Navigating a change of nursing career

12 March 2018

Lauren Herd

Trainee health visitor, NHS Grampian, and MSc advancing nursing practice student, Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen

Just when it feels like the road to becoming a competent practitioner is underway, life can unexpectantly lead to a crossroads. That’s exactly what happened to me.

Since graduating in 2011, I had eagerly followed a career in critical care. I loved the adrenaline-filled, technically challenging acute environment. That was, until starting a family of my own.

The change of dynamic brought a time of reflection and a change of mindset. At the same time I met an inspirational HV whose support and encouragement aided me greatly as my family grew. The impact the HV had on me strengthened my decision to move into health visiting. I am now six months into my role as a trainee HV.

I wanted to reflect on the changes I’ve encountered since moving from the acute setting into the community environment and hope my experience will help others making this transition. 

Initial challenges 

It all started when I stepped out of the staff nurse uniform, which took some courage! There was a noticeable loss in my professional identity. Patients and professionals had recognised my position instantly, and without that uniform there was a sudden need to distinguish my role – a flash of my ID badge often sufficed, but more so there was a requirement to portray a confidence and knowledge of my role. Having ‘trainee’ at the start of my title also took some getting used to. When I was introduced as a student, I felt clients were doubtful of my ability; I felt somewhat inadequate, as though my prior knowledge and position weren’t being considered. 

The most challenging aspect  though has been adjusting to autonomous working. The acute setting, particularly intensive care, thrives on close teamwork across medicine and nursing. Despite having GPs and senior staff at the end of the phone or in the practice intermittently, it has taken some adjustment. This is probably due to my inexperience: I’ve been reassured by many HVs in my position that as your own knowledge and competence increases, having confidence in your clinical judgement and autonomy is a hugely satisfying part of the job.

Turning it around

I’ve now embraced the trainee position, capitalising on as many learning opportunities as possible and acknowledging my transferable skills.Working in the acute setting accrues many valuable skills, particularly an ability to effectively communicate with patients and allied health professionals. Working closely with patients and relatives at a vulnerable time and often dealing with sensitive issues strengthened my skills in empathy, listening effectively, supporting individuals and families, becoming an advocate for patients at their most vulnerable, assessing and planning care based on health needs, and prioritising workload. These skills are fundamental to health visiting and have made for a solid learning foundation.

It’s been developing my self-awareness however that’s helped me most in overcoming challenges. Talking to colleagues and reflecting on situations has allowed me to see my strengths and weaknesses and helped to direct my learning needs. Though there’s been a significant settling-in period, I can wholeheartedly say that making the move into the community and health visiting has been the right decision. Working with families at such a key stage in their lives is a privilege, and I hope that once my training is complete, I too will be that inspirational HV.

A career move: my learning points

  • Embrace the trainee role, seizing every opportunity to broaden your knowledge and understanding.
  • Reflect and discuss your concerns with colleagues – they have probably had similar experiences.
  • Be confident with the skills you already have – you may have lots to learn but you have lots to build on.