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Becoming a nurse

Would a career in nursing be suitable for me?

Nurses look after people with health problems. They help doctors with medical treatments, and make sure patients are comfortable and safe. This means that nurses need to be caring and have great communication skills, as well as a good knowledge of health and a high standard of hygiene.

Some nursing roles – often known as auxiliary nurses or healthcare assistants – require no formal qualifications. However, to become a fully qualified nurse you must study a pre-registration course before registering with the Nurses and Midwifery Council. You can search for approved pre-registration courses on the NHS website.

Course entry requirements

Entry to a nursing degree requires a minimum of 5 GCSEs and 2 A-levels, although each institution has different requirements. Other qualifications such as an NVQ, BTEC or HND in nursing or health and social care may also be accepted. Studying an apprenticeship in health or social care is another way of working up to a pre-registration course.

People who already have a degree in a related subject such as biology or psychology can apply for an Accelerated Graduate Programme.

Since 2013, all pre-registration courses are at degree level.

About the course

Most nursing courses last for three or four years, although the Accelerated Graduate Programme normally takes two. The course is split 50/50 between theory, studied in the classroom, and practical work placements in hospitals and clinics.

The first part of the course is taken up by the CFP (Common Foundation Programme), which teaches things like interpersonal skills and how to deal with people in distress. You will then specialise in one of the following areas:

  • Adult
  • Paediatrics (children)
  • Mental Health
  • Learning disabilities

Most institutions will expect you to decide on your specialism before you start your course.

After passing your course you will receive an academic and a professional qualification. You can then register with the NMC to become a fully-qualified nurse.

Student on an NHS-approved course can apply for an NHS Bursary for financial support.

Working conditions and career prospects

Nurses work in a wide variety of different places, such as hospitals, care homes and GP surgeries. They may also work out in the community in schools, or visiting patients at home as public health visitors.

The job can be very pressured, and nurses often have to work long shifts and unsociable hours. A newly-qualified nurse can expect to earn around £21,000, which could increase to around £32,000 if they become a team manager, and even higher if they become a nursing consultant.

Nurses must remain registered with the NMC throughout their career, which means keeping up to date with the NMC’s PREP programme for CPD (Continuing Professional Development). The NMC and NHS also offer other training programmes and qualifications for registered nurses to gain new skills.

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