Get Qualified: Nursing

Nurses are the real-life blood of the NHS. Whilst doctors and surgeons might make the big decisions and take on the complicated procedures it is the nurses whose skill and kindness is often key to patients making a swift and full recovery.


Before you even think about registering as a nurse though, you must first qualify by completing a degree programme, which is recognised by the Nursing and Midwifery Council. This is the first stage of specialisation in nursing where you will choose the broad field you’d like to get into.

Choices include:

  • Adult Nursing.
  • Child Nursing.
  • Mental Health Nursing.
  • Learning Disabilities Nursing.

The degree course itself is either three or four years (depending on location) and results in both the degree qualification and registration as a Level 1 nurse. The course itself is structured as a straight split between practical and theory, meaning that you’ll spend just as much time gaining practical experience in the wards as you will sitting in lecture theatres and undertaking written assessments.

The first year of most nursing degrees is usually referred to as a foundation year where students are taught the basics of their profession. These include communication, observation of patients, administering medication and also providing personal care to patients. After that first year, the programme moves to focus on the specific branch of nursing selected.

The NMC states that their approved courses teach students to ‘understand, promote and facilitate safe and effective patient care. They are taught when to call for assistance and implement emergency measures, often working with other health professionals.’

It should be noted that if you choose adult nursing you are able to branch out into other disciplines but those trained in more specialised areas are usually not able to alter their specialisation. Also while it has a similar training length, Midwifery is not considered to be a branch of nursing although it is possible for qualified adult nurses to hold dual registration as both nurse and midwife.

Top 10 Universities for Nursing in the UK (Source: Complete University Guide.)

  1. University of Glasgow
  2. University of Surrey
  3. University of Birmingham
  4. University of Liverpool
  5. University of East Anglia
  6. The University of Edinburgh
  7. The University of Sheffield
  8. University of Leeds
  9. King’s College London
  10. Cardiff University

Branches of Nursing (Royal College of Nursing)

Adult – Work with patients over age of 18 in hospitals or community settings such as people’s homes, health centres or nursing homes.  Once qualified, they can take extra courses to specialise in areas such as cancer care, women’s health, A&E, critical care, practice nursing, health visiting or school nursing.

Child – Work with children and young people up to 25 years old, and can be found in a variety of settings, from specialist baby care units to adolescent units. Children do not react to illnesses in the same way as adults, and children’s nurses are specially trained to understand their needs. Children’s nurses also support, advise and educate parents and carers.

Learning Disability Nursing – Nurses who qualify in this branch help people with learning disabilities to live independent and fulfilling lives. They may work with people in supported accommodation, or with those who need intensive support – for instance, in hospitals or in specialist secure units for offenders with learning disabilities. There is also the opportunity to specialise in areas such as epilepsy management or working with people with sensory impairment.

Mental Health – plan and deliver care for people living at home, in small residential units or in specialist hospital services. Nurses working in this field need enhanced communication skills to support families and carers. They work with other health care professionals to ensure patients with mental illness get the specialised care they need.

Accreditation of Prior Learning

Those leaving the Armed Forces having received medical training may find that their skills are certified and transferable. Evidence of this learning may contribute to meeting some programme requirements, assessed through the NMC’s approved university’s own prior learning process. A maximum of 50% of the programme can be accredited in this way.

Post Registration

In order to practice legally in the UK, you’ll need to be registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC). This will allow you to hold the title of Registered Nurse. Once you have qualified in your chosen branch and registered as a Level 1 nurse with the Nursing & Midwifery Council, you’ll start at Band 5 on the NHS pay scale.

Most NHS partnerships list their vacant positions on NHS Jobs ( (Many even advertise their nursing positions within these very pages!)

Assuming a qualification in adult nursing, you may find yourself working in a multitude of roles. Some might seem obvious; hospital wards, outpatient units, out in the community with GPs etc. but others like roles within the police and even the prison service may surprise you.

Starting Salary

Newly qualified nurses usually start at Band 5 on the NHS pay scale. According to the Royal College of Nursing, this is between £21,692 and £28,180 per annum.

Once you’re employed in nursing, in order to keep up your registration with the NMC, you will be required to carry out a minimum of 35 hours of continuous professional development every three years. This can be satisfied by learning additional clinical skills such as advanced life support, or by studying toward a more specialised position like nurse consultant or nurse practitioner.

Those looking to go on to become district nurses or health visitors are required to take a further year-long degree-level qualification which allows them to prescribe medicine upon graduation.

Regardless of your future path in nursing, whether it’s in the public or private sector, in a hospital or out in the community, it is undoubtedly one of the most rewarding career paths available to Service-leavers. With a path into upper management and hospital administration also possible, there are opportunities beyond frontline medicine for experienced practitioners.


Royal College of Nursing –

Nursing & Midwifery Council –

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