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The truth about general practice nursing

Sam Cunliffe dispels myths about general practice nursing, including one that it requires ‘deskilling’

Sam Cunliffe dispels myths about general practice nursing, including one that it requires ‘deskilling’

Over the next 1-2 years we are expected to lose up to 30% of our general practice nursing (GPN) workforce, so clearly there is a need for us to diversify our GPN workforce, and encourage those beginning their careers to see the huge benefits that working in general practice can provide.

Throughout my training, general practice was seen as the easy life; Monday to Friday, 9-5 and Christmas off. ‘It’s not real nursing is it?’, ‘its where you go to retire’, ‘you should have good ward experience before going into that’ are common themes you would hear from certain lecturers, mentors and colleagues. I’ve even since had old course mates asking me about the job, but saying they’re worried about deskilling when coming to general practice.

So, you can imagine that when I found out my Management Placement, I went there with some trepidation. But it took only a couple of hours for these myths to dispelled.

I loved the variety, from travel health to sexual health, from chronic disease to acute exacerbations, from adult to child health and so much more. I worked with experienced nurses and a newly qualified nurse, which went a long way to showing me that this was a career I could feasibly have. I threw myself into my placement, supported to learn in a way that suited me. I was able to flourish and begin to properly enjoy what I did on placement, giving me that drive to get to the end of my course.

It got to applying for jobs and I knew I wanted to work in general practice. I applied for all the jobs I could, went to visit all the practices I could, spoke to practice managers, GP partners, nursing teams, everyone available to find somewhere I would like to work, and get myself on their radar. And it worked.

I’m a year into my job now. It has not been an easy year. I’ve been on more training now than I had in my three years at university, I am already halfway through my first post-grad diploma and doing my mentorship. I have found that the support from preceptors, nursing colleagues, GPs and admin staff has helped me so much. Having the same team around you every day provides an amazing place to grow and develop.

My secondary care colleagues have it tough. The inflexibility of shift patterns, waiting months for essential training, the nights, the weekends, the step count almost breaking their pedometer. It makes me glad for what I have; a job I enjoy, which pushes me to be better, allows me to train as much as my time allows to provide a route into advanced practice and beyond, whilst giving me a work-life balance I thought impossible as a nurse.

With all this in mind, here are some myths associated with general practice nursing:

  • Newly qualified nurses can’t go straight to general practice

Yes, they can! Within my area there are cohorts every year and it is growing. You are able to train with the same group and build really good friendships with other nurses in the area.

  • Going to general practice is deskilling

Ask anyone working in general practice who isn’t a nurse, and they’d all argue you would be upskilling. We sell ourselves short as GPNs. You will broaden all your skills and upskill in 99% of the ones you possess. Going to general practice is not a step down.

  • General practice is the easy life

Anyone who thinks this is more than welcome to spend a day with us, see what the role of the GPN actually is, and just how involved we are in the management of patients, and the huge amount of responsibility, autonomy and accountability we have.

  • It is hard to make the change to general practice

The one thing I’d advise any nurse wanting to come to general practice is to just go for it! Get yourself out there, meet people, visit practices, spend a morning with them and experience the day to day. There is so much scope out there for self-motivated, driven and enthusiastic nurses to join a diverse workforce with bright futures and the ability to improve your work-life balance.

With the stresses and pressure on the entire nursing workforce now, it is key that nursing as a profession understands the new and developing roles within it, and we work to support each other as best we can. Understanding and dispelling myths like these discussed are key in respecting and empowering our profession.

Sam Cunliffe is a general practice nurse in Sheffield.