If you're a nurse or midwife and want to work out in the community with new parents and pre-school children, health visiting could be right for you

As a health visitor, you'll assess the health needs of individuals, families and the wider community. Your aim will be to promote good health and prevent illness by offering practical help and advice.

You'll work within a community setting, often visiting people in their own homes, where you'll support new parents and pre-school children. Working as a health visitor may also include tackling the impact of social inequality on health and working closely with at-risk or deprived groups.

To be a health visitor you first need to become a qualified nurse or midwife and have post-registration experience, before taking further qualifications.

There may be variations in the role in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, such as working with adults from the wider community.

Responsibilities

As a health visitor, you'll need to:

  • advise and inform new parents on issues such as feeding, sleeping, safety, physical and emotional development, weaning, immunisation and other aspects of childcare
  • give support from early pregnancy and birth up to the child's fifth birthday - providing a gateway to other services as required
  • identify risk factors and signs of concern and work with organisations to protect and safeguard children, as well as making sure families receive support during safeguarding arrangements
  • manage parent and baby clinics at surgeries, community and Sure Start children's centres, and run specialist sessions on areas such as baby massage, exercise and child development
  • provide emotional support regarding issues such as postnatal depression, bereavement, disability, family conflict and domestic violence
  • work as part of a multi-disciplinary team, including GPs, midwives, nurses, nursery nurses and social workers
  • support government initiatives to tackle child poverty and social exclusion and use specialist healthcare interventions to meet the needs of families
  • maintain and update client records.

The role varies depending on the location and you may be given a specialist area to work in.

Salary

  • Health visitors usually start at Band 6 of the NHS Agenda for Change (AfC) pay scale. This begins with salaries of £26,565 and rises to £35,577.
  • Team managers and health visitor specialists can earn up to £41,787 on Band 7 of the scale.

Extra allowances can sometimes be earned for additional responsibilities and length of service.

Salaries outside the NHS, typically within local authorities, vary as there are no set scales.

Income data from Health Careers. Figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

You'll usually work a standard 37.5 hours per week. Some evening work at clinics, drop-in centres and support groups may be required. If you're involved in project work and development activities, you'll need to work the hours dictated by the project.

Opportunities exist for career breaks, part-time work and job-sharing, as well as bank work.

What to expect

  • You should expect to travel during the day within the local area to carry out home visits to parents and children. You'll also need to attend clinics and support groups in regional surgeries and centres.
  • There is no uniform but there is a dress code. You'll typically be expected to wear smart, appropriate clothes and they'll need to be comfortable for when you're examining children.
  • Working with families and young children, including those at risk, means that you may find the job stressful and challenging on occasions. Risk to personal safety may be an issue, depending on the role and situation.
  • Posts are available throughout the UK and the amount of vacancies is expected to continue to rise.
  • It is unlikely that you'll need to be away from home overnight and overseas work or travel is uncommon.

Qualifications

To become a health visitor, you must first be a qualified and registered nurse or midwife. You then need to undertake an approved training programme in Specialist Community Public Health Nursing - Health Visiting (SCPHN - HV).

You can begin this training as soon as you want after becoming a registered nurse or midwife, as there's no minimum period of post-registration experience required. For information on training in nursing or midwifery see the adult nurse and midwife job profiles.

SCPHN - HV training is carried out at degree level. This usually takes one year full time or the equivalent part time. If you've got relevant experience or learning, you could get accreditation of prior learning (APL) for up to one third of the course, which will shorten the length of training.

If you aren't a registered nurse or midwife but have completed a health-related degree, it's possible to complete the pre-registration nursing in two years, instead of three, followed by the one-year SCPHN – HV course.

Before joining an NHS trust, you'll be required to undergo a series of pre-employment checks including occupational health and Disclosure and Barring Service checks.

Competition for traineeships is high, so you may need to apply in more than one year to gain a place on a course.

Skills

You will need to show:

  • an approachable personality and the ability to get on well with and gain the trust of people of all ages and backgrounds
  • excellent communication, questioning and listening skills, as well as the ability to interpret body language and other non-verbal communication
  • sensitivity, empathy, patience and tact
  • the ability to work independently and autonomously as well as in multidisciplinary teams
  • good time management, organisational skills and the ability to prioritise a varied workload
  • influencing skills and the ability to motivate people to make lifestyle changes
  • the emotional maturity to deal with potentially distressing issues and challenging situations
  • an interest in health and social issues and in developing programmes that will improve public health
  • a willingness to take responsibility and make appropriate professional judgements with confidence.

Work experience

Pre-entry experience that demonstrates a commitment to working in the community or is directly relevant to the work of a health visitor is useful. You'll also be at an advantage if you have experience of working with children, obstetrics, midwifery, paediatrics or community and health promotion.

Employers

Health visitors are employed mainly by the NHS within a range of settings. You may be attached to a general practice and undertake home visits throughout the practice area, as well as see patients within the surgery.

In some areas, it's possible to work as a member of a staff 'bank' and provide cover for vacancies. It may also be possible to find work through specialist nursing agencies.

Local authorities also employ health visitors directly within the community.

Once you have experience, you can work for universities or other academic institutions as a lecturer or tutor. You can also work with new health visitors in a tutoring role.

There are limited opportunities to work within the charitable/voluntary sector.

Look for job vacancies at:

There are a number of specialist recruitment agencies handling both temporary and long-term vacancies.

Professional development

To work in the UK as a nurse or midwife, and then also as a health visitor, you must be registered with the Nursing & Midwifery Council (NMC). To maintain your registration, you'll have to complete revalidation every three years.

This involves completing at least 450 hours of registered practice and 35 hours of continuing professional development (CPD). Find out more at the Nursing & Midwifery Council (NMC): Revalidation.

Various activities are recognised as professional development including conference or seminar attendance, distance learning study and personal research.

You'll typically be offered training through your local trust to support your professional development. There are various courses, both in-house and external, that you may wish to attend, in areas such as:

  • child protection
  • positive parenting
  • nutrition
  • immunisation
  • postnatal depression
  • domestic violence.

Depending on individual trusts, there are other opportunities to develop areas of professional interest through post-registration degrees or research projects. You can also get involved in initiatives aimed at improving or enhancing specific areas of healthcare services.

Career prospects

Many health visitors remain in a frontline role throughout their career but there are other routes you can progress onto using the skills acquired as a practising health visitor.

You may decide that you want to become a team manager/community matron. In addition to your health visitor duties, you'll be responsible for managing and providing clinical supervision to teams of health visitors and other community staff. You'll need to have relevant experience and education to postgraduate diploma level is usually required.

You could also become a health visitor specialist, which involves working with communities, families and individuals with specific health and social needs. This may include undertaking specialist service planning and working with other agencies. You'll also provide training and clinical supervision to health visitors and students. You'll need to have a Masters, or equivalent qualification, for this role.

It is also possible to move into strategic or clinical governance roles or to teach or train nurses or other health visitors. Job profiles of many of these areas can be found on the Health Careers website.

You can find out more about programmes for leadership development from NHS Leadership Academy.

With relevant experience, there are also opportunities to work abroad in health services and voluntary organisations.