Nurses Day Profile: Helen Westwood, Health Visitor

Why did you want to do this job?

“I had an interest in postnatal care after working as a midwife and a telephone triage nurse. I loved working with parents of babies and young children and I thought that health visiting would be an ideal way to use my experience, and to gain new knowledge and skills.”

What did you do before this job?

“I was a Public Health Staff Nurse in a Health Visiting Team for 2 years prior to training as a Health Visitor. Before this, I have also specialised in Spinal Cord Injury nursing, Midwifery and Telephone Triage Nursing. During a break from nursing I taught Health and Social Care and Child Care in a College.”

What do you like most about your work?

“I believe that health visiting can make a real difference to families, and I love being part of that. I feel as if I am doing a very worthwhile job. A real plus to this job is the variety. A typical week can include new baby reviews, antenatal visits, a baby clinic, 1 year developmental assessments, and multi-disciplinary meetings. There are a lot of opportunities for personal and professional development in health visiting. Since qualifying, I have been supported and encouraged to implement service improvement, and have been funded by the Trust to complete a Master’s Degree in Specialist Community Public Health Nurse Practice Development.”

What are the biggest challenges in your role?

“Managing time can be an issue, especially during a busy period when lots of visits are required. It is a real challenge keeping on top of record keeping and administrative tasks. This problem is being addressed by the implementation of a new electronic record system which should streamline the documentation process.”

What is the most important skill you use at work?

“I would say that communication skills and empathy are the most important skills I use. I also need to be flexible and able to adapt to different situations.”

What qualifications or experience do you need in your position?

“The Specialist Community Public Health Nurse (SCPHN) qualification is required to become a health visitor. This is a university course, usually taken full time over one year or part time over two years. The course can be taken at undergraduate or post graduate level. Registration on the NMC register as a nurse or midwife is required before applying for a SCPHN course.”

Any advice for people wanting to go into your profession?

“I would advise learning as much as possible about the role, perhaps meeting up with a health visitor for a chat before considering this job. Working as a staff nurse in a health visiting team was invaluable experience for me, because it gave me a realistic idea of what I was going to do as a health visitor. Many people have a rose tinted image of health visitors sitting in houses and cuddling babies all day. This is far from the truth. Health visiting is hard work, and there can be many complex situations to deal with such as safeguarding cases and maternal mental health issues.”

Helen was recently a shortlisted for a national award. She was a finalist in the Universal Health Visitor category in the Community Practitioner and Health Visitor Association Awards.