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'Training makes practice nursing a first-job option'

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Thanks to the advanced training practice scheme in Yorkshire and Humber, many more student nurses chose to go into practice nursing, says Pete Lane

It is often thought that practice nurses need acute secondary care experience. Let’s dispel that myth right now. Through our experience with the advanced training practice scheme (ATPS), which provides substantive training placements for student nurses in more than 130 general practices in the Yorkshire and Humber region, we are identifying two key issues. First, as a result of student nurses’ exposure to general practice, many more of them (a shift from 30% to nearly 80%) are considering a career in practice nursing. Second, practice teams hosting these students are increasingly employing them when they qualify.

Exposure to practice nursing has historically been minimal for student nurses. This has often led to a poor understanding, at both student and university level, of the practice nurse career pathway. This is now improving. In a number of universities in our region, the ATPS is involved in curriculum planning, student nurse induction programmes and careers fairs.

Feedback from both student learners and their practice nurse mentors has been overwhelmingly positive. After their placements, many student nurses comment on how impressed they were with the skill set, competencies and high levels of autonomy practised by nurse mentors and their colleagues. This perhaps comes as no surprise, as many general practices have carried a strong learning ethos for years through the training of medical students, foundation doctors, GP trainees and other health professionals.

Despite a range of transferable skills from being a student nurse, many competencies and skills required to be a good practice nurse are specific to general practice. There is therefore little benefit in deferring becoming a practice nurse to gain experience in the acute sector.

I would rather turn this premise on its head and say that to be a good secondary care nurse, you should have experience of primary care. This would offer a better understanding of the context of caring for people with often complex multiple comorbidities whose safety and health often rely on family, friends, neighbours and voluntary agencies, as well as on local teams of primary care health professionals.

We need to build on the support offered to general practices to help them train their new nurses in becoming competent practice nurses. A number of excellent preceptorship programmes offer modular competency training but they are sometimes not standardised, are patchy in their regional coverage and are not always structured to fit the needs of a busy practice nurse team.

The ATPS is working across Yorkshire and Humber to support the development and implementation of a flexible supported preceptorship programme that ensures that any nurse on qualification - and, indeed, their employing practice - can access a timely and robust package of training locally to successfully start their practice nurse career journey. 

Pete Lane is clinical lead advanced training practice scheme, Health Education Yorkshire and Humber, and GP at Walderslade Surgery, Barnsley, South Yorkshire.

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