- 11 February 2020
- 12 min read
How to become a General Practice Nurse
Katie has worked in theatres for the NHS and here explains how she switched to become a GP nurse. She covers the key skills, what she does day-to-day, the rewards, challenges and pay.
Updated 27th July 2020
Topics covered in this article
What inspired you to do what you do / how you ended up in this role?
I originally wanted a job with a lot of diversity.
For me, I needed the job to keep me entertained and feed my passions as much as my need to further myself through learning and expanding my knowledge.
Nursing is a career which does both as it is so versatile.
Evidence based practice, continuous research and development allows for nursing to continuously adapt and allowing us to better the care we provide.
Because of my need to grow within my career, I wanted a change from treatment focused care into prevention and education focused care.
What is a General Practice Nurse and what training was needed?
In order to be a Practice Nurse, I first had to have my Adult Nursing Diploma of Higher Education.
From here I have been put on the Devon CEPN course which is a preceptorship course teaching the basics of practice nursing.
This includes working with screening programmes for things like smears, having an understanding of the blood results specific to certain diseases such as COPD and diabetes as well as a lot of other hands on skills.
I had already been a mentor for many years within the hospital, and had plenty of positive feedback from my students and back to practice nurses.
This was a desirable attribute for when I went for the job as it showed an ability to teach and provide a person focused, holistic approach.
This adaptability is useful throughout nursing, but in particular practice nursing as everyone learns at a different pace and in different ways, so in order to make life changing alterations you have to pitch it correctly.
It's also worth bearing in mind, you are usually dealing with healthy individuals, and the phrase ‘if its not broke, don't fix it’ is regularly in use.
Clinical Practice Development - CPD
Throughout the year there are many chances for clinical practice development through Nurse Forums, courses put on through the university to keep up to date and in house training.
All of these are vital to keeping your knowledge and skills up to date and you practicing safely.
What are the key duties and responsibilities of a General Practice Nurse?
As previously mentioned, nursing is a versatile job, practice nursing is no different.
Aspects of care that we do on a day to day basis are:
• Smoking cessation
• Working alongside patients to manage their long-term conditions
• Sexual health services and family planning
• Wound management, involving both minor and complex wounds and leg ulcers
• Screening services - such as smears
• Ear syringing - although this is becoming a much less popular treatment with microsuction currently in favour
• Childhood immunisations and certain travel vaccinations
What are the types of workplace settings for a General Practice Nurse?
Practice nurses can be based at multiple different practice locations, for instance, we have three ‘hubs’ where we work out of regularly.
On top of this, certain seasonal care allows for us to visit care home bound patients to receive vaccinations, such as the flu vaccines.
Some nurses also see specific patients in their care in the patient’s own home for ease for the patients.
The ability to adapt and work in areas out of the usual clinic rooms means that our patients needs are met and relieves the extra stress of hospital admissions and or the workload of the district nurses.
What you do as a General Practice Nurse day to day and what's a typical working week?
My working week is only two days long. Ooooh, very strenuous I hear you cry!
I work a Wednesday and a Thursday but they do involve the vast majority of the above.
Check fridge for vaccines temperature
When I arrive on site it is my duty to complete fridge checks and download the data from the SD cards.
The fridges contain the vaccines which need to be kept within specific ranges in order for them to be viable.
So monitoring is vital, after this clinic start.
My clinic normally starts with a few quick blood tests.
Depending on where you work depends on the time allowed to preform each task.
My practice is quite generous and gives 10 minutes per blood test.
With this in mind, it allows us as practice nurses in the practice to look ahead and pre-plan any further tests or ensure that any previous tests haven't been missed.
More importantly it allows us to determine if there are any other tests that would be useful to take in that specific appointment.
This saves multiple trips for the patient, not to mention saves the NHS a penny or two… from here my day could go multiple different ways.
Presently, I have been focusing on finishing my smear course.
This has meant that my clinics have been heavy on the smear front and I would have a block of smears, usually an appointment would be 20 minutes.
This involves asking a series of questions, with an awareness of being sensitive to the situation as cultures, age and previous exposures all can affect the overall experience.
Once the clinics have finished, there is a clinical admin time, this is a designated time to perform tasks such as dipping urine and sorting through numerous samples that have been handed in throughout the morning.
It also is a time to catch up on any thing that needs to be chased and or dealt with.
This brings us to a much needed lunch break!
After lunch, my baby immunisation clinics start.
This involves seeing babies from 8 weeks up to preschool boosters and occasionally a catch-up for those that are behind or missed a vaccination.
This is an area of nursing which took a lot of adaptation on my part.
Being used to working with adults, learning to communicate effectively with smaller children was something new.
Depending on the stage they are in their immunisation schedule determines the time needed for the appointment.
Immunising involves, knowing previous immunisation dates, allergies, informing the parents of what you intend to do, vaccinate their child, why, to prevent illness and disease, and how, either by injection or orally.
This can be a time consuming task as everyone involved reacts differently.
What are the key skills (soft / personal skills) needed?
As with all nursing you need to have people skills, be compassionate and be supportive of your patients.
You will need to have good time management and be able to work under the pressure of having time constraints.
A good bedside manner and communication skills are vital as it builds a good rapport with your patients and leaves them with having a positive experience making them feel safe and secure in your care.
How long does it take to become a General Practice Nurse?
In order to be a practice nurse you need to gain an extra skill set, like with any job.
With this it takes time to learn and perfect those skills and integrate them in to your daily workings.
How much does a Practice Nurse get paid?
In general, practice nurses are the equivalent of Band 6 nurses within the hospital.
However, the practices don't work with the Agenda for Change, they are private companies and you are employed by the practitioners.
With this in mind, the pay scale can vary dramatically from practice to practice.
The salary is dependent on what the practice feel you are worth and what they can afford.
However, to give you an idea, a Band 6 nurse working under Agenda for Change pay structure earns between £31,365 and £37,890 (see our nurse pay calculator).
What do I love about my Practice Nurse job and what challenges do I face?
One thing I love about my job is the diversity of people I meet.
In a day I can see people of all ages and backgrounds, this gives me great job satisfaction as I never have the same day twice.
I enjoy hearing about my patients lives and have, for want of a better term, ‘regulars’ who come in.
This really creates a good bond and builds a nice trust level.
On the swing, it can create a challenge to the job as frustration occurs when you are dealing with patients who need to implement a change in their lifestyle but refuse to do so.
It's important to realise early on that not everyone is able to, or willing, to make life altering changes and this isn't a reflection on you as a nurse.
What's the difference between working in the private and NHS (state) sector as a nurse?
I have noticed a difference between working in these two sectors.
One of the big differences is the workload and tasks.
Within the NHS hospital there are specific people to carry out specific roles.
For example, a pharmacist or someone from that department will be in charge of maintaining the medication on the wards.
In the practice this job role falls to one of the existing employees.
You also carry out more administrative tasks, for instance keeping Patient Group Directives up to date, and or maintaining an accurate record of the fridge temperatures.
From a personal point of view, I also have found it to be a more understanding environment.
Whereas in the state sector you can be lost in the sheer numbers of staff, in private it's a much smaller team.
I feel valued as being an intrinsic cog in the system.
For me, its a very inviting place to be.
What career prospects and opportunities are open to me as a GP nurse?
The new skills I have learnt have opened the door to a few specialist roles.
One of these is within private or school immunisation clinics/programmes. This is because I now have had exposure to immunising both adults and children and have the knowledge and understanding of what the immunisation programme is for.
The private clinics are more catered towards travel and vaccinations not provided by the NHS and further training and understanding of these vaccines will be required.
Another potential next step could be working specifically in women's health or family planning - since I am now able to do smears, and know how the government funded programme works alongside knowing the different cervix appearances.
What further studies can I do to advance my GP nurse career?
There are many university courses that can be attended in order to further my career in Practice Nursing.
As well as ample day courses and preceptorships.
All of these will enhance your skill set, however, it depends on the population you are caring for as to whether it would be useful to your practice specifically.
I hope that's given you a little bit of insight into working as a GP nurse!