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Clinical

Exploring roles within the clinical practice arm of nursing

This category boasts the widest and most varied range of nursing roles, placing an emphasis on providing direct patient care.

Opportunities and choices are numerous, often leading to careers within specialist or advanced practice.

Consider a specialist role if you...

  • Like the idea of being an "expert" 
  • Enjoy advising others
  • Have an interest in a particular clinical area or clinical remit
  • Feel confident or knowledgeable in a particular clinical area
  • Often have colleagues coming to you for advice

Consider an advanced role if you...

  • Would like more responsibility
  • Are comfortable when working independently 
  • Would like more freedom to act and/or make decisions
  • Would like to gain advanced clinical skills or competencies 
  • Often have colleagues asking you for advice

Considering a specialist role?

Many nurses are drawn towards specialist roles because they have a particular interest or passion within a certain area of nursing, and prefer the idea of being a clinical expert within that area. You could specialise:

  • Within a clinical remit or area (e.g. school nursing, occupational health, sexual health, etc.), or 
  • In relation to a clinical condition (e.g. substance misuse, dementia, lung cancer, diabetes, etc.)

Nurses working within specialist roles will have specialist skills, competencies and experience, and practice at an advanced level. They will also usually have completed or will be working towards post-registration qualifications relevant to their specialist area such as modules towards a degree pathway, SCPHN courses, or Masters programme. Although they work within a multidisciplinary team, they have a greater deal of autonomy, and will be responsible for a caseload or group of patients. 

Some examples of specialist roles:

If you're interested in specialist roles...

If you think you might be suited to a specialist role, you'll probably want to do some further research. Here are some things you can do:
 
  • Take it upon yourself to become an expert in your chosen subject in your own time. Read up on it, go to the library, subscribe to related journals or online articles, attend conferences, join professional networks, and get involved. 
  • If appropriate, volunteer to become a "link nurse" for your chosen subject. (e.g. infection control, diabetes, nutrition, etc)
  • Contact relevant employers and organisations to arrange informal visits.
  • Job adverts will usually list the relevant manager's contact details. Call them to find out more about the role or ask for advice. 
  • Use your contacts, colleagues, etc. to get in touch with specialist nurses. Ask them if you can take their contact details for future reference.
  • Try to shadow specialist nurses. This could be through your networking, informal visits or through your current employer.
  • Do your research - study all the job vacancies at the level you want (e.g. band 6 / band 7) - what experience and skills do employers want?
  • If appropriate, speak to your manager for support, and make sure any goals or aspirations are documented in your 121s and appraisals.
  • See if your employer offers mentoring schemes, internal coaches, or recognised career frameworks. 
  • Volunteer with a charity relevant to your chosen specialty for experience. 


Considering an advanced role?

The RCN recognises that advanced level nursing practice is broader than a title, acknowledging this is a level of practice and education. For the purpose of this page, which is intended to inspire career choices, we've used the term "advanced," to describe any nursing role that requires working at a higher level of practice.

Advanced roles are often characterised by higher levels of clinical skills and competence, increased responsibility and accountability, more authority and autonomy to make decisions. If the idea of using advanced skills, dealing with more complex patients and having more freedom to make decisions appeals to you, you may want to consider an advanced nursing role.

Registered nurses working at an advanced level work in various health care settings, in primary, secondary and tertiary care, such as general practice, accident and emergency departments, minor injury units, medical assessment units, out of hours services and within specialties such as paediatrics, neonatal care, cancer care, ophthalmology and orthopaedics; in any setting where patients would benefit from nurses with advanced level skills and knowledge.

Nurse Practitioners or Advanced Nurse Practitioners have a higher degree of autonomous decision-making, along with the remit to diagnose, treat and prescribe, whereas Nurse Consultants could be leading a specialist service.

Examples of Advanced roles:

  • Senior Staff Nurse
  • Nurse Adviser (e.g. NHS 111)
  • Triage nurse
  • Nurse practitioner
  • Advanced nurse practitioner
  • Emergency nurse practitioner
  • Advanced clinical nurse specialist
  • Nurse Consultant
If you're interested in advanced roles...
 
If you think you might be suited to an advanced role, you'll probably want to do some further research before you start applying. Here's some things you can do: 

  • Ask your manager about development opportunities such as learning new skills, completing new competencies, doing courses, etc.
  • Aspiring nurse practitioners can ask about doing an Msc in Advanced Clinical Practice.
  • Contact relevant employers and organisations to arrange informal visits. Be specific about which roles interest you.
  • Job adverts will usually list the relevant manager's contact details. Call them to find out more about the role or ask for advice.
  • Use your contacts, colleagues, etc. to get in touch with advanced nurses. Ask them if you can take their contact details for future reference.
  • Try to shadow nurses in advanced roles. This could be through your networking, informal visits or through your current employer.
  • Do your research - study all the job vacancies at the level you want (e.g. band 6 / band 7 / band 8) - what experience and skills do employers want?
  • If appropriate, speak to your manager for support, and make sure any goals or aspirations are documented in your 121s and appraisals
  • See if your employer offers mentoring or coaching, or has any career frameworks. 
If you think you might be suited to a specialist role, you'll probably want to do some further research before you start applying. Here's some things you can do: Take it upon yourself to become an expert in your chosen subject in your own time. Read up on it, go to the library, subscribe to related journals or online articles, attend conferences, join professional networks, etc. If appropriate, volunteer to become a "link nurse" for your chosen subject. (e.g. infection control, diabetes, nutrition, etc) Contact relevant employers and organisations to arrange informal visits. Job adverts will usually list the relevant manager's contact details. Call them to find out more about the role or ask for advice. Use your contacts, colleagues, etc. to get in touch with specialist nurses. Ask them if you can take their contact details for future reference. Try to shadow specialist nurses. This could be through your networking, informal visits or through your current employer. Do your research - study all the job vacancies at the level you want (e.g. band 6 / band 7) - what experience and skills do employers want? If appropriate, speak to your manager for support, and make sure any goals or aspirations are documented in your 121s. See if your employer offers mentoring or coaching, or has any career frameworks. Volunteer with a charity relevant to your chosen specialty for experience.