More and more patients are treated outside a traditional hospital setting. As their numbers grow, the ability of the NHS to provide medical and nursing services is also changing and community nurses (also known as district nurses) play a vital role in this increasingly important aspect of our healthcare system.
What does a community nurse do?
Working in a variety of environments, from clinics and health centres to residential accommodation and patients' own homes, community nurses help the NHS meet the needs of elderly, disabled or vulnerable patients who may not be able to easily visit the hospital.
Community nurses are trained to perform a variety of nursing procedures which may include:
- basic care - such as checking temperature, blood pressure and breathing
- administering injections
- assisting doctors with examinations and medical procedures
- cleaning and dressing wounds
- setting up intravenous drips and monitoring ongoing care
Community nurses also provide an important educational and advisory service for patients and families, offering information on various aspects of healthcare. In some situations, community nurses may be expected to provide emergency care - where patients have had accidents or suffered complications, such as cardiac arrest.
The role is more than a way to relieve the UK's busy hospitals and GP surgeries: community nurses offer their patients a level of emotional support and specialize in 'joint care management' for situations in which social services or wider care programmes may be involved.
What skills does a community nurse need?
Community nursing jobs can be high pressure: nurses work in environments which change from day to day and lack many of the resources available in a hospital. Given the demanding nature of the role and the spectrum of patients they are required to treat, community nurses should possess excellent communication and listening skills, while demonstrating sensitivity towards the specifics of each unique situation.
Before taking an available nursing post a community nurse must be a qualified and registered nurse (usually with two years' practical experience) - and will also need additional, degree level training as a 'specialist practitioner'.
Specialist practitioner training courses usually last no less than one academic year but trainees may be able to shorten that training period by counting previous experience towards their qualification. Courses, which can be taken on a full or part time basis, are split into practical and theoretical elements - and focus on four key areas:
- clinical nursing
- care and programme management
- clinical practice development
- clinical practice leadership
Training and working as a community nurse
Prospective community nurses may be able to fund a specialist practitioner course through their employer or primary care trust - but should make inquiries before embarking on any period of training. After successful qualification, a community nurse may register as a 'Specialist Community Public Health Nurse' and apply for available positions. Community nurses can expect to earn between £25,783 and £34,530 a year - while community team manager positions come with salaries of up to £40,500 a year.
Community nurses offer a way to comprehensively engage a diverse and challenging healthcare landscape. As NHS local authorities work to meet the needs of their patients, community nurses consistently find themselves at the forefront of modern healthcare strategy with opportunities to make a direct and positive change to the lives of hundreds of patients.