationship with patients into their old age as death from an HIV related illness should be rare in the UK.

This is a great opportunity to build a relationship of trust and give people space to express their fears around their health.

There are those who are open about their HIV status and have the support of family and friends without any stigma; however, for others this is still a very private illness fraught with anxiety about confidentiality.

In some cases, the BBV team might be the only people who know their HIV status.

It can feel like a very privileged role being privy to this information and being able to support someone.

What does a typical day look like?

I work between the hospital and a male prison doing nurse led clinics.

The prison has a large population of men who inject drugs when in the community, so it’s important that they have full BBV testing, particularly Hep C.

A large part of my role is to establishing a rapport with the men, sell the importance of testing, risk reduction and organise nurse led treatment for patients with positive diagnosis.

Clinics in the hospital involve hep b reviews and HIV follow up.

What are some interview tips for this job role?

Read any national policies and local protocols you can get access to.

The British Association of Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH) has excellent guidance and I would look at the Scottish government’s Sexual Health Strategy (England, N.Ireland, Wales may differ).

What are the ideal soft skills?

To my mind, the most important is a non-judgemental and professional attitude.

Also, ensuring anonymity and confidentiality are huge concerns for many patients.

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Finally, I think empathy and an awareness of the effects of poverty, trauma and the coping mechanisms and behaviours that people turn to are also invaluable.

What qualifications do you need to become a BBV clinical Nurse specialist?

A nursing degree and experience in a similar area, such as sexual health, addictions, infectious diseases, gastroenterology could be really useful.

A non-medical prescribing qualification is also beneficial but not essential.

In terms of pay, I am a band 6 so this can vary depending on where you are on the pay scale (you can find out more about band 6 pay scales elsewhere on Nurses.co.uk).

What are the different types of roles for my job?

The role itself involves testing, treatment, management, education and prevention.

There are also elements of sexual health and partner notification.

Like all nursing care, roles should be evidence based.

What kind of settings does a BBV Nurse work in?

I do part of my work in a prison setting and traditional hospital based outpatient clinics.

Other settings can be local health centres, particularly useful for rural populations, and third sector locations such as soup kitchens, homeless hostels, and women’s aid.

What are the career prospects for a BBV Nurse?

One option is Senior Charge Nurse, whereby you are managing a team of nurses, control budgets and are involved in the development of the service to meet wider strategy.

With more and more services taking a nurse led approach, an advanced Nurse Practitioner post is another prospect.

What challenges are faced by a BBV Nurse?

The Scottish government has implemented a target of Hep C eradication by 2024.

One challenge is to work closely with services ensuring that high risk patients are offered testing at regular intervals in a variety of settings.

What is the current state of BBV Nursing in the UK?

There have been many advances in HIV care that patients can now live healthy lives and less healthcare contact and review as little as biannually.

In a slightly different situation, Hep C treatment can now cure with minimal to no side effects.

Whereas before treatment was limited to patients meeting certain criteria, there is a more inclusive approach.

I think services are now realising that outreach and partnership working with third sector parties is important to ensure patient engagement.

All in all, I think that it is an exciting time to be a part of this specialty.

What is the future of BBV Nursing in the UK?

I think it will involve working more closely with our colleagues in addictions and community pharmacy to develop a service that is quick and efficient, streamlined to patients at points of care different to traditional settings.

With the use of PrEP, HIV rates will hopefully continue to reduce; however, this means more outreach work for heard to reach high risk groups and the need to normalise testing.

Importantly, education and awareness should continue, especially for healthcare professionals as there is still stigma around BBV and appropriate management.        

About the author

  • Holly McDowall
    Clinical Nurse

Holly is a clinical nurse specialist in HIV and hepatitis. Ten years of nursing experience has taken her to Scotland, England and New Zealand. She has won awards for her writing on the role of nurses in screening for domestic abuse. Her research into HIV care has informed local policy and she is the author of a systematic review on the challenges of partner notification and online dating.

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About the author

  • Holly McDowall
    Clinical Nurse

Holly is a clinical nurse specialist in HIV and hepatitis. Ten years of nursing experience has taken her to Scotland, England and New Zealand. She has won awards for her writing on the role of nurses in screening for domestic abuse. Her research into HIV care has informed local policy and she is the author of a systematic review on the challenges of partner notification and online dating.

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