What does a nurse do?
Nurses are qualified medical experts, who work as part of a multi-disciplinary team alongside doctors and other healthcare professionals, to deliver clinical treatment and care for patients in a variety of medical settings.
Nurses help to plan and deliver therapeutic pathways for patients with both physical and mental health needs, working as a key part of the team from diagnosis through every stage of a patient’s healthcare journey. Many nurses specialise in particular fields, including trauma, orthopaedics, mental health, neonatal, and learning disabilities, to name a few. In every specialism, nurses employ a variety of robust technical and scientific skills to optimise patient outcomes.
Nurses are often responsible for a wide variety of patients, each with different needs, so they need to be highly organised, flexible, observant, able to assess patients, and take responsibility for determining the best course of action. Communication and interpersonal skills are also a key part of the role, as nurses need to reassure or advise patients and their relatives or carers through often difficult or worrying times.
Nurses work as leaders within the healthcare sector, increasingly taking on senior positions of responsibility to progress patient care in line with the latest medical innovations and advancements.
What do I need to do 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?
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 out more. 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.
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, Highers, or equivalent qualifications at Level 3, plus supporting GCSEs including English, maths, and a science (usually biology or human biology).
Courses often specify preferred or essential A level, Higher, 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 search tool.
‘Studying a nursing degree allow allows me to work wherever I want’ Cherie Lawrence, mental health nurse.
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 search tool.
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. Read our 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 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, 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 its length.
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.
Where to find out moreFor more information about nursing and related opportunities, please refer to our subject guide.
Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0