The Complete Guide To Becoming A Nurse

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Find out exactly how you can become a nurse. We cover the whole pre-nursing journey - from thinking about a career in nursing to finally becoming a newly qualified nurse looking for your first job.

Why do people choose Nursing as a career?

As of June 2022 there were 704,520 registered nurses in the UK. A Nursing degree is widely considered to be one of the most employable in the UK – 94% of graduates find jobs within six months of finishing their degree.

That gives you some idea of just how popular Nursing is as a profession. And while the concept of a ‘job for life’ might be dwindling slightly in the 21st Century, unprecedented patient demand means that a Nursing career offers the kind of security and purpose few others could match.

But there's more to Nursing than job security.

It's a highly unusual vocation in that you will spend your working life treating, caring and listening to other humans that you don't know to help them improve their lives.

Yes, every Nurse we have ever spoken to also talks about the daily challenges and often thankless nature of their job. But most simply knew they wanted to be a Nurse without really thinking about it and can’t imagine doing anything else.

What personal skills do you need to be a Nurse?

As of 2008, to become a Nurse you unquestionably need a Nursing degree. But being a good Nurse, and deciding if it’s the right career for you, is about much more than a qualification.

Nurses, lecturers and experts all widely agree on a few, essential characteristics that it takes to excel in the profession: Care and compassion. Fundamentally, you have to be someone motivated by compassion; someone who gets huge satisfaction from caring for other people. Any decent person cares about other people, but for Nurses, caring defines everything you do, every day.


Put simply, there are far easier careers than Nursing. Nursing is a daily test of your character, patience and resilience. It regularly throws up challenges you may not have prepared for, and for obvious reasons it can be very demanding on an emotional level. But of course, that’s also why it can be such a uniquely rewarding career for the right person.

Communication skills

Essentially, Nurses are highly skilled problem solvers. And your ability to solve problems hinges on your speaking and listening skills. You will deal with a huge variety of patients in a wide variety of circumstances. And being able to successfully understand and remedy their problems all comes down to effective communication.


A Nursing career demands flexibility in every sense. Nursing is rarely a 9-5 job, nor is it a job that presents a consistent routine. Daily, your hours, responsibilities and workload could shift. You’ll not only have to be good at multi-tasking – you’ll have to thrive on it.

The 6Cs

As an aspiring Nurse or midwife, it’s worth also noting the NHS’ ‘6Cs’ – which are the values that provide a framework for all Nurses. These are care, compassion, competence, communication, courage and commitment.

Nurses share their experience for anyone considering a career in Nursing

We went out there and asked Nurses and Student Nurses what information, advice, opinion and thoughts they would share with anyone who might be considering a career as a Nurse.

Here’s what they sent back!

Why a Nursing degree holds more value than ever

Why a Nursing degree holds more value than ever

A Nursing degree is your official ticket to becoming a Nurse. But that doesn’t begin to explain why a Nursing degree is such a valuable asset for the entirety of your working life.

Firstly and foremostly, a Nursing degree is today recognised as one of the UK’s most employable. A huge 94% of Nursing graduates find employment within the first six months of finishing their degree. If you’re looking for a degree that guarantees a stable job, then look no further.

Furthermore, should life take you elsewhere, Nursing is one of the least rigid career options you could choose. As a qualified Nurse, you’ll find work anywhere in the UK. And if you need or want to move abroad, a UK Nursing qualification is transferable in almost every country. A Nursing degree is your passport to the world.

Flexibility is also a huge advantage for Nursing graduates. Whether you want to work full-time or part-time, for the NHS or privately, at a huge hospital or a small community practice, your degree gives you everything need. And because of the abundance of agency and bank work, you can easily decrease your hours or earn more money in a flash. The vast majority of careers seem very rigid in comparison.

There are dozens of other reasons why a Nursing degree is such a sound choice for aspiring students, but finally it’s worth spelling out perhaps the most important: as a Nurse, you’ll make a difference. How many people can truly say that about their job? Advice

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Written by our community of nurses & expert healthcare workers.


Top nursing universities UK

We’ve researched every University offering Nursing and Midwifery degrees and set it out in one, single, VERY useful document for you!

This A-Z of nursing courses includes all universities and higher education institutions in every corner of the UK that offer nursing degree courses. Each entry details which field of nursing practice the institution teaches.

The majority of nursing degree courses will last three years, but some will last four. It’s best to check on the relevant course provider’s website – which we also link to for your convenience!

You’re welcome!

Top nursing universities UK

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What are the entry requirements for studying a Nursing Degree?

Broadly, a Nursing degree requires five GCSEs at Grade C or above (often including English and a Science subject) and two A-levels or equivalent Level 3 qualifications.

Level 3 qualifications may include:

  • - Scottish Highers/Advanced Highers
  • - Pearson BTEC Level 3 Diploma qualifications
  • - OCR Cambridge Technicals
  • - International Baccalaureate (IB)
  • - Access courses, e.g. Access to Nursing

In some cases, you may be able to combine academic and vocational qualifications (like an A-Level with a BTEC). However, it’s important to remember that all Universities set their own criteria for Nursing.


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What are Nursing apprenticeships?

What are Nursing apprenticeships?

From September 2017, the government announced the launch of an official Nursing apprenticeship.

Like any other apprenticeship, this means that apprentices apply to employers directly, who advertise vacancies. Nursing apprentices then work part-time on a variety of placements, and are released on a part-time basis to study in a higher education institution.

Choosing this route to become a qualified Nurse will take four years, rather than three. For more information on Nursing apprenticeships, head here.

But whatever route you choose, it’s worth noting that all degrees include work placements every term.

These placements will occur in various care settings, intended to give you some real-life experience of Nursing.

The length and timing of each will vary, depending on where you study – but practical work will always form around 50% of your studies. And that is one of the reasons Nursing remains a popular degree; it’s nice to get out of the classroom sometimes!

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How to successfully apply for a Nursing and Midwifery course

Who better to ask than Student Nurses, since they are the ones who have, obviously, been successful at applying!

Over to them and our other experts!

What are the four branches of Nursing that I can choose from?

Your first big decision to make is which field of practice in Nursing you want to pursue. Essentially, there are four fields of Nursing practice to choose from: Adult Nursing, Mental Health Nursing, Children's Nursing and Learning Disability Nursing.

While some Universities offer ‘dual field’ degrees, it makes sense to focus on one area.

Many Universities that offer Nursing courses will offer all of these options – but some will only offer one or two. So when you come to deciding what and where to study, be sure to check carefully. Our Nursing degree directory, which lists all the Universities that offer Nursing degrees, is a great place to start.

How Many Nurses Work In The UK?

704,520 = Nurses in the UK registered with the NMC
321,655 = Nurses and Midwives work in the NHS
89% = Number of Nurses who identify as female

Total number of Nurses by field of practice:

567,291 = Adult Nurses
92,780 = Mental Health Nurses
55,062 = Childrens Nurses
17,179 = Learning Disability Nurses
16,953 = Nursing Associates

(Numbers of nurses are those registered with the NMC, according to figures in March 2022. Note, a nurse can be registered to more than one branch.)

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What is it like to be a Student Nurse?

Student Nurses say that it is not like being a student of another degree course. For a start, you really do need to attend every lecture! Lectures are packed with up to 200 students in one room.

There is a lot of physiological information to learn, and a lot of practical hands-on experience to develop.

Within the University you’ll learn the practical elements in simulation labs, created to look as much like a hospital as possible. In these you’ll learn about giving injections, monitoring obs, moving patients.

And of course, you’ll go on placement. This is where you learn in an actual environment. And you’ll work in a wide variety of patient settings. You’ll be supervised on these and you’ll come away with a Practice Assessment Document which will have been completed by you and your mentor.

There’s a lot more to it of course. Our Student Nurse YouTubers have kindly posted a number of vlogs about their first-hand experiences as Student Nurses and Student Midwives.

Watch these videos here on to find out exactly what it’s like to study Nursing from those who’ve done it! Advice

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Written by our community of nurses & expert healthcare workers.


How do Student Nurses fund and pay for their degree course?

Having been controversially removed in 2016, NHS bursaries were reintroduced from September 2020. However, the amount offered isn’t quite as generous as before.

All student Nurses now get a £5000 a year maintenance grant, and those working in an area suffering major shortages receive a further £3000.

Formerly, the bursary included a minimum of £10,000 in funding, with more than £5000 in further funding available depending on your financial circumstances and where you studied.

As a result, student Nurses will still need to access further funding in many cases.

Student loans are available through the Student Loans Company, and funding for things like childcare and travel expenses can be accessed through the Learning Support Fund.

It’s also very common for Nurses to register for bank healthcare assistant roles  (we have Healthcare Assistant jobs on our sister site, These positions are inevitably very relevant to your studies, and the flexibility is a big asset with an already busy schedule.

Finally, don’t forget that Nursing apprenticeships do offer an alternative route into Nursing, where available – and a route that will offer some guaranteed income.

Student Nurse survival: video tips to help with Nursing exams, revision and placements

Wondering about how to prepare for your Nursing exams, or in need of Nursing placement tips? Here are some really handy videos with tips and hacks for Student Nurses.

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What are the career options for a Newly Qualified Nurse?

The majority of qualified Nurses take up permanent positions within the NHS related to their field of study. But that doesn’t paint a full picture of what’s on offer in your ongoing career.

Firstly, you’ll have a huge amount of choice in terms of precisely where you might want to work. You may well work in a major hospital ward, or you might operate in an outpatient unit. You might end up in a specialist department, or a GP surgery. You could even work in a clinic, in the community, an NHS walk-in centre or a Nursing home.

Secondly, there are many rungs of the Nursing ladder to climb if you wish to. Once graduated, you can soon work towards specialising, or becoming an Advanced Nurse Practitioner, Matron or Nurse Consultant.

Qualified Nurses are vital within many other environments too. For example prisons, schools and the police service all regularly employ different kinds of Nurses, whose support alongside other healthcare professionals is essential. Even cruise ships need Nurses – so the sky really is the limit once you’ve qualified.

Working in the private sector

Then there’s the private sector. The NHS is often cited as the fifth largest employer on the planet, and that makes it inevitably your first port of call. But many Nurses choose the private sector for a variety of reasons.

Chief among them is the fact that private healthcare providers are so much smaller than the NHS. This often means less bureaucracy, lighter caseloads and ultimately a bit more time to provide dedicated, personalised care.

Private Nursing jobs are often also more flexible than NHS positions. The huge demands facing the NHS can mean that it’s hard to take holiday exactly when you want to, for example. And that tends not to be the case with private providers.

But it’s also worth noting that private Nursing jobs don’t necessarily offer a higher salary. In fact the starting salaries can sometimes be worse, because private providers aren’t subject to the same guidelines as public organisations. Pay inevitably varies more within less regulated private companies.

Working flexibly: bank and agency work

You’ll also become familiar with the terms ‘bank work’ and ‘agency work’ as soon as you enter the world of Nursing.

Essentially, a ‘bank’ is a rota of Nursing shifts and temporary workers that’s managed by an NHS trust (which could comprise a number of different hospitals or institutions in a specific geographic area). As a Nurse, being registered to a bank gives you freedom over which shifts you choose – which for many people is a huge benefit. It also allows you to easily trial working at different locations or within different specialisms. Bank work is therefore a great way of developing your career, working flexibly or earning some extra money.

Meanwhile, ‘agency’ work essentially means registering with a recruitment agency that then finds shifts that suit you. Typically, agency work offers a slightly higher salary than a full-time NHS position – although it doesn’t offer the same security or permanence. Once again, it’s a popular choice for those seeking flexibility.

Useful insights for Students and Newly Qualified
Nurses who are looking for their first job

Here are move videos and blog articles for you. These will help you if you’re about to look for your first job as a Newly Qualified Nurse.


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How long have we been training Nurses in the UK?

Nursing as a respected, qualification-backed profession has progressed consistently since the mid-nineteenth century.

From Florence Nightingale’s pioneering work to the move to degree-only qualification, it’s been quite a journey for the UK’s Nurses and Midwives.

This timeline spells out some of the key milestones:

1860: The Nightingale Training School opens at St Thomas’ Hospital in London – one of the first institutions to teach Nursing and midwifery as a formal profession

1887: British Nurses Association created – allowing Nurses to seek professional registration

Early 1900s: More hospitals establish their own training schools – Nurses are trained in exchange for two or three years of free Nursing care

1916: Royal College of Nursing (RCN) founded

1948: NHS established – leading to a huge surge in Nursing recruitment

1972: Degree preparation of Nurses is suggested for the first time by the Briggs Committee

1983: United Kingdom Central Council for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting sets up a new professional register with four branches (Mental Health, Children, Learning Disability and Adult)

1986: Project 2000 sets out the shift to diploma level training based in Universities rather than hospital-based schools

2004: RCN votes for degree-only preparation

2008: Nursing officially becomes a degree-only profession

What does the future of Nursing in the UK look like?

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock on Mars you’ll have seen many headlines about Nursing and the NHS over the last few years that have not been entirely positive.

The NHS is currently facing a variety of significant challenges. In a nutshell, patient demand is at an unprecedented level, largely due to our growing population – and more specifically, our ageing population. When the NHS was created in 1948, life expectancy was 13 years shorter than now.

Furthermore, as a result of our ageing population, a growing number of people are living with long-term chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease or dementia that require regular, dedicated care.

In short, more Nurses are needed across the board – and the stats support this. In September 2018, record levels of Nursing vacancies and a shortage of 43,000 registered Nurses were reported. But shortly afterwards, it was also reported that the number of new Nursing students starting courses had fallen by more than 500 compared to a year earlier.

For anyone considering a career in Nursing in the UK, these headlines might seem alarming – but in many ways, it’s all good news. For a newly qualified Nurse, opportunities are more abundant than ever. You’ll have a huge variety of options about where and how you work, and you’ll have unrivalled job security. And while there will also be pressures, there will be rewards too.

It’s widely agreed that Nursing salaries and benefits could increase in the coming years in light of how desperate the UK is for qualified Nurses. In the current climate, Nurses hold a great deal of power. So this could be the perfect time to take the leap and study Nursing.

The Academy

Career Coaching & Career Development For Nurses & Care Professionals.

Life-changing strategies to drive your career forward & stay in the job you love.

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