Flexible working can help nurses to enhance their career opportunities, says Kathy Oxtoby
Flexible working should not spell the end of nurses’ career development. Even if a post is temporary, with NHS Professionals, nurses still have the opportunity to improve skills and progress their careers.
‘Just because you’re doing flexible work, doesn’t mean your career has to suffer,’ says Sally Quinn, National Head of Learning and Development at NHSP. ‘We try to ensure that the nurses who work for us have access to as much career support and training as possible,’ she adds.
NHSP helps nurses maintain their careers at a time when they may not want a full-time post or are unable to commit to one because of personal circumstances.
The organisation deals with nurses at all stages in their life and career - from those who have been qualified for six months to those who have retired but are still fit to practise.
Some nurses may want to work fewer hours so they can spend more time with their children. Others may have started a part-time degree and need to fit in shifts around study time.
Whatever the circumstances, NHS Professionals’ Client Relationship Team - which includes Nurse Leads - works with 130 trusts and they are often on site as they are the direct liaison with the trust to ensure nurses can access posts ‘as flexible as they want’, Ms Quinn says.
Before nurses can join NHSP, they must take drug calculation and knowledge specialty-specific assessments at one of its National Assessment Centres. Nurses accepted by NHSP are then expected to complete its mandatory training and assessment programme. This involves e-learning modules on Health and Safety, Fire Safety, Basic Life Support, Moving and Handling and Infection Control, and then a half-day practical session.
Ms Quinn says the organisation is also looking at developing e-learning modules in Child Protection, Protection of Vulnerable Adults, Customer Service and Mental Health Awareness, as well as introducing Conflict Resolution training for its flexible workers.
‘Nurses can develop their skill set and gain experience of a new specialty before taking up a substantive post’
Nurses who work for NHS Professionals for 12 months repeat their mandatory training e-learning modules on an annual basis and their practical assessment every alternate year.
They can also take part in the organisation’s 10 Continuing Professional Development e-learning modules, which include Drug Administration, Nutrition, Vital Signs, Blood Transfusion and Ward Management. Nurses have also received funding from NHSP to attend trusts’ training courses, but such decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.
As well as providing opportunities to develop nurses’ careers through short-term, flexible working, NHSP also offers longer-term positions. Its longer- term placement team focuses on finding fixed or longer-term placements for those who want to work locally, and offers posts in all nursing specialties.
Last November, NHSP established an interim nursing service to attract those willing to work three months or longer per assignment and to relocate. The service, which is open to overseas nurses, offers regular career support for successful candidates.
Jenny Hargrave, Head of Interim Nursing Services for NHSP, says that some of the benefits of interim placements are continuity and access to professional development opportunities. Another advantage is that those planning periods of study or travel can commit to any number of planned three-month placements (or longer) in a year, to fit around their plans.
Ms Hargrave says that such placements are also a great way for overseas workers, particularly those on working holidays, to ‘work their way around England and fit in their working experience around their holidays’.
Flexible working, in both long- and short-term posts, means that nurses can plan a career pathway, and make the most of opportunities in their own specialty. It also gives them the chance to get a taster of a new discipline, provided that they fit the criteria needed by NHSP and the individual trust.
For example, Ms Quinn says that a surgical nurse who had joined NHSP and was working shifts on a surgical ward might find that, after receiving patients from A&E, they would like to work in that area. NHSP’s Nurse Lead would then speak to the trust to see if the nurse could be supervised to work in A&E to gain necessary experience.
Nurses working for NHSP can also switch between community work and the acute sector.
‘We can support nurses to make the leap from secondary to primary care - and vice versa - by helping them to get upskilled, which is an opportunity they wouldn’t get anywhere else,’ says Ms Quinn.
Flexible working also means that nurses can develop their skill set and gain experience of a new specialty before committing to a substantive post in that area, explains Karen Barraclough, NHSP’s Interim Head of Clinical Governance.
‘Nurses can find out if they like the specialty or not. If they do decide to make a permanent move, they are in an ideal position to apply for a substantive post as the ward staff will know them, be aware of their capabilities and how they fit into the ward team,’ she says.
Life as a flexible worker does bring its challenges. ‘It does not suit everyone,’ admits Ms Barraclough.
‘There is a lack of security because there is no guarantee that assignments will be available, so nurses have to be flexible and be able to adapt quickly to, say, different clinical areas and work colleagues.
‘Also, the level of support available is not always the same as nurses would be used to in a substantive post, such as appraisals and peer support. Therefore, flexible workers need to be prepared to be self-reliant and think outside the box to ensure they meet PREP [post-registration education and practice] requirements and keep their skills up to date.’
But, for nurses who choose flexible working, there is the chance to experience the ‘best of both worlds’ - to balance their personal life with their professional ambitions and to re-evaluate their career goals. As Ms Quinn says: ‘It can give you a breathing space to think about what you want to do.’
Case Study: Caroline Hall
Joining NHS Professionals introduced Caroline Hall to the benefits of working in a new specialty, helped develop her career - and led to her earning a Nursing Times award.
Having worked as an agency nurse in different specialties, in 2005 Ms Hall joined NHSP. She began a placement as a CPN with the perinatal psychiatry team in Worcester, caring for women with mental health difficulties in the antenatal and postnatal periods. The community-based post has involved visiting women in their homes and making and implementing care plans.
Last year, her achievements in a specialty that she came to by chance were recognised by Nursing Times Awards judges when they named her winner of the agency category.
When Ms Hall decided to do agency work in 2004, a year after her daughter’s birth, she had ‘no particular specialty preference’, she says. ‘I wanted to do agency work to get back into the NHS and I also wanted variety.’
She recalls that when she began her three-month secondment with the Worcester team, the area was fairly new to her ‘and quite challenging’. ‘But I felt supported. And, having children myself, the area struck a chord with me,’ she says.
The fixed-term placement continued and Ms Hall was made to feel part of the team. ‘I wasn’t known as “the agency nurse”,’ she says.
Through working with that team and with help from NHSP, she has received extensive training and says she has ‘learnt a lot’. As well as doing mandatory NHSP training, Ms Hall has received support from the organisation to enhance her skills and experience. She recalls how NHSP paid for her travel costs to visit the Southern General Hospital’s pioneering special care baby unit in Glasgow to look at how their care model works.
By having the necessary training and support, Ms Hall has been able to develop her expertise in perinatal care to the extent that she is now training others in the field. She has also run a weekly nurse-led screening clinic at the local hospital to identify the risk of perinatal mental illness.
Now on maternity leave, Ms Hall is still with NHSP, has an ongoing contract with the perinatal psychiatry team in Worcester and hopes eventually to take up a permanent post in the field.
She says NHSP has been a ‘stepping stone to work I wouldn’t have been aware of’, adding: ‘Working in perinatal care wasn’t something I’d planned. But work wise, it’s been the most positive few years, and I’ve had flexibility to fit in my career with my home life. I’ve had the best of both worlds.’
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How NHS Professionals can help nurses’ career development