Gavin Fergie, health visitor
Find out more about his career in healthcare
This interview was conducted in 2012. In the autumn of 2017, we checked to make sure its careers advice was still accurate and updated the essential subjects and salary guide sections.
What do you do?
I’m a qualified health visitor. I work for a health visitors’ professional organisation, supporting health visitors in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Health visitors are specialist nurses that focus on the health of children from birth to five years old and their families.
What did you study at school?
I started studying biology at school but switched to an anatomy, physiology and health course. At 23, I decided to go into nursing. It wasn’t a degree course at the time, so I studied at a college of nursing.
What did you want to be when you were at school?
I first wanted to be a policeman, and later a vet. I think it all comes down to wanting to help the vulnerable.
Was it hard to find a job?
It’s harder now. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland’s health services are devolved from England’s. Job opportunities there are markedly reduced. The more mobile you’re prepared to be, the better chance you have of getting a job.
What skills from your biology background do you use in your work?
You need a good understanding of how the body works and strong observational skills so that you can spot when something’s not right. You use analytical thinking and problem-solving skills on a daily basis.
What does a typical day entail?
Each day involves interacting with families in your community, usually in their homes, and checking on a child or the child’s parent or carer, perhaps helping with breastfeeding, behaviour or emotional issues. You’ll work with other professionals, such as a GP, social worker, schoolteacher or hospital nurse. There is some paperwork: it’s very important that records are kept, as you can’t afford any mistakes.
My work–life balance is good. There are set hours, although you might be at a family’s house at 6pm. It’s absolutely a job you can have alongside having a family of your own – it may even help you.
What are the most challenging and satisfying things about your job?
Unfortunately, abuse and death are not far away from our work. However, when you can help people make positive changes in their own lives and their children’s, it’s a real joy.
What prospects for progression are there?
Plenty. You can become a team leader or a nurse manager, or get a postgraduate qualification in education and educate the health visitors of tomorrow. Or, like me, you can go down the support and advocacy route, helping other health visitors to do their job well.
Scottish O-grades: anatomy, physiology and health, physics, and chemistry (1980).
Registered General Nurse (adult) (1989), Registered Sick Children’s Nurse (1992) and neonatal nursing qualification (1995), all College of Nursing.
Degree: community health (health visiting), Queen Margaret’s University, Edinburgh (2001).
Bank officer, RBS (1981–86).
Student nurse (1986–89).
Nurse, then senior staff nurse (including sick children’s qualification) (1990–2000).
Health visitor (2001–06).
Professional officer, Community Practitioners’ and Health Visitors’ Association (2006–).
Salary guide (2017)
Health visitors – NHS pay band 6: £26,565–£35,577 (NHS Careers).
Essential subjects (2017)
For a nursing degree, usually biology or another science (NHS).