How to become a nurse
Did you know nursing is the UK’s most employable type of degree, with 94% of students getting a job within six months of finishing their course?
If you're eligible you can also receive at least £5,000 in financial support every year of your degree.
Most people qualify by studying a degree in nursing. Nursing degrees aren’t all about having your nose in a book. There is lots of practical hands on experience with patients in hospital and community settings.
The first thing to decide is which field of nursing you want to study in, so use the links below to find more about them. In all of these fields you’ll have the opportunity to make a real difference to the lives of people each and every day. The four fields of nursing are:
There are some degree courses that allow you to study in two of the fields. These are known as ‘dual field’ degrees. Once you have qualified you’ll be able to work as a nurse anywhere in the UK and even internationally.
From January 2021, some universities are offering adult nursing courses where the theoretical content is mainly delivered online, making it easier to fit studies around home life.
Entry requirements for nursing degree courses vary because each university sets its own entry criteria, but you are likely to need at least two (usually three) A-levels or equivalent qualifications at level 3, plus supporting GCSEs including English, maths and a science (usually biology or human biology). Contact universities directly to find out whether qualifications equivalent to A-levels or GCSEs are acceptable.
Courses often specify preferred or essential A-level or equivalent subjects, such as one science (for example biology) or social science (for example psychology). Some universities offer courses with a foundation year for those without the necessary entry qualifications.
Where to study nursing
Many universities offer degrees in nursing. You can find a list of courses by using our Course Finder.
If you already have a degree in a relevant subject, you can often get recognition for this (a process called Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning - APEL), enabling you to do the course in two rather than three years. You can also find these courses using our Course Finder.
Financial support while at university
At least £5,000 will be available from September 2020 to help eligible undergraduate and postgraduate student nurses fund their studies. Best of all, it won’t need to be repaid. Find out more about with these annual payments and the other financial support available.
How to apply
Applications for full-time nursing courses are made through UCAS. For part-time courses, contact individual universities to find out their application procedures. UCAS has some good tips on writing personal statements.
Other ways to become a nurse
Nursing degree apprenticeships
The standards for nursing degree apprenticeships have been approved and a small number of NHS organisations have started to advertise vacancies. Nursing degree apprenticeships offer flexible routes to becoming a nurse that don't require full-time study at university, although nursing degree apprentices will still need to undertake academic study at degree level and meet the standards laid down by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC).
You will need to secure a position as a nursing degree apprentice and your employer will then release you to study at university on a part-time basis. You will train in a range of practice placement settings.
Most nursing degree apprenticeships will take four years. If you already have prior learning and experience, you may get some recognition of this through APEL and so the nursing degree apprenticeship may take you less than four years to complete.
In terms of entry requirements for nursing degree apprenticeships, you will typically need level 3 qualifications as you will be studying to degree level. Those completing a nursing associate apprenticeship will be able to count this training towards the degree-level apprenticeship, and so reduce the length of the apprenticeship. .
The role of nursing associate sits alongside existing nursing care support workers and fully-qualified registered nurses in both health and social care.
It opens up a career in nursing to people from all backgrounds and offers the opportunity to progress to training to become a registered nurse. Trainee roles are often available in a variety of health and care settings. This means that nursing associates have wider opportunities and more flexibility to move between acute, social and community and primary care.
A nursing associate is not a registered nurse, but with further training, it can be possible to 'top up' your training to become one.
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Universities will normally expect you to attend an interview. You'll also need to demonstrate that you have found out about nursing as a career and understand what the work involves. This is possible through relevant experience. Experience in any healthcare setting is useful but if you can work alongside registered nurses, so much the better. Work experience placements can be difficult to find, so alternatives would be to shadow a nurse or talk to a nurse about their role. Find out exactly what is required for your chosen courses and get organised as soon as possible. Reading our information on roles in nursing and watching our films will also help.
The UCAS website allows you to search for courses and view entry requirements. More detailed information about specific courses can be found in university prospectuses and on their websites.
There are other routes to becoming qualified as a nurse, such as studying part time whilst working in a clinical support role, through a nursing degree apprenticeship (as mentioned above) or by taking an accelerated programme after graduating in another subject.
BBC Bitesize also has some useful stories from current nurses on how they became nurses:
Recruiting for values
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If you’re applying for a university programme leading to a role providing NHS healthcare, you’ll be asked to show how you think the NHS values would apply in your everyday work.
Your nursing training
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Approved full-time nursing degree courses last for three (or four years if taking a dual-field degree), or longer if taken on a part-time basis. Accelerated courses for graduates take two years. Courses involve spending half your time studying at university and half gaining practical, supervised experience in a range of healthcare settings.
Approved courses must meet the NMC’s standards of education and training but programmes vary in their content, the way they are structured, and how they are taught and assessed. The facilities available and amount of support and supervision may also differ from course to course. Find out more by looking at university websites and prospectuses, attending university open days and contacting admissions staff.
Support at university
See our information about the support available while on your course.
What happens after nurse training?
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Job vacancies for registered nurses are advertised on the NHS Jobs website and elsewhere. General information on looking for work can be found in the Career planning section and under Looking for a job.
As mentioned above, as a nurse there are opportunities to work in a wide range of settings and you can progress from one grade or band to another. You’ll need some experience in a more generalist role, but you can specialise in an area that interests you, such as intensive care nursing, health visiting or occupational health nursing. Moving into a clinical specialism can involve studying for further qualifications.
To maintain your registration to practise with the Nursing and Midwifery Council, you’ll need to go through the process of revalidation. The process is straightforward and will help you as a nurse or midwife to demonstrate that you practise safely and effectively. You will have to revalidate every three years to renew your registration. Revalidation includes taking part in continuing professional development (CPD). Find out more about revalidation on the NMC microsite