Life as a community nurse
Asked to imagine a nurse’s workplace, most will conjure up a mental picture of a busy hospital ward in a large district general. But to do so is to overlook the thousands of nurses who work in the community – be that in people’s own homes, in GP surgeries, schools, health centres, care homes, or even on the streets with homeless people – and who provide vital care.
The NHS Long Term Plan for England, published in January 2019, sets out a clear desire for more nursing care to be delivered out of acute hospitals and in or closer to people’s homes. This aim is shared in the other countries of the UK and so the community/district nursing workforce is only set to become more important as time goes on.
What does a community nurse do?
Community nurses have a wide range of responsibilities, some of which depend on the specific setting in which they work. Broadly, the work involves regularly seeing a group of patients in the community to assess and respond to their healthcare needs. If you are caring for patients in their own homes, you might visit more than once a day.
Particular tasks might include:
- Carrying out physical examinations and vital signs monitoring
- Providing injections
- Wound care
- Continence care
- Offering advice and education to patients and carers
Many community nurses operate independently, or in small teams. They tend to work in a multidisciplinary fashion, with close connections to GPs, social services and voluntary organisations.
What is the difference between a community nurse and a district nurse?
Many people use the two terms interchangeably. But a ‘community nurse’ is someone working in community settings, with or without a specialist qualification. A ‘district nurse’ is someone who has completed additional training to become a specialist community practitioner.
What skills does a community nurse need?
As well as the communication, listening and problem solving skills common to all nurses, staff working in the community need to be adaptable and resourceful.
Since you’ll generally have a varied caseload of patients, all with different degrees of need, you’ll need good organisational skills and the ability to be flexible.
If you are working with patients in their homes, or across multiple settings, then you will generally need a driving licence.
How do I become a community nurse?
To become a specialist community practitioner (a district nurse), you’ll need to be a registered general nurse first, and have a year or two of experience under your belt.
You then need to complete a training programme to become a district nurse specialist practitioner. These are degree level courses. Should you already be degree qualified, then you can take a postgraduate certificate or masters instead.
Courses last at least a year and are split equally between theory and practice. If you are already working, then your current employer may fund your course. There are also sponsorship opportunities advertised each year.
Once qualified, you can start applying for community posts. In time, you may want to apply for a job as a community team manager, leading a team of nurses.
Community staff nurse roles in the NHS normally start at band 5, rising to bands 6, 7 and 8a for management roles.