Health Education England’s Ellie Gordon explains how to take your career to the next level.
One of the attractions of mental health nursing is the sheer number of roles and settings you could work in and the variety of situations and challenges you can be faced with on any given day.
As a result, I would say that you should not worry about getting a structured plan in place early. It is better to first try to find the area of mental health nursing that you enjoy and are most passionate about. Work to develop your skills and knowledge in that area.
Simply working in a different setting or with patients with different needs can often provide challenge and reinvigorate interest as you broaden your knowledge, understanding and skill sets.
For example, you could look to work with different patient groups or different settings such as children, older people, on specialist in-patient wards, in community teams or in prisons working with offenders.
Or you could specialise in particular mental health challenges such as dementia, eating disorders, depression or working in drug and alcohol treatment services.
When you have found your passion and are ready for your next challenge then look around for role models – people in the sector you admire – and ask them how they got to where they are.
Lots of leading mental health nurses are on twitter or other social media and are happy to connect with and talk to other mental health nurses. Personally, I am always happy to share what I have learnt over the years and I know many others who do the same.
The range of career paths for mental health nurses now can be really varied. If you want to focus on a clinical career then the next steps to consider might be specialising as an approved mental health practitioner (AMHP), nurse consultant or advanced clinician.
AMHPs exercise functions under the Mental Health Act 1983 including the decision to apply for compulsory admission to hospital to keep somebody safe. To become an AMHP you must complete a Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) approved course and you must have at least two years of post-qualified experience. Courses usually last between six to 12 months.
To become an advanced clinician or nurse consultant you will usually need a masters’ degree and be an independent nurse prescriber. Health Education England has produced this guide to advanced clinical practice in mental health which provides more detail on the level of practice required.
Many who occupy these advanced roles also spend part of their time on research and improving best practice in their specialist area. This can be the next step in an academic, teaching/training or policy roles to help influence and inspire other mental health nurses and improve the level of knowledge in an area.
Finally, you can also move into management and ultimately reach a director of mental health nursing post within a mental health trust.
These days it is also possible to do a blend of all these options.
Once you have identified the role you want then ask the person or people already in that role about how they got there. Ask for copies of job descriptions that list requirements and assess yourself against them to identify any gaps or development areas.
If you are interested in a role that doesn't exist in your organisation then research organisations where it does exist. Connect with the people in those roles and arrange conversations to get a better understanding of it.
Directors of nursing are a great source of information and while they are busy people they are usually happy to help people think about career options. Health Education England has a nursing team and we are always happy to talk, connect or help in whatever way we can.
Mentors are a great support and resource - but be careful about picking your mentor as it’s essential you feel comfortable with them and able to be honest.
It’s also important to recognise you will need different mentors at different stages in your career journey. As your needs change so will the type of support and information you require.
Some organisations will also offer coaching sessions to help you develop. Coaching is designed, through structured questioning and exercises, to help you correctly identify the nature of the challenges faced and strategies to overcome them. If this is an approach that works for you then you should certainly take advantage when it is on offer.
Peer support is also really helpful in exploring and discussing options and opportunities. Nurses are a helpful bunch - we have all at some point benefitted from someone helping us move on with our career and we want to repay that generosity by helping others do the same.
So, don't be afraid to ask. It is extremely rare that anyone will refuse to help and if they do then take the view that you have not lost anything and simply ask someone else. The chances are the next person will help and could provide you with the key to unlocking a fulfilling career.
Health Education England. Advanced Practice Mental Health Curriculum and Capabilities Framework https://www.hee.nhs.uk/sites/default/files/documents/AP-MH%20Curriculum%20and%20Capabilities%20Framework%201.2.pdf
Ellie Gordon, is a senior nurse learning disability and mental health, national nursing and midwifery directorate, Health Education England