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  • 22 November 2023
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Registered Adult Nurse / RGN - Complete Career Guide

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This article was originally posted in 2020. We have updated it in November 2023 to reflect the latest stats in regards to pay, nursing numbers and vacancy rates.

If you’re one of the UK's 587,885 Adult Nurses & looking to develop your career this page provides a great first step. (Experienced AND newly qualified Nurses.)

Topics covered in this guide:

What Challenges Face Adult Nurses As We Head Into A New Decade?

What Does A Registered Nurse Do?

How Much Do RGNs Get Paid?

What To Know If You're Returning To Nursing

What Are The Types Of Jobs Available In Adult Nursing?

Our Complete Guide To Nursing Interviews

Browse Our Adult Nurse Jobs By Specialism / Phrase

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What Challenges Face Adult Nurses?

In terms of challenges facing Adult Nurses in the future, it’s difficult to know where to start. The phrase ‘perfect storm’ is being overused to describe the NHS, but it does accurately sum up the situation.

The fundamental challenge is a combination of two factors: increasing patient demand and decreasing nursing numbers.

There are almost 47,000 nursing vacancies in the UK – a figure that’s grown consistently in recent years; conversely, the number of people visiting A&E in 2022-2023 was 25.3 million - nearly a 20% increase on a decade before.

These are two statistics plucked from a host of others, and they all paint the same picture. The removal of the bursary for aspiring Adult Nurses had a negative impact – especially among mature students, with a 40% drop in applications since June 2016.

The bursary was reintroduced in September 2020, but it isn’t quite as generous. It remains to be seen whether this will help student numbers to recover. Meanwhile, Brexit has had a complex but undeniable impact, with the NMC stating that the number of European nurses who’ve left the UK has doubled since 2016.

However, the specific nature of Adult Nursing work is changing too, as a result of these factors. For example, patient demand isn’t just increasing in terms of total numbers, but in terms of length of stay and complexity of treatment.

That’s because our population is ageing, and to put it simply, care for older people requires far more nurses. Care for a 65- year old costs the NHS 2.5 times more than for a 30-year old, and they’re far more likely to suffer from chronic illnesses like diabetes and dementia that require long-term nursing support.

Aside from the headline concerns for Adult Nurses, a huge array of changes are afoot. Annual pay increases attract fierce debate every year, as well as lengthy protests. In both 2022 and 2023, final agreements came late, and still failed to satisfy many of the major healthcare unions. 

None of this considers the impact that policy and technology could have over the next decade. NHS funding has increased by an average of 3.6% every year since the 1950s. However, since 2010, the average increase has only been 2.4%. That decrease is significant, given that pressures on the NHS have grown exponentially.

Huge strides are being made, particularly in terms of preventative medical tech. Artificial Intelligence should transform the speed and accuracy of diagnoses; augmented reality and robotics could profoundly alter surgical practice; and genomic science is already changing our understanding of hereditary disease.

And this barely scratches the surface – perhaps most significantly, the digital revolution will change the day to day working practices of Nurses. All in all, the next decade will bring some of the biggest changes nursing has ever seen.

With question marks surrounding recruitment, retention, government policy, pay, the role of technology and more, all we can be certain of is that Adult Nurses will have much to adapt to.

What does a registered nurse do?

What Does A Registered Nurse Do?

Job descriptions and university profiles are rarely able to truly capture what Registered Nurses do. Sure, they’ll list the key responsibilities along with the required experience and qualifications, but the reality for Staff Nurses is far more complex.

Take your care setting, for example. As a district Nurse or health visitor, you may spend much of your working life in patient’s homes, administering vital care for those unable to visit their GP.

Meanwhile, as an Adult Nurse in a hospital ward, on any given day you could be carrying out blood tests, administering drugs, discharging patients, making referrals, writing care plans and much more besides.

But perhaps more than anything, the state of the UK’s healthcare workforce has to be taken into account. After all, there are nearly 47,000 nursing vacancies in the UK – and that vacancy rate is growing.

It would be foolish to ignore how this shortfall might affect the working lives of RGNs in the near future. To give aspiring and student Nurses an unfiltered view on what Registered Nurses do on a daily basis, our resident Nurse Ruth Underdown has written a warts-and-all long-read piece that offers an insider’s perspective.

Ruth’s many years of experience in a huge range of care settings means she leaves no stone left unturned…

Read the blog post.

Adult nurses make up 80% of all NMC Registered Nurses
How much do Registered Nurses get paid?

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How Much Do RGNs Get Paid?

As a rough guide, Newly qualified Registered Nurses earn a starting salary of £28,407, while experienced Band 6 Nurses with up to 5 years' experience can expect a salary of £37,350 a year.

However, pay for Nurses is a constantly evolving subject.

Between 2010 and 2015, average NHS Nursing salaries increased by just over 2%. Then between 2015 and 2017, a fixed 1% pay rise was implemented – the well-known ‘pay cap’.

Registered Nurses have unfortunately been at the sharp-end of post-recession austerity. However, better news came in 2018 – in the shape of the so-called ‘New Pay Deal’.

Pay increases of between 6.5% and 29% were on offer for Nurses between 2018/19 and 2021. Then in July 2021, a 3% pay increase was announced for NHS Nurses – and a similar increase was confirmed a year later.

Most recently, in May 2023, Nurses were awarded a 5% pay increase. You can check exactly what Nurses earn at each banding using our handy Pay Calculator.

These headline changes only tell part of the story though. For many soon-to-be qualified Nurses, the question of whether to work privately or publicly is significant.

And while Staff Nurses enjoy the much-heralded NHS benefits package, they’re also forever looking over their shoulder at the Agency Nurses who appear to be earning a fortune.

As our detailed Nursing salary guide shows, Nursing pay is a complicated subject that warrants careful attention from anyone in the profession. From Agency pay to tips on maximising your earnings, our guide arms you with everything you need to be make better career decisions.

What To Know If You're Returning To Nursing

In 2019 nursing applications grew by 6.7% (in 2018 they had dropped on the previous year by 13%). Following COVID-19, they reached record highs in 2021 and 2022, although this has been followed by a drop of 16% in 2023.

However, if you were previously working and paused to start a family (or any other reason) there’s not been a better time to consider re-starting your career in nursing.

94% of Nursing graduates get a job within six months of finishing their studies, making it the UK’s most employable degree. Meanwhile, with 1 in every 11 Nursing posts in the UK currently vacant, opportunities are abundant - and in need of experienced staff, not just Newly Qualified Nurses.

The biggest age demographic of UK Registered Nurses is the 21-40 age group with 336,396 registered professionals. 41-55 age group has 285,199 nurses and those over 56 number 167,002. The number of Registered Nurses working in potential retirement age grew in the last year by 3.7%

So, if you are considering returning to Nursing after a career break, in many ways your timing couldn’t be better. And as you know, few other professions offer this level of job security, or this amount of choice.

Check out the articles below which will help to answer the questions you have as you get ready to jump back into your career as a Registered Nurse.

How To Return To Professional Nursing Or Midwifery Practice After A Career Break

Thinking About A Different Nursing Pathway?

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What Are The Types Of Jobs Available In Adult Nursing?

Adult Nursing offers the broadest range of nursing roles available across the NHS and private institutions.

Here’s a brief guide to some of the most common – followed by a number of articles written by our own nursing network, which explore specific roles in far more detail.

Acute Settings Nurse

Acute care falls under secondary care - the stage after primary care (when a patient makes first contact with medical professionals). Acute care involves the treatment of patients with short term but serious conditions - and might take place in settings like Accident & Emergency, Intensive Care and Neonatal Care.

As within other settings, Nurses here typically provide assessments, monitor patients, administer medication and develop ongoing care plans.

A&E Nurse

A&E Nurses are probably the most common and well-known nursing roles. They work in emergency departments in hospitals and are typically the first point of contact for patients.

It’s a high pressure job that involves everything from initial assessments through to early treatment plans. Broadly, this role is all about making patients feel comfortable after the initial shock of their ailment. Unsurprisingly, A&E Nurses are currently in high demand.

Theatre Nurse

Theatre Nurses or Surgical Nurses offer support to patients and surgeons during perioperative care. Perioperative care may involve anesthetics, surgery and recovery.

Therefore, responsibilities typically include everything from supporting an anesthetist, preparing and managing surgical instruments and equipment, and supporting the patient through the recovery phase.

Intensive Care Nurse

An Intensive Care Nurse or ICU Nurse provides care to critically ill patients. You could work in a variety of settings, but the most common are Intensive Care Units, Surgical Intensive Care Units or Trauma Intensive Care Units.

Within these settings, you’ll likely support far fewer patients than on a general ward, because of the seriousness and complexity of the conditions. Needless to say, it can be a very rewarding but emotionally demanding job.

Nursing Home Nurse

Nursing Home Nurses are typically responsible for patient’s health and medical histories. They will therefore perform similar duties to those on a ward, including administering medication, monitoring blood pressure and sugar levels, and consulting with doctors.

Palliative Care Nurse

Palliative Care Nurses can work in a variety of settings, and it generally involves supporting the terminally ill. Therefore, the focus is on pain relief and comfort.

Palliative care nurses must strike a balance between relieving pain and not over-sedating patients, and work closely with friends and family of patients to provide emotional support.

Practice Nurse

A Practice Nurse or General Practice Nurse works at GP surgeries as part of a primary care team that could also include pharmacists or dieticians. Depending on the size of a practice, you could work alone or with a large team of Nurses.

You could be involved in everything from taking blood samples and providing vaccinations to health screening and dealing with minor wounds.

District Nurse

District Nurses also play a key role in primary care teams. They visit people in their own homes or care homes, assessing healthcare plans and monitoring the quality of care.

Patients can be any age but will typically be elderly. As well as directly delivering care, a large part of the role includes teaching patients how to manage their own plans and improve their own health.

It’s a very different role to an on-ward nurse and is a great example of the variety of career options on offer for qualified Nurses.

Cosmetic Nurse

Cosmetic Nurses inevitably tend to work outside the public sector. Much like a Theatre Nurse, you’ll be supporting surgery – so providing clinical support, preparing and managing instruments and equipment, and supporting anesthetists and doctors.

Many Cosmetic Nurses move across from the NHS, attracted to a private sector role that can offer certain benefits and freedoms. Typically, the nature of this type of nursing is fundamentally different; after all, you’re largely dealing with people who choose to be here.

Research Nurse

Research Nurses help to conduct scientific research into various aspects of healthcare. Research Nurses therefore often work in a variety of settings, including medical research organisations, pharmaceutical laboratories, hospitals and universities.

Research Nurses do a wide variety of tasks, from planning and securing funding for studies to implementing research and analysing data.

Nurse Assessor

A Nurse Assessor typically provides an impartial assessment of people with disabilities or specific healthcare needs. Nurse Assessors then work closely with a range of medical and local government professionals to put together a healthcare plan, which is often structured around the patient’s home.

Oncology Nurse

An Oncology Nurse cares for and supports patients with cancer. Oncology Nurses work in a variety of care settings and typically as part of a multi-disciplinary team.

Their responsibilities include treatment assessments, support through chemotherapy, and coordinating various aspects of cancer treatments. Oncology Nurses therefore require highly specialised knowledge, as they’ll need to understand pathology results and all the potential side effects of cancer treatments.

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Our Complete Guide To Nursing Interviews

94% Nursing graduates who find a job in 6 months

Whether you’re gearing up for your first ever Nursing interview, or you’re an old hand when it comes to facing the panel, getting the job is never simple.

However, as a qualified Nurse, getting the interview should become increasingly straightforward; with more than 26,000 Nurses leaving their posts between March 2022 and March 2023, you're in high demand.

Nailing your interview is partly about getting the basics right. A Nursing interview, like any other, is about being professional. That means being punctual, smart, alert – and ultimately, charming.

You won’t get the job simply by arriving on time with a smile on your face – but you could definitely miss out if you don’t. However, Nursing interviews are nuanced too.

Understanding the organisation you’re interviewing with is vital. Their values will mean everything to them, so you need to be familiar with them, as well as their long-term challenges.

You’ll need to be up to speed on the biggest issues facing UK healthcare too, as well as the kind of scenarios you may well get tested on. In some industries blagging may well get you over the line, but Nursing isn’t one of them.

Our comprehensive Nursing interview guide takes you through the basics, the finer details, and a huge range of typical interview questions – getting you in perfect shape for the big day.

Our complete guide to Nursing interviews

Browse Our Adult Nurse Jobs By Role and Band

Adult Nurses get called a number of things! General Nurse, RGN, Adult Nurse, RN, Staff Nurse, Registered Nurse. Below are some of the jobs areas that will include jobs for Adult Nurses on this site.

Band 5 Nurse

Band 6 Nurse

Band 7 Nurse

Charge Nurse

Clinical Lead

Clinical Nurse Specialist

Cosmetic Nurse

Nurse Practitioner

Registered Nurse

Nursing Home Nurse

Practice Nurse

Prison Nurse


School Nurse

Senior Nurse

Staff Nurse

Theatre Nurse

Adult Nurse

Registered General Nurse

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About the author

I believe people working in healthcare should be able to choose to enjoy work. That is, choose an employer who reflects their values and provides them with a sustainable career. This leads to better patient care, higher retention rates and happier working lives in this most important employment sector.

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