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Placements at GP clinics: what to expect


Claudia was thrilled to find out her first placement was at a GP clinic, but the placement wasn’t exactly what she expected

Claudia Flint

When I found out my very first placement would be in a general practice clinic rather than on a hospital ward, I was surprised but happy. I had some idea that I wanted to work in the community after I graduated so I was excited at the prospect of this placement.

I thought I knew what to expect but the role of a practice nurse is much more diverse than I’d realised.

“The role of a practice nurse is much more diverse than I’d realised”

I enjoyed the balance of getting to know patients, giving general lifestyle advice and the clinical side - giving injections, removing stiches and wound management (which I found weirdly enjoyable!).

I quickly settled in and the staff at the practice were welcoming. I enjoyed being involved in the stages of diagnosis, treatment and follow up as I got to see how patients progressed from start to finish.

“I got to see how patients progressed from start to finish”

Normally, in general practice, the practice nurse sees patients with long term conditions such as type II diabetes, COPD and asthma as well as doing smear tests, taking bloods, giving immunisations, wound management and testing urine samples.

The list is endless!

I was able to learn in a relaxed environment and my mentor was able to explain conditions, treatment and processes if we had some free time. I was encouraged to sit in with GPs and other healthcare professionals such as the smoking cessation team, occupational health and midwives who were all really interesting to learn from.

However, behind the sterile curtains of community health, there are downsides.

“Behind the sterile curtains of community health, there are downsides”

The main one I discovered was the difficulties I had in effectively managing my time. If a patient cancels then that is 20 minutes of time I spend without patient contact, without developing my skills and without learning anything.

It actually gets annoying not having anything to do!

What is even more annoying is when I have a whole morning of patients coming to see the practice nurse for tasks that I’m not allowed to participate in. Obviously, as students, we can’t take blood or give immunisations so it’s literally a morning of sitting and watching.

When I qualify, if I fail my training in taking blood I will be ashamed of myself as I have seen it so often!

Having a community placement has helped me to develop my communication skills as I have come into contact with a variety of people, but I wonder if perhaps I was expecting too much from my first placement. Maybe I haven’t done as much practically or worked as freely as other student nurses based in hospitals.

“Having a community placement has helped me to develop my communication skills”

My biggest fears for when I do have a hospital placement is being able to keep up with the pace of the hospital after the comfortable 9 - 5, Monday - Friday routine.

I’m worried that everything I’ve learned will be thrown out of the window in hospital and I’ll be back to square one.

“Take as many visits to different healthcare professionals as you possibly can”

All I recommend for any student who has a community placement is to take as many visits to different healthcare professionals as you possibly can. It’s important to understand the roles of different nurses and healthcare professionals in community as well as in the hospital because this may be your only chance to work in community… And avoid night shifts for a while!

Claudia Flint


Readers' comments (2)

  • I can understand how you felt restricted being a first year in your first placement... but as a third year a practice nurse placement enables a more active role in health promotion and communication skills. By third year you build up enough knowledge to take on a more active role and even manage your own patient case load. It's just not obvious where you can gain skills in a GP practice in first year but by third GP practices have a lot to offer.

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  • Claudia,

    If, in fact, you do decide to work in the community after graduation, you've got off to a good start. Even if you don't, it's still grist to the mill and a good introduction to the wide spectrum of patients whom you'll encounter during your training and career.

    If your next placement is in a phrenetically-busy acute ward you will, indeed, find it very different but there's no reason why you won't adjust to the tempo.

    Having a non-hectic first placement has a lot to be said for it; it's given you time to settle in and find your feet in the "real" world of patients.

    Good luck and be open-minded about how much to expect of yourself in future placements ie. be realistic; do your best and remember that there are always ups and downs.

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