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Practice nurses work in GP surgeries where they plan and provide nursing care, treatment and health education to patients of all ages.

Previous relevant experience prior to training is not essential, but any gained caring for or working with people can be helpful.

What does a practice nurse do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Practice nurses typically work in GP surgeries and have an essential role to play in delivering care through general practice. They may work alongside other healthcare professionals including doctors, health visitors, pharmacists and dietitians. At larger GP surgeries, there may be a team of practice nurses; in smaller GP surgeries there may be one practice nurse taking on a range of roles. This is an area where job opportunities are expected to increase as more nursing care moves out of hospitals and into the community. Practice nurses may also work in clinics and health centres.

Typical responsibilities include:

  • patient consultations within surgeries or health centres
  • carrying out physical examinations, investigatory procedures and cervical smear and pregnancy tests
  • diagnosing and treating illnesses and ailments
  • providing advice about contraception and fitting contraceptive devices
  • treating wounds
  • applying and removing dressings
  • providing emergency first aid and treatment
  • giving advice, education and information about health conditions and ailments, stopping smoking and losing weight
  • taking patient samples, swabs and specimens, and checking pulses, temperatures and blood pressures
  • administering immunisations, vaccinations (for example for influenza) and infant injections
  • running well woman and man clinics and clinics for specific ailments such as diabetes and asthma
  • liaising with other health care professionals, practice nurses, GPs and/or hospitals
  • writing records and keeping patients’ notes up to date

The job can be tiring but is nevertheless rewarding and highly respected.

Typical employers of practice nurses

  • Health centres
  • Clinics
  • GP surgeries

Vacancies appear online, in newspapers, on the NHS jobs website and publications such as Nursing Times and Nursing Standard. Some GP surgeries advertise practice nurse roles on their own websites.

Qualifications and training required

You will need to be a qualified and registered adult, child, mental health or learning disability nurse to work in general practice, and will also need to take on further training and education for the role after qualifying. However, you could start working towards a career as a general practice nurse without going to university straight away, by working as a healthcare assistant or assistant practitioner, and develop your skills before starting your nursing degree. The NHS health careers website has more information about these roles.

The main route into qualifying as a nurse is to take a nursing degree in one of the four nursing specialisms: adult nursing, children's nursing, learning disability nursing or mental health nursing. Some degree courses cover two of these fields, and are known as 'dual field' degrees. Most Nursing degree courses provide a mix of formal teaching and practical experience.

You apply for full-time undergraduate nursing degrees through UCAS. Application criteria vary but you are likely to need at least 2 (more often 3) A levels or equivalent qualifications, plus GCSEs in English, maths and a science (usually biology).

You apply for full-time undergraduate nursing degrees through UCAS. Application criteria vary but you are likely to need at least 2 (more often 3) A levels or equivalent qualifications, plus a minimum of 5 GCSEs at grade C (equivalent to grade 4) including English, maths and a science (usually biology).

Graduates in a relevant subject such as life, health, biological or social sciences can qualify via a shortened two-year postgraduate course. The recognition process for your first degree is known as APEL (accreditation of prior experiential learning). You can find out more about accelerated nursing courses for graduates from UCAS and the NHS health careers website. You will need to check directly with institutions to find out if your degree course is acceptable for entry.

Nursing degree apprenticeships are now offered by a small number of NHS organisations. They are similar to nursing degrees in that they involve a mix of academic study and placements, but they are employer-led rather than being led by universities. Nursing degree apprentices are released by their employers to undertake academic study at degree level on a part-time basis, and also train through a series of practice placements. Level 3 qualifications (that is, A level or equivalent) are usually required, as the apprenticeship is at degree level. You can look for nursing degree apprenticeships on the NHS jobs website or the government's apprenticeship search. Applicants who have completed a nursing associate apprenticeship will be able to finish a nursing degree apprenticeship in a shorter period of time than other candidates, as the nursing associate apprenticeship will count towards it.

The nursing associate apprenticeship is a two-year training programme that is being trialled from 2018. Nursing associates undertake academic learning one day a week and work-based learning in a variety of settings the rest of the week. You need to have GSCEs in maths and English at grade 9 to 4 (A to C) or equivalent to apply. More information about nursing associate apprenticeships is available from the NHS health careers website.

All nurses working in the UK must be registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC). When students complete their nursing degrees, their universities pass on their details to the NMC, which then gets in touch to let them know how to create an online account and apply for registration. Nurses are required to renew their registration and pay the registration fee each year, and must revalidate their registration every three years. In order to revalidate registration, nurses must have completed a minimum of 35 hours continuing professional development (CPD) and 450 hours registered practice over three years.

Previous relevant experience prior to training is not essential, but any gained caring for/working with people can be helpful.

Key skills for practice nurses

  • Good health and fitness
  • Flexible and adaptable
  • Excellent teamwork skills
  • Verbal and written communication skills
  • Well organised
  • Ability to take initiative
  • Resilience
  • Stamina
  • Critical thinking and decision making
  • Offering advice

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In Partnership

This content has been written or sourced by AGCAS, the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services, and edited by TARGETjobs as part of a content partnership. AGCAS provides impartial information and guidance resources for higher education student career development and graduate employment professionals.

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