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Career Advice

How to become a nurse

nurseWhen you were a child did you dream of being a nurse?  Many many people do, in fact it’s one of the staple occupations cited by primary school children when asked what they want to be when they grow up. For many this desire will dissipate over time, however for others it only grows and increases with the years… if that sounds like you then pay attention because this post should help you along the way!

‘Nurse’ is a term that is surprisingly broad, taking in a large number of disciplines and working environments. Generally when we think of ‘nurse’ we imagine someone caring for patients in a hospital, however the International Council of Nurses states “Nursing encompasses autonomous and collaborative care of individuals of all ages, families, groups and communities, sick or well, in all settings”.

Nursing is a diverse, challenging and potentially very rewarding area to work in – it requires skill, determination, perseverance and above all, an outstanding level of dedication. The profession is one of the most well established and regulated in the UK and the possibilities for upward progression are truly fantastic. While most nurses will find employment within a hospital you should be aware that nurses also work in clinics, care homes, hospices, military facilities, pharmaceutical companies, schools and even private homes.

Types and Grades of Nurses

Within the UK there are generally 3 levels of registered nurse

  • Level One – This is by far the largest category of nurse, with the majority being employed as staff nurses with a very small number undertaking managerial/highly specialised role.

  • Level Two – These are still referred to as Enrolled Nurses or State Enrolled Nurses, and consist of those who completed the old nurses’ training, before the introduction of the Nursing Degree.

  • Specialist Nurses – These are highly qualified medical professionals who have worked for many years in their particular field, completed extra education/training courses and gained a very high level of expertise. Nurses in this category include; nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, nurse Consultants and lecture practitioners.

The hierarchy of registered nurses in the UK is; (from most junior to most senior) staff nurse, senior staff nurse, junior/deputy sister, sister/charge nurse, senior sister/senior ward manager. Nurses salaries operate on a 9 point grading system and range from £13,000 for newly qualified staff nurses to £97,000 for the most senior.

Training to be a Nurse

nursesThe education of registered nurses is carried out by various universities across the UK in a three year Bachelor of Science degree which alternates between teaching in the classroom and work placements within healthcare environments/the community. At this stage, nurses will have the opportunity to specialise in either adult, children’s, mental health or learning disability nursing, but it is worth noting that specialisation in a different field from your original will be possible throughout your career.

Entry Requirements

Each university which offers the nursing degree will request different levels of education from those who apply, however generally they will require at least 5 GCSEs grade A-C and 2 A-levels (A*-C) or equivalent. A small number of healthcare providers operate cadet/apprenticeship schemes which give the candidate a Level 3 NVQ or access to nursing qualification which will then allow them to apply for a university nursing course.

Type of Person

It goes without saying that to be a nurse requires you to be a very caring person who has a genuine desire to look after the welfare of others. Other personal attributes that universities will look for in a candidate are;

  • Great communication skills – It is vital that you are able to listen to patients and their families, communicate information to them and carry out instructions given to you.

  • Emotional stability – Nurses often work in highly charged and emotive environments, and have to deal with upsetting and often traumatic situations, you need to have the level headedness to be able to deal with these demands in a professional and sensitive manner.

  • Empathy – As a nurse you will be dealing with people in very difficult situations – as such you must be able to empathise with what they are going through and do everything you can to understand and ease their suffering.

  • Flexibility –  Nurses’ working hours are notoriously long, you will most likely be working a 12 hour shift pattern which will include both days and nights, therefore having the flexibility to accommodate this is essential.

  • Problem solving skills – A fantastic nurse will be able to think on their feet and quickly find solutions to problems to ensure that the care given to patients is not compromised.

  • Impartiality and Respect – Medical professionals are required to give each and every patient the best quality and level of care possible regardless of who they are.

  • Dedication – You must have a genuine concern for the welfare of your patients at all times, even if it causes you great inconvenience or difficulty.

So it’s fair to say that being a nurse is much less a job than it is a calling. You will be required to work very hard and give your undivided attention to the care and welfare of your patients, but the opportunities for professional development (and all the perks that come with it) are extremely attractive.

Still fancy a career as a nurse?  Best of luck, we hope you found this brief guide helpful!

But perhaps you might like to consider a different profession? Check out our career directory.



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