Thinking of becoming a nurse? Decide on which branch of nursing to study and apply for a nursing course. Within 2 or 3 years you could be looking for your first nursing job. About Matt Farrah - follow me on Google+

There are many people every year who decide that a career change is necessary, and lots of them consider nursing. Some realise it’s time to pursue the dream they never did earlier in life, others search for the fulfillment they’ve not found in their current job. Nursing is not just a career, it’s a way of life. Any nurse will tell you it’s a highly demanding but also incredibly rewarding career to have. It’s demanding, not just because of the physical nature of the job, but it’s also emotionally demanding as there’s rarely a patient you won’t connect with on some level. Some would argue that’s what makes a great nurse.

How can I become a nurse?

There are several different paths into nursing, most of which involve going to university to take a course in nursing. The majority of universities that offer nursing courses offer a different course for each branch. You could opt for the adult nurse course, or specialise as a mental health nurse or paediatric nurse. Child nurse courses often have the fewest places available, so competition can be particularly intense.

Adult Nursing: This is the course that most nurses take. It leaves you with more options when you become a qualified nurse looking for your first nursing job. Becoming an adult nurse doesn’t preclude you from working with children or patients with mental health problems later on in your career if you can find work in that area and build up your professional development portfolio.

At the time of writing there are two main types of adult nursing course, the degree and the diploma. The degree qualification is either a BSc (Hons) Adult Nursing or Bachelor of Nursing (BN) and both take three years to complete. The diploma can either be a DipHE Nursing (Adult), which is a two year qualification, or the 3 year DNM DipNurse course. All of the above nursing qualifications lead to registration with the NMC and enable you to work as a qualified staff nurse.

Mental Health Nursing: If you chose mental health nursing your qualification type will be as above, but the title will show your mental health speciality. When you're qualified you will be able to call yourself a Registered Mental Health Nurse RMN. It’s common that on any branch of degree course all first year student nurses study the same syllabus for part of the year and then move on to branch specific modules of study and different types of placement according to the branch. So in the area of mental health you may study acute mental health nursing care, recovery from mental health problems, or mental health nursing in the community.

Children’s Nursing: This is a highly sought after course, and there are considerably fewer places available than the previous two courses normally have. Again you can chose either the BN, BSC or DNM course for the three year option or the 2 year diploma. By specialising in children’s nursing, you will be given placements in areas relevant to your study that you might not otherwise get if you were on the adult nursing course. For example, neonatal ICU or paediatric orthopaedics. The range of child nurse jobs available to newly qualified nurses is currently small and you may find it difficult to get your first nurse job.

Learning Disability Nursing: or LD Nursing as it can often be shortened to, is also a branch of nursing you can train in specifically for a nursing job working with people with learning disabilities. These courses aren’t as widely available across the country as other branches of nursing, but it can open a wide variety of job opportunities. The branch specific modules of study available may include behaviour and diagnosis, person centered planning, and community nursing for learning disabilities. LD nurses work in all kinds of settings including in the community, on hospital wards and in residential care facilities.

How do I apply to become a student nurse?

You need to register with the UCAS website. This is how your application is sent to each of the universities you’re interested in, and also where you can track the progress of your application.

You should research each branch of nursing and get a clear idea of how your career could progress in order to decide which course to apply for. The admissions service at each university will be able to guide you through the requirements for entry. If you’ve not studied for some time, or don’t have the required qualifications in English or Maths they will be able to advise you on how to bring your knowledge up to the standard required for application. You may find you’re best off completing an access course, which will usually give you all the necessary points for your application to be considered.

Once you’ve established which branch you’re going to apply for, and arranged any extra study you might need you can go ahead and apply through the UCAS service to all the courses you’re interested in up to a maximum of 4. Make sure your application is submitted in the January before you want to start in the September of that year. The deadline for application to the 2011 entry is 15th January 2011.

How do I make my application the best it can be?

There is a key decision to make here, and it’s about how essential it is to you that you get a place on the intake you’re applying for. You can either make your first choice course the branch you really want, say LD nursing, and your other choices adult nursing to increase your chances of getting a place. Or you can apply for only LD courses in order to show the admissions officer that’s what you really want. By doing this you do risk not getting a place that intake if your application isn’t strong enough.

You should also write your personal statement with the same clear intention. You’re either committed to nursing, or one branch in particular. That’s a decision only you can make, but take the time to be certain because it can be tricky to change branches once you’ve enrolled. Check out our guide to writing a personal statement for a nursing course application for more information.

Always be honest when you’re giving details of your experience and in particular, your qualifications. It’s common that the university will request to see your certificates if you are invited to interview, so there’s no point trying to embellish anything! If you can’t find your certificates, you can save yourself a lot of time and stress by requesting copies of your certificates from the exam boards at the same time as you submit your application. They can take time to be sent to you so allowing as much time as possible will be a benefit.

How can I afford to quit my well paid job to study as a nurse?

This is the age old question, and one only you can answer. There is funding available from the NHS and the amount is entirely dependent on which course you choose and it is sometimes means tested. If you are choosing a degree course, the tuition fees are funded by the NHS and you may be eligible to apply for the means tested bursary. If you’re applying for a diploma course, you can currently get a non-means tested bursary but that may not be available for many more intakes in the future. All nursing courses will be degree level by 2013 as announced by ex- Minister for Health Ann Keen in November 2009, and it’s unclear at the moment exactly what the funding is that will be available.

There are obvious financial considerations to becoming a student nurse if you have commitments like a mortgage or a family to support. Any funding you do receive will undoubtedly be less than a full time salary. However, the starting salary for a newly qualified nurse is usually £21,176 and this has the potential to rise to £55-£70K if you reach the level of Nurse Practitioner or Matron in your career. The NHS pay scale can give you an idea of the progression required to reach this level.

Many people support themselves through training by taking on occasional bank work with NHS professionals as a healthcare assistant. This can provide extra income when you need it and not be a burden when you don’t. If you intend to support yourself with this kind of work in addition to your hours spent on placement and studying, you need to be sure you’re not making yourself unfit to practice by working too many hours.

Becoming a nurse is a very stressful time in your life and will require no less than 100% commitment. It’s a good idea to get the support of your family, relatives or friends to help with anything from childcare to transport to and from placements. The course will demand a massive amount of hard work both academically and physically, so be prepared to have to ask for help somewhere along the way. The majority of universities have student support readily available and this can be a vital resource for you. Good luck!