When I first considered nursing as a career, it wasn’t the adrenaline-filled excitement of A&E or intensive care that attracted me; neither was it intricate technical knowledge of theatre nursing or the busy variety of working on a ward. From the outset, community-based or practice nursing had always been my ambition. Maybe I’m slightly odd, but I love chronic conditions and the idea of helping people to manage those has always been appealing. I was also attracted by the autonomy of practice nursing and opportunity to work towards advanced nursing skills like prescribing…and I can’t lie, the lack of nights or weekends didn’t seem too bad either.
Research online suggested that I would need at least two years experience, preferably in A&E, or even a masters degree before moving into general practice. I wasn’t put off, but as a mature student it felt like there were a lot of hurdles to overcome before I could realise my ambition of becoming a practice nurse. I didn’t think for a moment that I’d spend time as a student nurse in general practice – so when I tentatively checked our placement allocations earlier this year, I was over the moon to find out that I’d been placed in a GP surgery nearby.
My mentor and the whole nursing team at the surgery couldn’t have been more welcoming. I discovered that I was their first nursing student and that the surgery is leading a project locally to encourage more GP surgeries to offer placements to student nurses. Like other areas of nursing, there have been difficulties recruiting practice nurses for a number of years, partly down to current practice nurses reaching retirement age, alongside fewer newly-qualified or experienced nurses choosing practice nursing as a career. As such, surgeries like the one I was placed at want to promote general practice as an attractive place to work; they see placements for student nurses during their training as a key part of that strategy.
Over the 12 week placement I got a real insight in the role of the practice nurse. My mentor, who was also a prescriber, led on the management of chronic conditions like hypertension, asthma and COPD, which encompasses advanced assessment skills, prescribing and lifestyle advice. This was on top of bloods, smear tests, contraception advice and of course, lots of injections; a workload shared with another skilled nurse who also took care of all child immunisations and travel vaccinations. They both worked closely with an experienced care support worker who took care of ECGs and spirometry, among many other things. Meanwhile, an Advanced Nurse Practitioner also based at the surgery leads on emergency consultations, seeing everything from chest infections to mental health crises. It was fantastic to see the varied role of the nurse in general practice and just how valued they were by patients.
The first few weeks of my placement were spent observing however as the placement progressed I was encouraged by my mentor to start leading consultations under her supervision. This was nerve wracking at first, but my confidence soon grew. I was eventually given my own clinics to run, taking on straight-forward asthma reviews and blood-pressure checks. It was fantastic having my own room and calling patients in from the waiting room. I loved talking to people about their health, explaining how their medication works and making a plan together that we hoped would help them better manage their condition. The most rewarding part was seeing patients return. One man said his life had been transformed by a steroid inhaler I had encouraged him to start using, saying that he no longer felt breathless or worried about his asthma. The opportunity to get to know your patients and equip them with the tools and knowledge to improve their health and quality of life, has to be one of the best parts of practice nursing.
The pressures on GP surgeries were clear to see, as they are in many other parts of the NHS, however my time in general practice revealed just how crucial practice nurses are in supporting the everyday health needs of individuals. Practice nurses are highly-skilled practitioners in their own right who make a valuable contribution alongside GPs and the rest of the team in a surgery. Hopefully more GP surgeries will start taking on student nurses during their training so that more can gain experience in this often-overlooked area of nursing. Of course it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I loved my time in general practice and feel that student and newly-qualified nurses have so much to offer to this area.
We would love to hear your views on nursing in general practice – is it a career path you would consider as a newly-qualified nurse? Share your thoughts below!