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Health & Social Care

Career insights: Become a Nurse


Nursing explained


Nursing is one of the most revered and respected professions all around the world. Nurses are trained and skilled professionals who care for the elderly and the ill, applying both traditional and cutting-edge techniques to heal and treat all kinds of maladies. Whether it is assisting in brain surgery or offering emotional support to a grieving family, nurses are a vital and valued part of any medical environment.

What is the role of a Nurse?

Nurses help and care for people of all ages when they are battling an illness or are injured. They provide necessary support and assistance to doctors and other medical personnel, take samples and run tests, and carry out minor surgical procedures. You will find different kinds of specialist nurses in all different areas of the medical industry.

Some of the many different areas you can specialise in as a nurse include:

  • Adult Nursing - Caring for adults between 18 and 65 years of age.
  • Paediatric Nursing - Caring for children under the age of 18.
  • Geriatric Nursing - Caring for the elderly with a specialisation in their unique needs.
  • Mental Health Nursing - Helping and caring for individuals with mental health problems.
  • District Nursing - Nurses that travel around a set area and provide care for a variety of local patients.
  • Learning Disability Nursing - Helping and caring for people of all ages who have learning disabilities.

What Are The Different Types Of Nurses?

    • Registered Nurse

RNs are leaders, clinicians and carers, and they are often afforded a great deal of responsibility over the care they provide. They run nurse-led clinics, do research, and take on leadership roles at executive levels in surgeries and hospitals. It is possible to develop your career in clinical, research, education and management roles. You will find RNs in GP surgeries, nursing and residential homes, clinics, occupational health services, the pharmaceutical industry, voluntary organisations, and providing care in the military.

    • Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

LPNs are the next level down the ladder from RNs. While they provide the same level of meaningful and diligent care, they are supervised by RNs and do more of the basic, hands-on nursing work. This includes assisting doctors and RNs, providing patients with routine care, observing patients' health, and communicating with patients and families.

    • Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

CNAs are well-trained nursing assistants that assist doctors, RNs and LPNs. They are sometimes called nurse’s aides, and they work as orderlies, patient care technicians, and home health aides.

    • Occupational Health Care

Occupational health nurses are RNs who have chosen to undertake additional training and qualifications and are recognised as specialist community public health nurses (SCPHN - OHN). They help people in the community and promote health and wellbeing, while also working to prevent illness.

    • Public Health Care

Public health nurses are qualified RNs who have undertaken further training, and now specialise in specific areas, including health protection or sexual health.

Read more on Alternative Careers for Nurses.

Can You Become A Nurse Without A Degree?

While there are many routes to becoming a nurse, you will need a degree to become fully qualified. That said, you can start this process with an apprenticeship, or get a head start by taking online healthcare courses. What you learn in these online courses will prepare you for your career in nursing and help you to ensure that this career is right for you.

Can You Apply For A Nursing Apprenticeship?

There are a small number of nursing degree apprenticeships that have been developed and are now available in the UK. These apprenticeships allow individuals a more flexible route on their way to becoming a nurse. You do not have to study full-time at a university, but you will still need to do a certain amount of academic study at degree level (this amount will vary based on your past study).

For those who are employed by the NHS as a senior healthcare assistant or assistant practitioner, you might receive support to do this university course on a part-time basis. Speak to your HR department to find out if this apprenticeship programme will work for you.

Remember, if you complete a nursing associate apprenticeship it will count towards a registered nursing degree.

What Skills Do You Need To Become A Nurse?

The first thing you must have in order to become a nurse is a true desire to help people on their journey to health and wellness. You must also have a lot of patience, and not be afraid to get your hands dirty.

Some other important key skills include:

  • Excellent communication skills
  • The ability and desire to build trusting relationships with patients and their families
  • A friendly demeanour and a good sense of humour
  • A sense of compassion and discretion
  • The ability to keep calm under pressure
  • Problem solving skills in a variety of stressful situations

What Qualifications Do You Need To Be A Nurse?

If you want to become a nurse in the UK, you will need a relevant nursing degree. Before you get started in your schooling (which may or may not include an apprenticeship) you will also need to pass a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check.

Before you can start a nursing degree, you need 5 GCSEs (9-4, or A*-C) that include English, science and maths. You also need at least two A levels, one of which must be in a science or health-related subject. In some cases, a level 3 vocational course in science, health and social care can be accepted instead – you need to check with the specific university you are interested in attending.

If you would like to advance your career and become a unit manager or clinical specialist, it is expected that you will have a Masters degree or equivalent.

How Much Do Nurses Get Paid?

The amount nurses get paid depends on whether they work in the public or the private sector.

    • NHS

If you work in the NHS as a newly qualified nurse, you will likely start at around £11.35 an hour (which amounts to £22,128 per annum). This is known as a Band 5. You can work your way up the pay scale, as your salary will increase in annual increments, in addition to the pay rise allocated by the government (this is presently set at 1% a year). You are entitled to enhanced pay (between 30% to 60% above the hourly paid rate), and you will pay a sizable chunk of your wages towards your pension.

    • Private Sector

In the private sector, your wage is likely to be higher right off the bat and is usually in line with the enhanced pay rates offered by the NHS. That said, they may not offer any enhanced rates for working after hours or on weekends. Do note that this will be up to your individual employer. You will likely only be entitled to a basic private employment pension.

See courses related to this career

How to become a Nurse


Now that you have decided to embark on a career as nurse, you can begin to take steps to achieve this goal. Follow these six steps, each designed to help you head in the right direction and gain the qualifications and training that you need. Start working on these steps and you will achieve your dream of working in the nursing profession.

  1. Begin by assessing if a career in nursing is right for you. This is a truly rewarding and fulfilling career, but it is not ideal for everybody. You must have a desire to help people without judgement, endless patience, and good ‘people’ skills. Does this sound like you?
  2. Do you have the education necessary to get started in a degree programme or apprenticeship programme? You will need 5 GCSEs (A-C), and these must include English, science and maths. You also need at least two A levels, one of which must be in a science or health-related subject. If you do not have these GCSEs or A Levels, you must commit to acquiring them.
  3. Are there any specialisations you are most interested in, or specific groups of people that you would like to work with? You might have your heart set on being a nurse practitioner, or a public health nurse, or perhaps you want to work with disabled children, terminally ill patients, or special needs adults. Will you need additional training, schooling or qualifications to do so?
  4. Start approaching the universities that offer the nursing course that you need. Find out about their specific requirements and enrol in the courses that will help you on your path to becoming a nurse.
  5. Once you have achieved the qualifications that you need to be a nurse in the field of your choice, it is time to find a job. You will need to decide whether you want to work with the NHS, or for the private sector. Once you have made this choice, you can start to apply for vacancies in the field.
  6. Build a strong reputation with both your colleagues and patients so that you can become a leader in your field. Obtain letters of recommendation and referrals when possible and continue to apply for promotions and career advancements.

How To Get A Job In Nursing?


You might be surprised to find out that nursing is the most employable degree in the UK! More than 94% of students who complete their nursing degree will land a job in their field within 6 months of completing their studies. So, while starting out on the career path to becoming a nurse may seem long and daunting, it is worth it. You will be in hot demand by the NHS and the private sector – do not be surprised if you are approached by recruiters before you even finish your degree.

Are There Any Unions For Nurses?


The Royal College of Nursing is the world’s largest nursing trade union and professional body. They represent 435,000 nurses, midwives, Healthcare Assistants (HCAs), Assistant Practitioners (APs), Trainee Nursing Associates (TNAs) and student nurses. You can join the RCN when you begin your nursing degree.



As one of the most cherished and revered professions on the planet, nurses are truly valued professionals in the medical industry. This is a career that will enable you to help people, earn a good living, and enjoy the respect of those in the community.