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How to become a nurse in the UK

Wondering where to get started with your nursing career? Learn the requirements of the role, how to get qualified and the different nursing fields you can explore.

Oncology nurse treats cancer patient in hospital bed

Nursing is a popular career choice in the UK, offering people a reliable job that can also be incredibly rewarding. Those that choose a career in nursing are presented with opportunities to progress their careers within the medical profession and broaden their skill sets. However, there is no shying away from the fact that nursing is tough and people need to be in it for the right reasons.

If you want to spend your career treating and caring for those in need, then learning how to become a nurse is the first logical step. There are approximately 704,520 nurses on the permanent Nursing & Midwifery Council (NMC) register in the UK, with 321,624 of those working in the NHS.

The demand is always high for nurses in the UK, and according to recent reports, there are currently roughly 39,652 NHS nursing vacancies in the country. While this statistic is alarming, it’s good news if you want to become a nurse, as you’ll be highly employable once you’ve gained the necessary nursing qualifications.

In this article, we take a look at nursing entry requirements and guide you through our five steps on how to become a nurse.

What qualifications do I need to be a nurse?

Whether you’re fresh out of school or looking for a career change, nursing entry requirements are exactly the same. The vast majority of people will need to study a degree in nursing in order to qualify, whether that be through university or by completing a Registered Nurse Degree Apprenticeship (RNDA).

The qualifications you need before learning how to become a nurse will depend on the university you choose to study at, as each one will have its own entry criteria. 

In most cases, you will need at least two A-levels (preferably one in science) or equivalent qualifications at level three, plus GCSEs that include science (biology), maths, and English.

To determine the qualifications you need, make sure you get in touch with the university you want to study at. If you don’t meet the necessary nursing entry requirements, then some universities will offer a foundation year so you can gain the nurse qualifications and knowledge you need.

It’s worth noting, that while gaining the necessary qualifications and passing your degree is essential for becoming a nurse, you’ll also be required to gain plenty of hands-on experience throughout your degree. This will involve working with patients in hospitals and other community settings.

Looking to earn a nursing degree online? Check out our collection of fully online nursing degrees from world-class universities and get qualified around your own schedule.

How to become a nurse: 5 steps

Before you start learning how to become a nurse, you need to ensure that this is the right profession for you. While nursing can be extremely rewarding, it’s also very demanding and challenging. 

You’ll be required to deal with people who are sick and injured on a daily basis, ensuring they receive the support they need and you’re able to perform the necessary care. 

You’ll also be responsible for helping to save lives, working alongside other medical professionals to treat patients and decide on the best ways of doing so.

Here, we list five steps you can take to become a nurse in the UK.

1. Choose your speciality

Before you start looking at possible degrees and universities, you’ll want to think about the field of nursing you want to study. 

This is because there are specific courses that relate to each field and the entry requirements to study each course will differ. Depending on the area of nursing you choose, the daily tasks and responsibilities will vary, so it’s important to consider what it is you would enjoy doing as part of your nursing role and where you skills will be best suited.

The four fields of nursing are: 

With some degree courses, you’ll be allowed to study in two of the fields. These courses are known as dual-field degrees. If you go down the RNDA route, it’s still worth thinking about the field you want to specialise in, even though you’ll train in a range of practice placements.

2. Get qualified

As we have already discussed, there are two main ways to become a nurse. You can either study a nursing course at university or complete an RNDA. 

1. University course

There are many universities that offer degrees in nursing, a list of which can be found through the NHS’s course finder

If you already have a degree in a relevant subject (health, psychology, life sciences, social work), you can get recognition for this and study a postgraduate course in two rather than three years. This is covered by the Accreditation for Prior Experiential Learning (APEL).

More information about entry requirements can be found in the ‘What qualifications do I need to be a nurse’ section above. Once you have qualified you’ll be able to work as a nurse anywhere in the UK and even internationally.

2. Apprenticeship

An RNDA offers a more flexible route that doesn’t require full-time study at a university. Once you’ve secured a position on a programme, your current employer is entitled to release you to study at a university part-time. 

Typically, most RNDAs take four years, but this could be less if APEL recognises you have previous relevant experience. To start an RNDA, you’ll typically need level three maths and English qualifications. You can find out about vacancies for an RNDA on the NHS job website.

It’s worth noting that there is also a third option. You could become a Nursing Associate, which allows you to work alongside existing nursing care support workers and other fully-qualified registered nurses.

This encourages people from all backgrounds to embark on a career in nursing and gives them the opportunity to train to become registered nurses. Trainee roles are available in a variety of healthcare environments.

While you’re not a registered nurse as a Nursing Associate, you can eventually top up your training to become one.

3. Register with the NMC

The next step in how to become a nurse is registering with the Nursing & Midwifery Council, which as an organisation sets the standards of practice and behaviour for nurses. All nurses working in the UK have to be registered, so this is a crucial part of the process. 

Before you register, you’ll need to have successfully completed a nursing programme of education that the regulator approves. You must also meet their requirements of good health and character.

You can find out more about registering with the NMC here.

4. Apply for jobs

Now you’re fully qualified, registered with the NMC, and meet all the other relevant nursing entry requirements, it’s time to start looking for jobs. The best tool to do this is the NHS online job search, which regularly posts new vacancies and guides you through the application process step-by-step.

For nursing jobs outside of the NHS, you’ll need to browse independent job websites for the latest opportunities. 

5. Get started!

Once you’ve secured a job, all that’s left to do is to begin your career as a nurse and start making a difference in your patients’ lives. Being a nurse is incredibly fulfilling, with opportunities to progress your career and truly make a difference.

Some of the tasks you can be expected to carry out include:

  • Taking a patient’s temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate
  • Cleaning and dressing wounds
  • Administering drugs and injections
  • Performing physical examinations of patients alongside doctors
  • Using medical equipment
  • Setting up drips and blood transfusions
  • Monitoring patients’ progress 
  • Giving regular updates to patients’ doctors
  • Advising patients and their loved ones
  • Deciding on the best treatment for a patient with other healthcare professionals.

How to become a nurse FAQs

How long does it take to become a nurse? 

This depends on how much time you’re able to give when studying for your degree. A nursing degree normally takes three to four years to complete when studying full-time, but a part-time degree could take five or six. 

If you have previous relevant experience and it’s recognised with APEL, then you could complete your degree in closer to two years.

The same applies if you choose the RNDA route. RNDAs typically take four years to complete, but this could be reduced by a year with APEL recognition.

What degree do you need to be a nurse?

There are a whole host of different courses available in order to learn how to become a nurse, which you can browse using the NHS’s course finder

You must choose between the four specialisms of adult, children’s, mental health or learning disability nursing. Not only will you need to pass your chosen nursing degree, but you’ll also need to be successfully registered with the NMC.

How much do nurses get paid?

The average salary for a nurse in the UK is £30,997, this can range from £21,690 per year for a Nursing Assistant to £58,871 per year for a Clinical Nurse Liaison. Figures will vary depending on job responsibilities, training, education and experience level.

Most nurses work 37 to 42-hour working weeks, which include night shifts and abnormal work patterns. Nurses will also be required to work on weekends and bank holidays on occasion.

How can someone from abroad become a nurse in the UK?

Nurses wishing to work in the UK who have gained the necessary qualifications from overseas must register with the NMC. In order to be successful, applicants must complete a two-part process. This involves:

  1. Computer-based test: Multiple-choice examination that can be accessed by applicants online, wherever they are based in the world.
  2. Practical objective structured clinical examination: Applicants need to act out scenarios that nurses might encounter when assessing, planning, delivering, and evaluating care. This is held in the UK and applicants must attend one of the five available test centres.

Foreign applicants will also have to pass an English proficiency test. You can find out more information about registering here.

How to become a nurse: additional courses

Now you know everything about how to become a nurse and the relevant nursing entry requirements, it’s time to think about improving your knowledge in the field and furthering your learning. 

At FutureLearn, we offer a variety of introductory nursing courses that provide you with additional information about the profession and support you as you start your career as a nurse.

Below, you can find some of the courses we have available, so you can start making a difference to peoples’ lives and begin your journey to becoming a qualified nurse.

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