Career advice

Staying at band 5: how to make the most of your nursing role

Not all band 5 nurses are seeking promotion – some embrace the benefits of these roles, such as more patient contact, flexible working and a range of opportunities

Not all band 5 nurses are seeking promotion – some embrace the benefits of these roles, such as more patient contact, flexible working and a range of opportunities

Three nurses in scrubs walk along a hospital corridor, talking animatedly
Picture: iStock

Band 5 nursing roles usually involve direct clinical practice and patient contact – often key reasons why some nurses choose to remain at this level.

‘Some of the opportunities at band 6 and above can start to take you away from that,’ says University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust deputy director of nursing workforce Carolyn Pitt.

Balancing work demands, home life and responsibilities

Achieving a better work-life balance with a flexible working pattern that suits individual needs can be another motivation. ‘For some, that’s more important than career progression,’ says Ms Pitt. ‘For those with young families, they may feel they have more flexibility with a band 5 job than a band 6, where you need to be there during core hours.’

Financial considerations can also be an issue. ‘For those who need childcare, which is expensive, they can lose credit if they are paid more,’ she says.

‘At band 5 you have this wealth of opportunities and different options, but the further you go it becomes much more limited’

Helen Slocombe, nursing and midwifery talent manager, Royal United Hospitals Bath NHS Foundation Trust

Sometimes staff who have been quite senior but are approaching the end of their career may retire and then return as a band 5. ‘They don’t want the responsibility of a management position,’ says Ms Pitt. ‘It means we’re keeping that valued and highly experienced nurse but they’re contributing in a different way.’

A woman bends down to tie her child’s shoelaces as he gets ready to go to school. Band 5 roles can offer nurses greater flexibility with home and caring responsibilities
A band 5 job can offer more family-friendly shift patterns Picture: iStock

Often it comes down to whether or not you’re happy with what you’re doing, she says. ‘Just because you’ve stayed in a job a long time doesn’t mean you’re stagnant. If people don’t want to move, it’s not wrong.

‘There are many opportunities out there to move to band 6, so if people are still choosing to stay at band 5, it reassures me that’s the level they’re happy with.’

What are the advantages of staying at band 5?

Royal United Hospitals Bath NHS Foundation Trust nursing and midwifery talent manager Helen Slocombe says opportunities to explore alternative avenues decrease in higher bands. ‘It’s almost like a funnel, where at band 5 you have this wealth of opportunities and different options, but the further you go it becomes much more limited,’ she says.

Her trust has set up a rotation programme targeted at band 5 nurses who are looking for change but are unsure where to head. ‘As a band 5, you almost have the world in front of you and you can go in whatever direction you want,’ says Ms Slocombe. ‘But once you reach band 6 or 7, it’s more likely you’ll specialise. And that limits your road ahead.’

For organisations, having experienced nurses who have stayed put ensures stability, patient safety and quality, says Ms Pitt. ‘They are incredibly knowledgeable about that particular service, condition or specialty, which is often only gained through experience and exposure,’ she says.

Top tips for a fulfilling band 5 career

A nurse and a nursing student examine an IV bag as part of the student’s placement training
Take advantage of any training opportunities Picture: iStock
  • Take any opportunity available, including training, learning and shadowing, advises nursing and midwifery talent manager Helen Slocombe. Some trusts may have internal transfers, where you can swap to another band 5 position in a different ward without having to be interviewed
  • Make sure that whatever you are doing, you are enjoying it ‘We sometimes forget we’re able to enjoy work,’ adds Ms Slocombe.
  • Don’t underestimate your skills, knowledge and experience and how they contribute to quality and safety within an organisation, says University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust deputy director of nursing workforce Carolyn Pitt
  • Be honest with your manager ‘There’s nothing wrong with saying I want to stay at band 5,’ says Ms Pitt. ‘You shouldn’t feel embarrassed or that you should be progressing to the next band’
  • Don’t be afraid to ask about flexible working ‘The risk to an organisation is if you don’t embrace it, you’ll end up with a vacancy,’ says Ms Pitt
  • Remember development is not just about moving upwards but making your work more meaningful and enjoyable. ‘It’s not only about clinical skills but personal skills too, such as public speaking,’ says Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust lead nurse for retention Satu Wilson

As a band 5 nurse, can I still be a leader?

‘Everyone is a leader in different aspects,’ says Satu Wilson, lead nurse for retention at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust in London, which provides internal leadership programmes from band 2 upwards.

‘In your everyday work you lead the care of the patient and, as part of the team, you’re a specialist in your area,’ she says. Staff can also opt for additional roles, such as championing well-being or becoming a Freedom to Speak Up Guardian, taking a lead on these issues.

‘You don’t need to be a certain band to demonstrate significant nursing experience,’ agrees Ms Pitt. At her trust, band 5 staff have a leading role in various networks, including championing inclusion and supporting neurodivergent staff and those going through the menopause.

‘They have an opportunity to contribute to the bigger picture and can influence how we take some of these issues forward,’ she says.

There may also be link nurse or advocacy roles in different areas of interest, such as wound care, tissue viability, infection prevention and control, continence and dementia. ‘You can have a niche within the area where you’re working, becoming the person who has that knowledge,’ adds Ms Slocombe.

Choosing patient contact over a ‘pathway to seniority’

Offered the opportunity to move up to a band 6 post following the pandemic, Emily Regan turned it down.

‘I didn’t want to be on a pathway to seniority,’ she says. ‘I really enjoy patient contact and I don’t want to organise bed spaces, check colleagues have had their breaks and run an area. That side of it doesn’t interest me. I’d rather be in the room with the patient, doing my job.’

Currently a band 5 nurse in emergency care at St Thomas’ Hospital in London, Ms Regan has had experience in school and community nursing, surgical, intensive care and high dependency wards since qualifying in 2015 in Australia.

‘Easier to do different things when you’re a band 5’

‘I think it’s easier as a band 5 to do lots of different things,’ says Ms Regan, who moved to the UK in 2016. ‘If you stay in your one area and move up within it, you don’t always have a well-rounded experience of the hospital flow.’

Knowledge of other specialties also has a positive impact on the quality of the care you give, she believes, as you understand more about patients’ varied needs. In contrast, becoming a band 6 limits your options, she says. ‘You can get really pigeon-holed,’ says Ms Regan. ‘Once you go up, if you want to move to a different area, you often have to drop back to being a band 5.’

What role can I play in supporting students and newly registered nurses?

Experienced band 5 nurses can play a key role in supporting more junior and inexperienced staff who may lack confidence. ‘They can be great mentors to newly qualified staff,’ says Ms Pitt. ‘They have that legacy of huge amounts of experience, skills and knowledge behind them. Often they are the ones who can steady the nerves of those who are newly qualified.’

Band 5 nurses may also supervise students, working with the practice placement team. Education and training are provided so they understand practice assessment documentation, and they have also been invaluable in helping internationally recruited nurses find their feet. ‘These are experienced nurses, but of course completely new to the NHS,’ says Ms Pitt.

What other kinds of professional development is available at band 5?

At Guy’s and St Thomas’s, a big focus on education and career development means staff have access to in-house training, says Ms Wilson. ‘This includes clinical specialty courses, with staff given ten study days a year on top of mandatory training.’

Other opportunities for band 5 nurses include carrying out a research improvement project in their local area. ‘It doesn’t need to be big, but something that can really make a difference,’ she says.

The trust also offers reverse mentoring, where a band 5 nurse can mentor senior leaders, including board members. ‘It’s open a couple of times a year and it’s a really popular scheme,’ says Ms Wilson. ‘It’s eye-opening for everyone. Senior staff get a different viewpoint and can see what’s happening on the shop floor.’

Nurses sit at a desk, with one explaining something to a group of colleagues, as in reverse mentoring
Reverse mentoring capitalises on band 5 nurses’ experience Picture: iStock

It’s also important to consider gaining skills that aren’t necessarily clinical, says Ms Pitt, including how to manage working relationships. ‘The complexity of patient care is added to by having to work in multidisciplinary teams,’ she says.

‘And because of the shift patterns everyone now works, you’re working with staff who don’t necessarily have long-term relationships with each other.’

Are there any drawbacks to remaining at band 5?

Becoming more skilled and experienced can sometimes lead to frustrations, says Ms Slocombe. ‘Staff can feel they’ve taken on a lot more, but are not being paid for it,’ she says. ‘It resonates with how I felt as a band 5. I didn’t think I wanted to be a band 6, but I realised I’d done all these courses and I wasn’t sure that was being reflected in my pay.’

She advises nurses to look at their job description, making sure they’re not doing anything that exceeds it. ‘You need to balance your own development against expectations of you within your own limits, being open and not resentful,’ she says.

‘If you’re feeling frustrated, talking to your line manager can be helpful. They can facilitate a discussion about what you might want to do next.’