Time to shine the light on primary healthcare nursing

With the global spotlight on primary healthcare, Leah East wants nurses in primary care to step out of the shadows 

With the global spotlight on primary healthcare, Leah East wants nurses in primary care to step out of the shadows 

Primary healthcare nursing is the cornerstone of any healthcare service and encompasses nurses from various backgrounds with a multitude of skills, including community nurses, health visitors, general practice nurses and those working in educational roles and school settings. As those of us working in the field know, nurses in primary care settings have roles that require advanced skills and clinical practice.

Picture: iStock

Recently, I was reminded of the dynamic and diverse role of the nurse working in primary health care at a national forum. I was in awe of the knowledge, experience and dedication of the nurses there. As I reflected on the scope of practice and autonomy in primary healthcare roles, I thought about the common attitude of other nurses and nursing students that primary healthcare nursing is the poor cousin of acute care nursing.

Dispelling the myths

I am bewildered that people believe that primary care is only attractive to nurses who are at the end of their career, or that practice nurses are simply there to support the work of GPs. Nursing has been plagued by stereotypes, myths and erroneous media portrayals. Perhaps the number of medical and hospital dramas that have glamourised acute care and marginalised community care settings have contributed to these misconceptions and ambiguity about the scope of primary care. Regardless of how opinions have been formed, it is timely to reflect on the nursing workforce, the issues we face and the directions we need to collectively take as a profession.

Considering the healthcare landscape and the global shift towards a focus on primary care to cope with an ageing population and the increase in chronic disease, it is vital that nurses working in primary care assume leadership and take an active role in change.

Education is vital in initiating change and it can shine a light on the importance of primary care nursing and the endless career trajectories that are available under its umbrella. 

The opportunities afforded to nurses working in primary care are tremendous, and growth is assured particularly in light of the NHS' ten-point action plan for general practice nursing, in addition to the recognition of the value and importance of nurse-led clinics.

It is time to reflect, celebrate, strengthen and educate our existing and upcoming nurse colleagues so we can recognise nursing in primary care as a major component of the healthcare sector.

Why nursing in primary care matters

  • Practice nurses promote patient health, reduce the cost of care and provide increased patient satisfaction
  • Nurse-led clinics optimise patient care and allow nurses to demonstrate autonomous advanced clinical practice
  • Nursing in primary healthcare requires in-depth knowledge and skills ranging from life support, acute care, immunisation schedules and complex chronic disease management
  • It is a growing, inspiring and rewarding profession that is required to lead change and growth for the future of healthcare
  • To ensure population needs are met, education, evaluation and expansion of the PHC nursing workforce in primary care is an essential priority  

Leah East is associate professor, University of New England, a conjoint appointment with Hunter New England Local Health District, Armidale, Australia


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