How to become a district nurse in 8 steps (with duties)

Updated 1 August 2023

District nurses make a crucial difference daily to the lives of their patients, who they visit in their homes or residential care settings. They provide tailored and complex care to their patients, alongside offering support to patients' families. If you're passionate about helping others and wish to work in health care, you may wish to learn more about what a district nurse does and the steps involved to work in this role. In this article, we explain what a district nurse is and look at how to become a district nurse.

What is a district nurse?

A district nurse provides bespoke and targeted care for patients throughout the community. During their workday, they assess the health care needs of patients and families, monitor the quality of care they're receiving, take accountability for its delivery and work with other groups to provide and coordinate a wide range of care services. The role involves visiting patients daily to offer advice, help and support, alongside working with other agencies and services to coordinate this. District nurses also offer support and teaching to families and patients to minimise hospital admissions and help patients to return home.

District nurses may also undertake administrative work and collaborate with other groups, such as social services and voluntary agencies to deliver complex caseloads. Working in this role requires a broad range of advanced skills, including clinical knowledge and organisational skills, alongside the ability to work with different personalities and understand highly technical, complex and individualised clinical care plans. This career can be mentally stimulating, meaningful and rewarding, with real scope for career development and flexibility. Moreover, nurses get to see the direct results of their work through positive patient outcomes, which can be especially satisfying.

Read more: How to become a nurse practitioner

How to become a district nurse

Find out how to become a district nurse by following these steps:

1. Get the necessary qualifications

District nurses are senior registered nurses who specialise in child, adult, learning disability or mental health care. To become a district nurse, it's necessary to earn a nursing undergraduate degree and then apply for a specialist practitioner programme. These programmes usually take around one year to complete on a full-time basis or longer if studied on a part-time or flexible basis. The programme is a blend of 50% theory and 50% practice and spans clinical nursing practice, clinical practice development, care and programme management and clinical practice leadership.

Employers also sometimes sponsor community staff nurses who want to progress to specialist district nurse practitioner programmes. For candidates with the right experience and registrations, sponsorship opportunities usually begin with a September start. Once you have your qualifications, you can then further your career and knowledge by taking regular specialist clinical, nursing and practitioner courses and accreditations, as part of your ongoing professional development.

Read more: Nursing entry requirements (with specialisations)

2. Develop the required skills

District nurses are highly skilled health care professionals. Due to this, it's necessary to develop your skills after gaining your nursing qualifications to work in this role, which normally takes several years to achieve. To succeed in this role, a district nurse requires the following skills:

  • adaptability and resourcefulness, including the ability to coordinate with different agencies and teams to provide a coordinated programme of care

  • trustworthiness, in addition to being respectful and supportive

  • excellent organisation skills and confidence in your delivery and decision-making

  • ability to support and educate families in medical care practices, so that they help their relatives to return home with confidence

  • ability to supervise and lead health care assistants and community staff nurses to deliver patient care plans

  • strong communication skills

  • confident problem-solving skills and a readiness to make decisions

  • sound judgment based on clear and robust decision-making principles

Read more: Nurse role and responsibilities plus the skills needed

3. Apply for roles

There are various routes into this profession, depending on your experience, qualifications and registration status. For instance, you can apply directly for a role as a district nurse if you're already registered and working as a nurse. When pursuing this route, it's mandatory to complete the Post Graduate Diploma in Specialist Community Public Health Nursing beforehand, which is a Nursing and Midwifery Council accredited course, or have equivalent experience or qualifications. You can usually find district nurse roles by looking online or checking with your current employer to see if they have any vacancies.

4. Pursue training opportunities

Some employers offer student training opportunities with full sponsorship. This involves employers creating training opportunities for strong candidates and allowing them to study on a flexible basis to achieve the necessary qualifications to work as a district nurse. If you already work in a nursing or health care role, speak to your line manager or HR department to find out whether any opportunities might be available to you via this route.

Read more: Levels of nursing training (with careers and salaries)

5. Consider pursuing an apprenticeship

You can also take an apprenticeship to become a district nurse. Candidates can find apprenticeship positions with health care providers or search for open positions via the national apprenticeships database. While working as an apprentice, you can expect to receive at least the apprenticeship minimum wage but many employers do pay more than this rate, especially for higher-level apprentices with existing nursing expertise. When working as an apprentice, you'd typically work full-time and have time off to complete your studies, alongside standard employee benefits, such as a holiday allowance. Moreover, it's possible to complete some apprenticeships part-time, alongside other commitments.

Read more: A guide to nursing apprenticeships (plus requirements)

6. Submit your CV

To secure a district nursing role, it's essential to create a strong CV. In this document, ensure that you include details that clearly outline your relevant nursing experience, qualifications and skills. Here are some tips for creating a strong nursing CV:

  • List your contact information. At the top of your CV, include your up-to-date contact details so employers can easily contact you when there's an update with your application.

  • Write a personal summary. After your contact details, write a brief personal summary that summarises your key achievements, experience, qualifications and skills that are relevant to the role for which you're applying. This section is typically two or three sentences long.

  • Include your relevant experience. When listing your experience, mention your key responsibilities and achievements for each entry, using quantifiable facts and data if possible. Also, ensure that you mention the job title, the name of the employer, the role's location and employment dates for each entry.

  • Outline your relevant skills. To do this effectively, review the job description for each role you apply for and adjust the skills you list by mentioning the ones you possess that are also in the job description. When creating a skills section, separate each skill with a comma or pipe so that employers can easily scan the document.

  • Mention your qualifications. Additionally, list your qualifications and include the name of the qualification and awarding institution, alongside the grade you achieved and attendance dates for each entry.

  • Tailor your CV. When writing your CV, ensure that you check the job description beforehand so you can tailor the document to the role for which you're applying. To do this, consider the keywords and phrases used in the job description and try to include those words and phrases throughout the CV.

Read more: How to write a nurse CV (plus template and example)

7. Prepare for your interview

If your application is successful for a district nursing role, district nursing apprenticeship or training opportunity, it might be necessary for you to attend an interview. Here are some tips to help you prepare:

  • Complete a practice interview. Performing a practice interview with a close friend or family member can help improve your confidence before an interview and can allow you to gain useful constructive feedback. If the interview is via videoconferencing software, it's also a good idea to test your equipment beforehand to avoid any technical difficulties on the day of the interview.

  • Carry out research. Conducting research before the interview can help improve your chances of success. This includes researching the hiring organisation's values and reviewing the job description thoroughly to anticipate the sort of questions the interviewer may ask.

  • Think of questions to ask the interviewer. Before the interview, ensure that you prepare your own questions for the interviewer. This is an effective way of demonstrating your interest in the role to potential employers.

Related: 17 types of nurses (with job descriptions and salary info)

8. Consider your long-term goals

After qualifying as a district nurse, it's helpful to consider the other opportunities available to you, which can help you to advance your career. For example, you might train to become a community matron or you may move into clinical research or teaching. It's also possible to move into other nursing pathways, such as by working as a general practice nurse or health visitor.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

Related: How to become a nurse prescriber: a step-by-step guide


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