Guide to studying Nursing
Read about studying Nursing and what it’s like to be a nurse – to see if it could be the career path for you.
- What jobs can you do with a Nursing degree?
Nursing is a branch of healthcare, focused on providing care for individuals, families and communities who are unwell or in need of help in order to support them on their journey back to health.
Nurses have a huge impact on the lives of their patients, building trusting relationships and working hard to help them back to health. Nurses work in a range of settings and with different types of patients, using many skills to lead the healthcare of their patients. Every day presents different challenges and opportunities to make a difference.
There are four main fields of nursing:
- Learning disability
- Mental health.
Nursing is a vocational subject where most students enter into graduate careers as nurses. They touch lives at times of basic human need, when care and compassion are what matter most.
The work can be hands on, but can provide a huge level of job satisfaction and fantastic opportunities for progression. It’s a noble and altruistic profession.
If you've got an interest in genuinely improving someone's wellbeing, helping a sick person to be as comfortable as possible. or even delivering a new life into the world, a Nursing course could be an obvious next step in your career.
As well as medical expertise, skills you’ll develop include:
Courses blend theoretical learning, practical teaching and work placements. During Covid-19, courses have had to adapt to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. This just means the way they're delivered is slightly different. For instance, teaching groups may be smaller, and there may be more remote learning.
As with many medical degrees, Nursing boasts a high Graduate Prospects score with 94% of graduates getting a job within six months of finishing their course. This means that employment is highly likely after you graduate. As a registered nurse, your skills are in demand throughout the country. You're not confined to the UK either – nurses are needed all around the world.
It's also a profession with serious promotion opportunities. You can start out as a staff nurse, where you cover many areas. Later, you can specialise and progress to a more senior rank. The pay gets higher the more senior you become.
The NHS Learning Support Fund is currently offering payments of £5,000- £8,000 per year to support undergraduate and postgraduate Nursing degree students in England and Wales. This is a grant, so you don’t have to pay it back.
“I enjoy the lectures and group work, to get the cohort working together and with people we've not met before. I feel this increases my confidence, communication and listening skills as I will be in similar situations once qualified working alongside the MDT (multidisciplinary team) and making referrals to people that I have never met.
I enjoy the practical side to my degree. The clinical skills lecturers are very knowledgeable and supportive with any questions I have. I feel we cover a good amount of clinical skills, moving and handling, basic life support, in hospital life support, and nutrition to name a few.
I love the eight weeks we have on placements in various trusts and getting to know how other trusts work, seeing new places and faces. I feel the placement books are a very good tool and provide guidance to see our improvements through different placements and mentors and achieving new goals for each placement.”
Natasha, University of Staffordshire
You'll usually need at least two A Levels in either biology, chemistry, mathematics, physics or psychology. You may also need a CACHE qualification or diploma in childcare, education or care.
You’ll also need five GCSEs in grades C and above, including in English, maths and science.
Other equivalent qualifications include relevant BTEC, HND, HNC, NVQ, Highers and Access courses.
Grades and requirements vary between institutions. Always confirm the entry requirements for the particular university and course you're interested in.
Your course will likely include practical experience working with members of the public. You’ll need to complete a DBS disclosure check (for criminal records) to ensure public protection and safety.
Tips for applying
Universities are on the lookout for students who could make excellent nurses. Try to demonstrate relevant qualities, such as great communication and people skills, when applying for a course.
Work experience will be very useful for your application. This could be through volunteering or working with, for example:
- NHS trust
- Private clinic
- Charities, such as St John Ambulance
- Care homes
- Daycare centres
- Youth organisations, such as scouts and guides.
- Adult Nursing
- Mental Health Care
- Nursing with Learning Disabilities
- Children's Nursing.
Some degree courses offer the option to study two areas – these are called ‘dual field’ degrees.
New in 2021, some universities are offering blended Nursing courses, where you learn through online teaching and in-person placements. Courses include the same content as traditional degrees but with more flexibility. You can fit studying around your lifestyle while gaining experience in a local NHS trust.
Alternatively, you could pursue a degree apprenticeship, where you work and earn while gaining a qualification. You have to apply through an employer, so you won’t have access to student grants.
You'll be assessed throughout the programme in both theoretical and practise elements. A variety of assessment methods, including presentations, essays, reports and exams will be used.
As with all medical degrees, plenty of time will be devoted to practical work, including hours spent on long hospital ward shifts. This time will also be monitored to determine whether you are fit for nursing.
Examples of taught MAs and research degrees at postgraduate level include a PgDip in Community Health Nursing, MSc Advanced Practice, MPhil Nursing and Midwifery, MSc Addiction Nursing and a straight master's in Nursing.
As well as a traditional adult nurse, you could get a job as a midwife, home visitor, learning disability and mental health issue specialist, paramedic, paediatrician, counsellor or social worker. You could even specialise in areas such as operating theatres, elderly care or intensive care.
With experience, you could take on more senior roles, move into management or become a consultant.
Alternatively, you could choose to work in public health, pursue teaching, enter management roles or go into clinical research. It’s also possible to be self-employed or work abroad.
In the infographic below, the first table shows what graduates of Nursing have gone on to do in the months after their graduation.
The second table shows the average salaries of undergraduate Nursing students entering employment. The three skill levels – high, medium and low – reflect the UK's Standard Occupational Classification's major groups 1–3, 4–6 and 7–9 respectively.
Source: HESA Graduate Outcomes Survey 2017/18
To work professionally as a nurse, you’ll usually need an approved qualification in nursing. This should be at degree level or through a degree apprenticeship. You’ll also need to register with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC).
What’s it like to be a nurse?
As careers go, Nursing is a dynamic one. A typical day at work could be a challenging yet exciting affair. Depending on your role and area of nursing, your tasks could include:
- Taking blood pressures, temperatures and pulse rates
- Assisting doctors with examinations and deciding what care to give
- Giving injections and drugs
- Cleaning and dressing wounds
- Supplying drips and blood transfusions
- Using specialist equipment
- Monitoring and recording patient progress
- Supporting patients and their relatives
- Helping people to live independent and fulfilling lives.
You could be working in an NHS or private hospital, care home, hospice, prison or a client’s home. Patients could be of all ages, with short-term or serious health conditions. Nurses work as part of a supportive multi-disciplinary team alongside other professionals including doctors, psychologists, healthcare assistants, occupational therapists, social workers and radiographers.
When qualified, you’ll have regular Continuing Professional Development (CPD) meetings, where you discuss future career goals. A working week is typically 37.5 hours, and you may have to work evenings, weekends and overtime. Salaries for nurses are on the Agenda for Change system (the NHS staff grading and pay scale), usually on band 5. With the NHS, you’ll have access to generous pension schemes, holiday allowances and health service discounts.
Is a role as a nurse right for you?
Although it’s a highly rewarding role due to the vast number of lives you’ll benefit, Nursing is challenging. You must build trusting relationships with each patient as well as their relatives and carers. You must be able to treat each case individually and juggle many priorities. Nurses often work long hours and are on their feet for long periods of time.