Career progression for experienced health visitors hasn’t always been possible without leaving their role but this is now beginning to change
The Institute of Health Visiting (iHV) is currently calling for applications from experienced health visitors to become their first fellows. We recognise that for many of these amazing professionals there is little chance of promotion or recognition for the incredible skills they have, without leaving clinical practice. We though are keen to help encourage the best health visitors to stay in clinical practice as families need and deserve their exceptional care. We felt that by creating the opportunity for them to become fellows of the institute they would have new doors opened for them to use and advance their skills.
The institute is just over 18 months old but already we have created a vibrant community for health visitors and very many new opportunities for them to develop their practice. However with so many newly trained health visitors entering the profession, we know that there is a big mentoring role for the more experienced team members, but many of those are now close to retirement. We are running several large projects to support the transition of students into practice and are working towards establishing a clear career framework for all health visitors with the pinnacle being fellow status.
So what will be so different about being a fellow? Well for starters this award doesn’t come easy. The applicant must convince the awarding panel that they have the credentials to take on fellow status, these include having practiced for five years as a health visitor and being able to demonstrate leadership or ‘fellow’ qualities within their existing role.
However its not enough that they provide us with evidence in the form of a CV and list of the professional activities they have been involved in. We also request collaborating evidence from a peer, from someone senior to them and someone who is a recipient of their activity, usually a client, but in some cases it might be a student if a health visitor lecturer applies.
By providing local recognition of the leadership qualities of those we choose to become fellows we expect these individuals to then be granted new local opportunities. We will also call on them to support a range of national activities, whether being part of a focus group, or representing us on a national platform. We want this new army of ‘iHV nominated’, experienced and expert health visitors to support us in getting the voice of the profession to where it needs to be heard. It has become obvious from the appointment of our first five fellows that they will also find themselves able to access the support of one another. These five are very keen to form a professional network through which they can share and learn from one another.
What has been most exciting though has been the new confidence the awarding of fellow status has given them. It is almost seen as permission to take their practice to the next level. The response of those around them has also been very gratifying whether in the form of personal letters of congratulation from Directors of Nursing or the many emails congratulating them. This new recognition for a job that they have been doing, which hasn’t changed as a result of fellowship status, is fantastic for the recipient, but these individuals are already out there in the ranks of health visitors working extraordinary hard day in and day out.
We believe that probably hundreds or maybe even thousands of senior health visitors, those who have been in the profession for five years and more, could qualify for fellow status and we really hope that they will either come forward or be encouraged by their organisations to apply. We particularly hope that organisations will want to sponsor several health visitors every year to apply for fellow status..
With a move to Local Authority commissioning now also is the time to make much more conspicuous the talent in the health visiting profession. I hope that any health visitors reading this will consider putting an application in. This year their application if successful will be sponsored through a grant we have to develop and test this new model for creating and recognising leadership. Experienced health visitors your time is now.
Dr Cheryll Adams is the Director of the Institute of Health Visiting and also works as an independent consultant.
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