How to become a health visitor

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Mother and baby in a play centre

As a health visitor, you'll get to work with young children and their families as they go through the challenges of their first years. It's an interesting, high-skilled and varied career with a lot of responsibility and is ideal if you want to make a difference to families in the community.

Being a health visitor involves a high degree of responsibility, conscientiousness, an eye for detail and the ability to work hard and independently. This guide explains what a health visitor is, the skills and qualifications you need and how to become a health visitor.

'Want a rewarding, varied career helping children during their first years? Check out this post on how to become a health visitor'

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What is a health visitor?

A health visitor is a special kind of nurse with extra qualifications. Health visitors work with the families of preschool children, usually under the age of 5. They help parents and guardians offer the best care, support and environment for children as they develop. They also monitor children’s development and growth and look out for signs of neglect or abuse.

This video from NHS Health Careers shows the difference health visitors can make:

What does a health visitor do?

As the name suggest, health visitors visit families at home as well as in GP surgeries, community clinics and children’s centres.

They assess families’ parenting skills, the family situation and home environment and children’s development. They offer support to parents to help strengthen their parenting, reduce risks to the child’s safety around the home, and come up with solutions to developmental problems. For example, if a child is slow to move on to solid food, they would try to work out what is causing this (such as stress or food intolerance) and come up with ways to fix the problem (such as removing the source of stress or avoiding certain foods).

Things health visitors cover include:

  • Support for parents just before and just after birth.
  • Feeding problems.
  • Problems with child growth and development.
  • Spotting and removing risks in the home.
  • Offering advice on local services.

What skills do you need to become a health visitor?

Parents and children in a nursery
Health visitors work in children's centres as well as in the home

Health visiting is a highly skilled role, which requires the following qualities:

  • Patience: Helping families overcome challenges and difficulties could take time and a range of different approaches. From time to time, you may have to deal with difficult parents and children.
  • Attention-to-detail: You will need to be on the lookout for hazards around the home, signs and symptoms of developmental or health problems and evidence of neglect or abuse.
  • A caring and compassionate nature: To help parents and children through what could be the most difficult and anxious period of their lives, you will need to offer reassurance and an empathetic attitude through excellent people skills.
  • Hard working: You will have a heavy caseload and spend long periods on the go in addition to hours spent in the office writing notes and doing admin. You may have to take work home from time to time.
  • Critical thinking: You need to be able to evaluate a family’s circumstances to establish the root cause of any problems and come up with an achievable plan of action.
  • Ability to drive: As you will spend much of your time visiting families in the community, you will need to be able to drive, hold a clean driving licence and have access to a car.

What qualifications do I need?

Before becoming a health visitor, you will need to qualify as a registered nurse or midwife. To become a nurse, you will need a degree in nursing, which you can gain at university, on-the-job as you work your way up, or through an apprenticeship (see our article how to become a nurse).

You will then need to gain an additional qualification, called a (deep breath) “specialist community public health nursing – health visiting” or SCPHN – HV. You can work towards this qualification on the job.

The SCPHN is a one-year course which involves:

  • Gaining experience of working with children aged 5 and under within family homes and other settings you could expect to work in as a health visitor.
  • Working with disadvantaged families and gaining experience of the effects of health inequalities.
  • Completing 60 days of practice.
  • Learning theory related to different areas of health visiting, including topics such as “public health”, “health promotion”, “promoting the health of children in the community” and “mental health and well-being of children”.

You will learn the theory at college or an equivalent setting, and you will cover other areas of nursing as well as health visiting, such as school nursing.

The course can be taken over two years if you work part time.

How will my career develop?

Students in lecture hall
Some health visitors progress to teach students in college

You could progress to become a team leader or fill another management role within the NHS.

Others take on other postgraduate study and become teachers.

How much do health visitors get paid?

According to the National Careers Service, health visitors earn between £25,000 and £41,000.

The NHS Health Careers website gives these examples from around the UK:

  • Chepstow: £26,000-£25,000
  • Manchester: £27,000-£36,000
  • Dorset: £21,000-£28,000

To find out more about health careers, check out our guide to the skills you need for a career in health.

Image credits

Lead imagenursery image via US Defense, Lecture hall via Columbia Admissions Flickr account

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