How to become a Nurse

How to become a Nurse
How to become a Nurse

posted 05 Dec 23

As a nurse, you will make a genuine and immediate difference in people’s lives. Not only will you provide physical care, but you will help them through their hardest moments. Being that point of care and contact can make all the difference in the world. This is a career with a noble history and care at its heart. 

There is a serious shortage of nurses in the UK at the moment, and with an ageing population, that looks set to be the case far into the future. As a qualified nurse you will possess the skills that will enable you to find work wherever you go, and you can choose to work in hospitals, in the community, or in the private sector. It’s a public facing role, so you will need to love working with people and want to help them feel better. 

In this article we answer questions such as how long does it take to become a nurse? And what qualifications do you need? Read on to find out more. 

Entry routes to becoming a nurse  

The traditional pathway to nursing 

A degree in nursing, at an institution that is approved by the Nursing and Midwifery Council, is the traditional method into this career. It can take about three years, full time, and will involve classroom learning and practical experience in hospitals and out in the community. You can choose to specialise at this stage, in one of the four nursing fields, which are adult nursing, children’s nursing, nursing people with learning disabilities, and mental health nursing. 

Entry requirements are usually about four to five GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), or equivalent, including English, maths and science, and two or three A levels, including a science, or a level 3 diploma or access to higher education in health, science or nursing. Of course, universities set their own entry requirements, so this is a guide only - it’s alway best to check expectations with your chosen training provider. 

Alternative pathways to nursing 

If you don’t have the necessary entry requirements for a degree course and you are wondering how to become a nurse without them, then you could spend a year doing an access course. This is designed to prepare you for the degree with lessons in academic writing skills, basic biology and nutrition, among many other subjects. Community colleges often offer these diplomas, as does the Open University and some other universities. 

Nursing Degree Apprenticeships 

This is a great way to earn your qualifications whilst also gaining real life experience and avoiding the heavy costs of tuition fees. On a Nursing Degree Apprenticeships you will generally work four days a week in a professional setting, for example in a hospital, performing a mix of patient care and administration tasks. The other day will be spent in the classroom learning the theory. It takes about four years to complete a nursing degree apprenticeship. 

Becoming a nurse without qualifications 

If you want to know how to become a nurse without qualifications, then a Nursing Associate Role could be for you. It can work as a stepping stone to further training and education. Nursing Associates work across all four fields of the industry - adult, children’s, mental health, and learning disability. In this role you will provide care and support to patients and their families, record clinical notes and perform some clinical tasks. It will be a steep learning curve, but it could lead to a place on a nursing degree course. 

Specialising as a nurse

Specialising as a nurse

Choosing your specialist nursing field comes quite early on in your career path, particularly if you opt for the degree option. But each of the four fields (adult, children’s, mental health, and learning disability) have many and varied routes that overlap and offer opportunities for progression. You could decide to specialise in a particular condition like Alzheimer’s care for example. Or you might want to seek out the immediacy and speed of emergency care. You could choose to work in a hospital setting, or a hospice, a GP surgery or work as a community nurse, visiting people in their homes. 

Postgraduate and continuous learning opportunities 

Nursing is an industry that continuously evolves as research and treatments progress and societal needs change. As part of your nursing career you will have to revalidate your registration with the Nursing and Midwifery Council every three years.  This requires nurses to continually develop and reflect on their practice and take on 35 hours of continuing professional development (CPD), or professional training, each time they revalidate. 

There are also opportunities to reach advanced level nursing through post graduate education. There are many Master’s degrees available, some of which may be sponsored through your employer. This could be in prescribing medicines, in clinical research or advancing to clinical management positions. 

Finding a nursing role  

The best time to start looking for your first nursing job is before you have even finished your training. Take the opportunity to speak to campus careers advisors and your supervisors about what you should look for in a role. You will need to bear in mind logistical things such as shift patterns, location and transport, as well as ensuring it's in a clinical field that interests you and gives you room to grow. 

Learn more about a career in Nursing

Nursing is one of the most dynamic and fulfilling careers. Our Nursing recruiters can help you find a role you love, whether you’re a practiced professional or a newly qualified nurse.

Learn more about a career in Nursing

Is a nursing role right for you?  

Nurses can make a positive difference to people’s lives, every single day. Sometimes it is because of their clinical care and knowledge, other times it is about the company they provide and their ability to guide patients through difficult times. It can be a hard job, but a rewarding one too, and the career progression and opportunities to upskill and specialise will help to keep you motivated and moving forward. 

Resources and further reading 

Recommended books on nursing career development 

  • Foundations of Nursing Practice, 2nd Edition 
  • The Student Nurse Handbook, 3rd Edition 
  • Ross & Wilson Anatomy and Physiology in Health and Illness