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How do I get into nursing?


Nursing is alive and well and is a thriving, modern profession with lots of scope for healthy career progression at every level.


As well as providing patients with expert clinical care, nurses are also there to offer a smile, a caring word and a listening ear – small acts of kindness which help ill people feel better. Learning to balance the art of caring and the science of clinical practice is what nursing is all about.

Since 2013, nursing has become an all-graduate profession so you have to have a nursing degree in order to work as a registered nurse, although you can work your way up from being a healthcare assistant, with the right qualifications.

There are four main areas of nursing you can choose to study – adult, learning disability, children’s and mental health nursing. Nursing degrees take three years to complete but some universities offer dual-branch degrees which combine two of these areas, for example adult/children’s nursing or adult/mental health nursing. These take four years to complete.

A nursing degree is usually structured so that 50 per cent of the training is done through work placements. You’ll spend time in operating theatres, hospital wards and out in the community and gain loads of hands-on experience, as well as time doing the science in classrooms and labs.

adult nursing

Adult nursing

You’ll work with the elderly and younger and older adults with all sorts of health issues and you’ll improve the quality of their lives with caring, counselling, managing and educating your patients who may be in hospitals and clinics or in their own homes.

Mental health nursing

Mental health conditions can range from personality disorders to neuroses and more severe psychoses and can affect all sorts of people from many different backgrounds. It is demanding but rewarding and you’ll work alongside psychologists, GPs and psychiatrists to care for patients with mental illness.

Children’s nursing

Children’s development can be severely affected by illness, injury and prematurity and children’s nurses have to deal with all sorts of problems such as children with broken limbs, babies born too early or with heart problems and help to care for and nurse children with life-changing diseases like cancer, to minimise the effect on their lives and development.

Learning disability nursing

People with learning disabilities need specialist healthcare as their disability may be physical, mental or both. Learning disability nurses often work with carers and family members to improve or maintain the patient’s health and support them in having as fulfilling a life as possible.

Career progression

Once you are fully qualified as a nurse, you could take your career in a variety of different directions. You could become a district nurse, a school nurse or a neonatal nurse – working with premature babies and new-born infants. You could also become a health visitor, a practice nurse in a GP’s surgery or a nurse in a hospital operating theatre. Emergency care nurses work with paramedics and ambulance drivers.

Many nurses choose to carry on with their clinical practice but others choose the option of becoming a lecturer in further or higher education or go into management and become chief executive of a big healthcare trust. Alternative career routes include nursing in independent care homes, private hospitals and clinics, in schools, prisons or hospices.

Entry requirements

You will usually need a minimum of five GCSEs including maths, English and a science, at grade C or above as well as two A-levels or the equivalent.

The NHS also encourages people who may have alternative qualifications to GCSEs and A-levels such as an HND, an advanced level GNVQ or a Level 3 NVQ, to apply for a nursing or midwifery degree. Some universities require one A-level in addition to the above qualifications so you’ll need to check with specific unis who will have the information you need on their individual websites.

Once you have gained your nursing degree, to work within the NHS you will need to register with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC). You can work your way up from being a healthcare assistant and apply for a place on a nursing degree course but you will still need to meet the university’s entry requirements, which you will find by using the search tool on the UCAS website or on individual university websites.


As an unqualified nurse working as a healthcare assistant or auxiliary nurse – someone who supports qualified nursing staff – will earn an average wage of around £7.07 per hour. Once qualified, a registered nurse working in the NHS in England will start work on a minimum salary of £21,692 per year.

About Lynette Daly

Lynette is the publishing editor of Moving On magazine. Moving On is devoted to helping young people make good choices for their future – education, qualifications and careers. Moving On really wants to motivate you! Our articles cover a range of topics to inspire and give ideas. Our magazines are delivered free to all schools, colleges and sixth forms in England and is also available online.

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