Advanced practice nurses caring for communities in need

Advanced Practice Nurse Anna Petchell

“There isn’t many free services available for people with acute injuries and illnesses that provide such a holistic service, and have the time to be able to do that,” says Advanced Practice Nurse Anna Petchell, of Canberra’s successful nurse-led Walk-in Centres.

Anna started working at the centres, which provide free healthcare for non-life threatening injuries and illnesses to people of all ages, in 2020.

As the name suggests, people walk in and are seen in order of arrival. Nurses provide patients with comprehensive health assessment and treatment for a wide range of health needs including common colds, conjunctivitis, cuts and abrasions, earwax removal, gastro, emergency contraception, and simple limb injuries.

“Generally, we spend about half an hour with each patient, so we do a full history and targeted assessment for why they’re here and and then provide the treatment required,” explains Anna.

“We make any referrals and then spend time educating them and making sure that they understand what’s happening and develop treatment plans with them and give them escalation and points of call if they need further help or need to return to the walk-in centre.”

To become an Advanced Practice Nurse, Anna needed five years of nursing under her belt, and had to undertake a training program and complete seven practical exams. APNs at Walk-in centres work within select clinical treatment protocols and medication standing orders.

“I wanted to become an APN because I loved the idea of a model where I could work more autonomously to provide holistic care for patients, not only being able to see, treat, and discharge, but also provide that extra level of education.”

Despite the increased autonomy, Anna says APN’s are still restricted by their current scope of practice and could do much more.

“We can refer to the nurse practitioners and we can refer to the GPs, so there’s ways around it, but I guess sometimes you wish you could do more.”

Late last year, Anna took up the role of nurse educator at the Walk-in centres, providing support and training for APNs and NPs, especially new nurses who join the team.

For example, recent staff development has included a training day for nurse practitioners to update their skills and knowledge, exploring ways to extend the scope of practice for NPs at the centres, and suturing workshops.

Despite her change in role, Anna still relishes providing hands-on care and education to patients the most.

“It’s the patient coming in saying I’ve been prescribed this, I don’t really understand it, can you help me understand and explain it, and being available to have the knowledge and the time to spend with a patient to actually help them better understand their own health journey and improve their health literacy so they can look after themselves.”

For nursing students and early career nurses looking to follow Anna’s path, and perhaps work at one of the walk-in centres or similar one day, she suggests gaining as much experience as possible.

“Expand your knowledge as best you can, work in a variety of places, gain experience in a variety of places so that you can bring it all together into the field that you want to work in,” she says.

“The more you know and grow the more benefit you’re going to provide in an APN role.”

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