A fresh challenge

08 March 2019

A fresh challenge - former paediatric nurse Sharon Dacey writes about making the switch to health visiting. 

I began life as a student health visitor following a nervous application to Cardiff University in 2016 with the aim of obtaining my SCPHN qualification. I had 26 years’ experience as a paediatric nurse under my belt at the time, and my life was accelerating towards my 50th birthday.

The majority of my previous experience had been spent in a critical-care environment, a complete contrast to community working. Yes, I had a degree in paediatric intensive care and many, it seemed, transferrable skills incorporating a social and professional symbiosis, but I was still bursting with trepidation.

My mammoth decision in relinquishing my role in critical care was not taken lightly. I was mindful of the arduous task I faced. The previous six years had seen minimal academic writing aside from mandatory reflection. Writing at masters level was a petrifying thought, but motivation and enthusiasm became my best friends and allies – except at 5am on submission days when they deserted me.

My family, friends and colleagues were unrelenting in their support for my decision to begin my new chapter. They reassured me that my clinical experience and healthy repertoire of ‘transferrable skills’ would augment those required for my evolving professional identity. And, as I was to discover, my personal and professional attributes would be essential for my new role.

Using my skills

Training began following successful application and interview, and my fears ebbed away. I began to receive an abundance of support from my programme manager and personal tutor and incontestable support from the programme tutors. This, coupled with the most fabulous group of SCPHN students who supported each other daily, filled me with the avidity necessary for me to achieve my goal.

During my placements in the community, I was amazed at the abounding, diverse knowledge effortlessly imparted to families and myself by my clinical practice teachers. I became flurried and disconcerted. I wondered if it would be possible for me to reach that standard.

The moderate confidence I had gained throughout my consolidation in practice with a supportive mentor elevated my fragile certainty that I could achieve my goal of qualifying as an SCPHN. This was in spite of looming academic submersion.

On reflection, my transferrable skills became my pulpit and, coupled with training and further academic successes, they projected me and built up my confidence. I only wish I had fully comprehended the extent and indeed the value of my skills prior to HV training – such as my enhanced communication skills, developed over years of difficult and challenging conversations with families and professionals, sometimes reaching solutions, other times not.

My ability to comfortably utilise these skills with families on my first caseload as a newly qualified HV complemented my subtly growing confidence with each new experience. I began to think I had made the right decision. I felt content.

Overcoming challenges

However, every HV on their newly qualified journey will encounter situations where they may have to search a little harder for clarification of a difficult decision. Harder because unforseen negative events can confound even the most experienced professional.

Within weeks of achieving my SCPHN qualification and being rewarded with a new job and a very diverse caseload, I came face to face with my fear. I found myself involved in a particularly complex situation that became my most challenging to date. During my search for health needs, it became necessary to make some very difficult decisions and hold some very difficult conversations. I was challenged by the family at every step. I was obliged to justify my actions and decisions, and the documentation seemed infinite.

‘As a newly qualified HV, I have learned to value the importance and significance of reflection’

I was thankfully able to seek valuable support and clarification at each stage from my very experienced team, and with their support I began the seemingly onerous task of attempting to rebuild a therapeutic relationship with the family. Surprisingly, towards the end of my first year as a qualified HV, my most challenging experience became my most rewarding one: I was graciously complimented and acknowledged by the very same family for my support provided during a very difficult time. This was an unanticipated and welcome conclusion.

The HV encounters personal and professional challenges daily, and as a newly qualified HV I have learned to value the importance and significance of reflection, not only for professional development but to help justify difficult decisions made throughout my first year. I consider myself to have excellent organisational skills but quickly learned that even the most organised of HVs struggle with time management when safeguarding events unfold.

What I’ve learned: My three top points from my first year as a qualified HV

  • Prioritising workload is key, and safeguarding takes priority
  • It is essential to act within policy and guidelines
  • Even the most experienced HV needs their team for reflection, support, advice, expert knowledge – and a little humour.

Want to share your experience? If you’re a newly qualified community practitioner, and you would like to write on any aspect of your training, practice or personal journey, please email [email protected]