A nurse in practice
May 19 2004
By Helen Sturdy, Evening Gazette
Aches and pains usually send people running to visit their GP at their local health centre.
But nurse practitioners are now helping lower doctors' workloads by taking over some of their traditional tasks.
Our reporter found out just what happens in their typical day.
Shelly Williams is on to her 30th patient of the day.
Sitting behind her desk, she still greets everyone with a welcoming smile.
She's seen everything up until now - head lice, water infections, breathlessness.
And it doesn't matter what complaint the next patient brings through the door.
She will treat them all with the same care and knowledge as the last.
And with the same professionalism as the doctors sitting in their consulting rooms nearby.
Because Shelly is a nurse practitioner working from her base at Eaglescliffe Health Centre.
And although she's not a trained GP, she's there to perform many of the same tasks carried out by doctors at the site.
Consultations, handing out advice, assessing, treating and prescribing are all important aspects of her role.
"It helps take the workload off the doctor," she says. "That is very useful."
Shelly, from Norton, began her medical career more than 20 years ago, when she trained as a nurse at the old Middlesbrough General Hospital.
The 43-year-old then became a midwife at the University Hospital of North Tees, before having children of her own.
And after returning to midwifery, she then decided to turn her expert hand to practice nursing.
"I came to Eaglescliffe and worked my way up to be a nurse practitioner," she explains. "I really enjoy it."
Shelly is the first nurse practitioner to be employed at Eaglescliffe Health Centre and now works full time.
"That is an endorsement of how successful it has been," she smiles.
"The doctors value the role and can see how much difference it has made to them."
The health specialist's day begins at 8.30am and her consultations kick off at 8.40am.
Often, patients can ring on the morning and be seen by Shelley later the same day.
The nurse practitioner can assess and treat patients, prescribing certain treatments for conditions such as eczema and impetigo.
And she can refer patients back to a GP, seek advice from the doctor, or refer people on to clinics, such as asthma sessions or stop smoking services.
"I can see someone with asthma for example, and tell them they need to go to the asthma clinic," she explains.
"If I see someone with a chest infection, I might think they need an antibiotic and can go and see a doctor for a prescription.
"But it is my assessment and my diagnosis. It is a difference between minor ailments and long-term illnesses. It has a lot of responsibility."
Shelly also has breaks throughout the morning when she is available to offer advice over the phone.
"I help people make decisions and direct them to the right place," she continues. "It is easy access to people for health information.
"Very often it is just help, advice and reassurance people need."
Many patients are referred to Shelly when they call the clinic for an appointment.
But others are now so sure of her capabilities, they return for her expertise time and time again.
"I have done a two-year degree and another two six-month courses on top of that," adds the health worker.
"I have gone through an awful lot of training to get this far.
"Once people realise that I have gone through special training, they become confident.
"In the last year, I have had people requesting to see me.
"It is easy access and you get your prescription quicker."
Shelly's afternoon continues with more patient appointments and her day ends at 5.30pm, which helps her incorporate working parents into her day.
"They need to be able to get in early or after work," she adds.
"That fits in with them and their children. We need to be as flexible as possible.
"The support of everyone has been great, that is what has made it work.
"That is a vital part of it. I know I can go to the doctors if I am worried about a patient.
"The job is flexible and the communication is great.
"It is a lovely job and I would recommend it to anyone."