If you are wondering how to become a nurse, below are tips and advice on training for and beginning careers within the medical and nursing profession, as well as job prospects in the UK.

    The Job Description
    Adult nurses assess, plan and implement the care of patients aged 16 and over who are ill, injured or who have physical disabilities. They observe and evaluate patients’ progress, adapting the care plan if necessary in consultation with doctors. They may also provide counselling to patients and their relatives.

    As an adult nurse, you would provide practical care which could include:

    checking temperatures
    measuring blood pressure and respiration rates
    helping doctors with physical examinations
    giving drugs and injections
    cleaning and dressing wounds
    administering blood transfusions and drips
    using hi-tech medical equipment.
    You could specialise in an area such as accident and emergency, cardiac rehabilitation, outpatients, neonatal nursing, and operating theatre work. As well as hospitals, you could also work in the community, in walk-in health centres, clinics or prisons.

    As a qualified and experienced nurse, you could work as practice nurse in a doctor’s surgery. Your duties would include:

    treating minor injuries
    taking blood samples
    assisting in minor operations done under local anaesthetic
    health screening
    family planning
    running diabetic and asthma clinics
    assisting in minor operations carried out under local anaesthetic
    helping patients give up smoking or lose weight.
    You would work as part of a team including doctors, physiotherapists and occupational therapists.

    Person Specification
    The key personal attributes of good nurses include:

    the ability to relate well to people of all ages and backgrounds
    effective communication skills
    a genuine desire to help people
    good team-working skills and the ability to work on your own initiative
    physical and mental stamina
    a mature, compassionate and sensitive manner
    good practical skills and an interest in science
    patience and the ability to inspire confidence and trust
    the ability to remain calm under pressure
    good time management skills
    a flexible approach to work.

    How to become a nurse
    To qualify as a registered nurse you need to complete a Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) approved degree or Diploma of Higher Education in Nursing, specialising in the adult branch.

    To get onto an approved course you need to meet some general requirements set by the NMC. These include:

    providing evidence of your literacy and numeracy, good health and good character, and recent successful study experience
    meeting the minimum age requirement for nurse training – 17.5 years old in England
    agreeing to have a criminal records bureau check (a criminal conviction does not automatically exclude you from working within the NHS).
    Course providers can set their own academic entry requirements, which can include:

    nursing diploma – five GCSEs (A-C) preferably in English, maths and/or a science-based subject
    nursing degree – usually the same GCSE grades as the diploma, plus two or three A levels, possibly including a biological science.
    If you do not meet the course entry requirements listed please check with universities because alternatives such as an Access to Higher Education course, may be accepted.

    Some institutions offer an NMC approved Advanced Diploma in Nursing. This qualification and the entry requirements for it lie between diploma and degree level.

    You should apply for a nursing course (diploma or degree) through UCAS, in Further Information. The Nursing and Midwifery Admissions Service (NMAS) is no longer processing diploma course applications.

    Alternative entry routes:
    Cadet scheme – if you are 16-19 years old you can prepare for a career in nursing by doing a two-year Cadet Scheme. The scheme includes clinical placements and working towards a qualification such as an NVQ Level 3 in Health, or Health and Social Care. Entry criteria can vary, so it is important to contact your local hospital trust or NHS Careers (in Further Information) for details.

    Working in a caring role – if you are a healthcare assistant you could work towards NVQ Level 3 in Health. With some NHS Trusts, this may allow you to apply for a secondment to nurse training. On secondment, you would continue to receive a salary whilst studying. After qualifying as a nurse, a trust may expect you to work with them for around two years.

    Accelerated postgraduate courses – as a registered nurse in an alternative branch, or a graduate with a first degree in a health-related subject, you may be able to qualify by taking a fast-track two-year postgraduate course. Check with individual institutions for entry details.

    Overseas trained nurse – if you are a nurse who trained overseas (outside the UK and EEA) you may need to complete the NMC approved Overseas Nurses Programme (ONP) in order to begin professional practice in the UK.

    Training and Development
    During nurse training you will divide your time between university or college, and supervised placements in local hospitals and the community. Courses usually take three years of full-time study (four years in Scotland).

    The first year of an approved nursing course follows the Common Foundation Programme. This will include:

    an introduction to the four branches of nursing and maternity care
    developing observational, communication and caring skills
    studying anatomy, physiology, psychology, sociology, social policy
    learning core practical skills.
    During the remaining two years of training, you specialise in the branch of adult nursing and work in relevant clinical placements.

    Funding – nursing diploma and degree courses attract a non-repayable bursary to cover living expenses. Bursaries for a diploma (or Advanced Diploma) are non-means tested; bursaries for a nursing degree are means-tested, and course fees are also usually paid. Check NHS Careers website for details.

    Professional registration – as a qualified nurse you must renew your professional registration with the NMC every three years. To re-register you need to complete a minimum of five days’ (35 hours) relevant study in each renewal period. Check the NMC website for more information.

    Practice nurse – to work as a practice nurse in a doctor’s surgery you will usually need to complete (in addition to a nursing degree or diploma), a one-year full-time or two-year part-time specialist practitioner programme, specialising in practice nursing.

    Return-to-practice – if you are a former registered nurse wishing to return to the profession, you can take a return-to-practice course. Courses are available throughout the UK; contact NHS Careers for details.

    The Pay (a rough guide)
    Starting salaries in the NHS can be between £19,200 and £24,800 a year.
    Nurse specialists can earn up to £31,000.
    Team managers can earn £36,500.
    Nurse consultants can earn between £35,000 and £61,000.

    Job Prospects
    You will find most job opportunities within the NHS, however, you could also work with private hospitals and nursing homes, schools and colleges, HM Forces, the prison service and in industry.

    As a qualified and experienced registered nurse, you may be able to progress to sister, ward manager or team leader. You would be responsible for efficiently running a ward (or team of nurses in the community) and overseeing the quality of care provided. You could go on to other management roles, such as a matron or director of nursing.

    Another way to progress is to pursue a clinical specialism, seek promotion as a nurse practitioner and work towards becoming a nurse consultant. As a consultant, you would work directly and independently with patients, carry out research in your area of interest and develop and deliver training. You would usually need a Masters degree or PhD for a consultant post.

    As an adult nurse, you could go on to train as a midwife, district nurse or health visitor (check the relevant job profiles for details). There are also opportunities for self-employment, working with nursing agencies, and practising general nursing anywhere in the European Community.

    Useful medicine and nursing resources:
    Nursing and Midwifery Admissions Service (NMAS)
    New Barn Lane
    GL52 3LZ
    Tel: 0870 112 2206 for general enquiries
    Tel: 0870 112 2200 for application packs

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