Career advice

I’m so glad I moved into practice nursing after having my children

Working in general practice offers scope for progression, but work-life balance too

Working in general practice offers scope for progression, but work-life balance too

Rebecca Mounch found her ideal role when she returned to practice after a career break.

After taking a career break to care for my children, I did a return to practice course around six years ago. The aim was to return to my previous area of nursing – intensive care – where I had worked for six years before having children.

But after completing the course and taking up a nursing post in a hospital, I soon realised it was no longer the job for me. This was largely due to my working hours – juggling 13-hour shifts and child care became increasingly difficult.

I then worked as a district nurse for 18 months but was keen to do something different, so when a colleague recommended I apply for a role in general practice, I jumped at the chance and secured the post.

Evolution of primary care

The landscape of primary care is changing. People are living longer and with more complex needs, and the demand for general practice nurses is increasing.

A report by the Nuffield Trust, the King’s Fund and the Health Foundation, published last month, forecast GP shortages in England will almost triple to 7,000 by 2023-24 if no decisive action is taken, with nurse shortages doubling to 70,000.

Expanding the primary care workforce was also one of the major pledges in NHS England’s General Practice Forward View strategy, published in April 2016. Under the ten-point action plan for general practice nursing, the aim is to increase the number of general practice nurses in England by 1,000 by the end of 2020.

General practice nursing is continually evolving. Practice nurses are taking on more responsibilities than ever to assist GPs with their caseloads, and there are many excellent career pathways for those with an interest in this area of nursing.

I began my GP nurse training programme at Buckinghamshire New University, where I studied for one day a week over an academic year.

The first part of the course revolved around the clinical skills general practice nurses need, with the second part focusing on long-term clinical management. I was employed by Walnut Tree Health Centre in Milton Keynes during my studies and am still based at the practice.

The value of mentorship

One of the benefits of the training programme is that each trainee is assigned a mentor who looks after their development throughout the entire course. Having a supportive mentor has been a huge benefit to me and is a key factor in my success; my mentor quizzes me on subjects and is on hand to answer any questions, which has accelerated my learning. I can also shadow her during my days off, enabling me to learn things I wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise.

‘I’m enjoying the variety, and it has also enabled me to upskill. I am now dealing with several different people a day so have had to learn lots of new things’

As a general practice nurse, I support people to manage their own health conditions, such as asthma, diabetes or cardiovascular disease. I help people to stay well and promote healthy lifestyles while assessing, screening and treating people of all ages – from small children to older people. 

General practice roles offer variety and autonomy. Picture: iStock 

The qualities needed for the role are enthusiasm and a willingness to learn and be adaptable, as well as a desire to make a difference to someone’s life. Although you are working in a team, it’s a fairly autonomous role – we deal with patients on our own so a good degree of self-assurance and confidence is required.

Working as a general practice nurse, you see different patients every day who need different treatments and advice. I’m enjoying the role because of the variety, and it has also enabled me to upskill; although my previous nursing skills were transferrable, I am now dealing with several different people a day so have had to learn lots of new things.

Support for CPD

There is also a lot of support for general practice nurses to study and improve their knowledge. One of the first courses I undertook in addition to my normal training was a two-day immunisation course, which enabled me to learn more about immunisation and to help patients during the busy winter flu season.

‘My work-life balance has improved, especially as my hours are now regular and I no longer work shifts’

I have also completed several other courses, including in family planning and asthma, and continue to do a lot of studying in my spare time to ensure I keep my knowledge and skills up to date and can deliver the best care to patients.

There is still a fair amount of reading and learning to keep up with outside work hours, but my work-life balance has improved, especially as my hours are now regular and I no longer work shifts.

Opportunities for advancement

The career development opportunities for general practice nurses include becoming an advanced nurse practitioner or independent nurse prescriber. This can happen more rapidly than in a hospital environment, where there may be a larger team of nursing colleagues competing for training.

General practice nursing is critical to the success of the NHS. To any nurse looking for a fresh challenge and a hugely rewarding career, I would highly recommend becoming a general practice nurse.

Fast-track training 

In partnership with NHS England and NHS Improvement, and Health Education England, Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes Integrated Care System recently offered ten fully-funded fast-track training contracts to attract nurses to general practices and meet a growing demand for their specialist nursing skills.

The programme offered a unique opportunity for nurses to work in a training position in a general practice or a primary care network, while studying for a fully funded course – the module on fundamental skills and knowledge for general practice nurses – at the University of Hertfordshire. 

Rebecca Mounch is a general practice nurse at the Walnut Tree Health Centre in Milton Keynes 


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