This article outlines the role of the practice nurse within a general practioner surgery. It explains when you are likely to need to see a practice nurse and how to access one.

What is a practice nurse?

A practice nurse is a highly trained nurse who works alongside a general practitioner in a medical/ health clinic. Some practice nurses also run their own clinics – nurses who operate this way are usually called `Nurse Practitioners’ and the ability to work independently was a huge step forward for nursing in New Zealand over a decade ago.

Practice nurses work in assessing and helping to treat patients, as well as having a strong education and teaching role. Many have undergone additional training to help them assist patients with pregnancy, asthma, diabetes, weight management and sexual health.

The practice nurse undertakes a diverse range of roles from giving injections and helping with organising health tests, through to administrative tasks such as liaising with the local hospital. In New Zealand, the role of practice nurses and nurse practitioners is becoming increasingly complex and responsible.

The role of the practice nurse may include:

  • Assessing health conditions over the phone or in clinic
  • Performing first aid in emergency situations
  • Giving vaccinations and injections
  • Health promotion and education – for instance running asthma clinics, stop smoking classes, teaching about sexual health, running diabetes clinics
  • Health screening such as checking blood pressure, treating wounds, doing blood tests
  • Administrative work on behalf of the patient – for instance ensuring hospital appointments have been booked in
  • Liaising with other health professionals such as Plunket and district nurses
  • Minor surgery on behalf of the doctor – suturing up wounds or treating warts and verrucae.

When should I see a practice nurse?

A practice nurse can be your first port of call when gathering information about what is wrong with you or your child and whether you need to make an appointment with the doctor – call them and have a chat.

Contact your practice nurse for issues like:

  • Diabetes, asthma, weight problems, sexual health
  • A minor scrape, cut or infection on your child that you are not sure how to deal with
  • Organising blood pressure or other health checks
  • Seeking help from a district nurse or other health professional if you are unsure how to organise health checks
  • Chasing up a hospital appointment your doctor has made.

How do I find a practice nurse?

Most practice nurses work in conjunction with a general practitioner medical practice – so check the front section of the White Pages of your phone book for medical practitioners operating in your area.

To find an independent Nurse Practitioner working in your area contact the New Zealand Nurses Organisation or Nursing Council of New Zealand (see the website details below).

What will the practice nurse do?

Practice nurses can help you with:
  • Cervical smears
  • Sexual health information – including types of contraception that might be suitable
  • Checking blood pressure, blood sugars, body mass index (B.M.I.)
  • A wound that needs dressing or treatment
  • Childhood vaccination programmes – this is often done in conjunction with your child’s `Well Child Check’ done by the practice nurse and/or general practitioner
  • Immunisation before travelling overseas against diseases such as hepatitis A or cholera
  • Special clinics for asthma (teaching the use of inhalers and other devices); diabetes (teaching administration of insulin injections); weight clinics (offering nutritional advice and a weekly weigh-in).

Occasionally services performed by a practice nurse are free to patients, although increasingly a charge will be incurred; charges may be between $10-$30. Check with the nurse or receptionist prior to treatment.

What can I do to improve the health of the family?

Practice nurses are the largest group of people working in primary health care in New Zealand – this means they have a huge role as the first point of contact for people who are unwell, as well as educating people about health and trying to prevent people becoming sick in the first place. It is useful to be aware of the services that are available locally to you, as this varies enormously across New Zealand.

Make use of the range of well checks and clinics that are available for your family, to promote health and well-being.

If you are attending a practice nurse appointment for your child (for example, an immunisation or asthma clinic) it may be useful to contact the practice nurse before hand – to find out what to expect and how to prepare your child.

Helpful websites & articles

To discover more about Health conditions such as Asthma, visit our Kiwi Families articles.

Immunisation can be a stressful time for parents. Our range of articles will give you all the information you need.

www.nursingcouncil.org.nz

This is the website for the Nursing Council of New Zealand.

www.nzno.org.nz

Website of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation

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