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All about: Becoming a nurse

Nursing can be an extremely challenging but rewarding career. Once qualified, nurses can work in hospitals, GP surgeries, nursing homes, as well as more unusual environments, such as, prisons, ships and schools. Details of the skills, qualifications and training routes for those interested in becoming a registered nurse are detailed below.

Personal skills

Nurses deal with a variety of people including patients, relatives and colleagues, so good communication skills are a must. The ability to listen and offer support is a key component of the job, as is empathy. However, nurses also need the ability to step back and be objective. Aside from the emotional demands, nursing work can take its toll physically. Nurses often spend long periods on their feet, and may have to lift heavy patients, so stamina and physical fitness is important. While nursing revolves around the care of patients, nurses will be accepted to carry out medical examinations, and perform or assist with various procedures. Therefore, an interest in medicine/healthcare and a lack of squeamishness should be pre-requisites for anyone interested.


The minimum requirement for acceptance on a nursing course in the UK is five GCSEs, or equivalent, at grades A to C. In practice, however, a significant number of universities offering nursing degrees expect students to have additional qualifications, including A levels. Check with individual universities for their requirements. Anyone, who wants to train as a nurse must be aged at least 17 and a half (or 17 in Scotland only). Prospective candidates need to complete a health questionnaire, and declare any criminal convictions.

Training routes

Training is provided by universities. Students can currently choose whether they follow a degree or diploma course, although this choice is being phased out from September 2011 to 2013. From September 2013, all nursing students will need to complete a degree. Nurse training is split between classroom-based tuition looking at theory, and practical assessment in hospitals, or other relevant places in the community. All applicants undertake an initial foundation course, before specialising in one of the following four areas: adult, children, mental health, or learning disability nursing. Candidates interested in midwifery, follow a separate programme. Students normally decide on their specialist area, before embarking on a course. After completing their pre-registration degree, usually within three to four years, nurses can register with the Nursing and Midwifery Council and search for a suitable role.

More information

Universities provide further information about the nursing courses they operate and the entry requirements. Call and ask for an up-to-date prospectus. The website provides general information about courses, funding and pay-scales for nurses. It also gives an insight into the roles and responsibilities of nurses within the NHS.

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