Health visitors

13 June 2018

What does a health visitor do?

Health visitors are nurses or midwives working in the community setting. They are specially trained to promote healthy lifestyles, prevent illness and reach out to pre-school children to provide them with the best start in life. 

Working primarily with newborns, children under five and their families, health visitors may also provide care for or deprived groups, such as the homeless, or those at risk from addiction or mental health issues. 

Health visitors are part of a skilled multidisciplinary healthcare team in the community, which includes community nurses, school nurses, GPs and social workers. They must also work with other organisations to help safeguard and protect children.

What does a health visitor’s day look like?

Health visitors focus on partnering with parents to give their children a solid foundation in life. They assess the home setting and offer advice and support on parenting skills and the developmental and health needs of young children. 

Responsibilities can include providing antenatal and postnatal support, breastfeeding advice, support for children with special needs or chronic conditions, advice on managing children’s behaviour and preventing accidents in the home, and signposting to local services. This work can take place in a variety of settings: in families’ homes, GP surgeries and community and outreach clinics.

Safeguarding and protecting children is an important aspect of the health visitor role. Health visitors are trained to recognise the signs of abuse and neglect in children. They can then take action and offer support. 

How do I train as a health visitor?

Health visitors specialise in public health, which can affect whole population groups. To become a health visitor, qualified and registered nurses or midwives must undertake the specialist community public health nursing/health visiting (SCPHN/HV) programme. 

Requirements for study are flexible: no minimum period of post-registration period is required and the course can be studied full-time or part-time. All registered nurses and midwives are welcome to apply, not just adult nurses but those from the child, learning disability and mental health fields as well.

The SCPHN/HV qualification programme usually takes one year to complete (full-time) and up to four years (part-time).

If an applicant has relevant experience or education, the higher education institution (HEI) offering the course can apply accreditation of prior learning (APL) to up to one-third of the programme. Those with no nursing qualifications can still become a health visitor: graduates with a health-related degree can use APL to complete pre-registration nursing training in two years and proceed to the SCPHN/HV programme. 

Learning does not end when the course does: revalidation is essential, both as a nurse and as a specialised public health nurse. This straightforward process, which helps health visitors demonstrate safe and effective practice, must be undertaken every three years. In this way, health visitors can maintain their registration to practise with the NMC. 

Will my career progress as a health visitor?

Health visitors are able to go into service management or clinical research, or work with people with serious long-term or complex conditions as a community matron. With experience, health visitors can also take on roles as mentors, preceptors, practice educators and lecturers. 

What skills do I need to become a health visitor?

Health visitors are independent-minded, well organised and confident communicating with a range of people. 

In a typical day, a health visitor might advise on vaccinations in the morning and assess a suspected case of child neglect in the afternoon. This varied and changeable workload means that being flexible and able to prioritise is key. 

Health visitors will have a keen sense of observation, and an ability to pinpoint need. They will also thrive on taking responsibility for people with different levels of need and using their skills to communicate effectively and offer support.

Picture credit | iStock