Our guide to nursing
Hotcourses Editor

Our guide to nursing

First published date November 28 2013 Amended date February 02 2015

Are you a caring person who wants to improve the lives of others? If so, you could consider a course in nursing. Nurses offer care and support to people when they are ill, and strive to ensure they have the best possible quality of life. Nursing is a challenging and demanding career - after all, people's lives are at stake. But it is an extremely rewarding one.


Where could a nursing course lead?

The nursing profession is rapidly diversifying as medical services shift their focus to public health and disease prevention. Nurses can develop career paths in clinical research, education and management roles. And they don't only work in hospitals, but also in GP surgeries, clinics, nursing and residential homes, the pharmaceutical industry, the military – and even on leisure cruisers!

You might decide not to work as a nurse at all. You might embark on a completely different career in education, research or science communication. The skills you gain on a nursing course are highly transferable.

Many qualified nurses take extra courses to specialise in areas such as cancer care, women's health, accident and emergency or school nursing.


What do you do on a nursing course?

To become a nurse you must hold a degree in pre-registration nursing. Once you have completed the degree, you will be registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), enabling you to practice. The nursing diploma has been phased out.

The pre-registration nursing degree course, which is only provided by universities, lasts three years. Some universities offer the opportunity to study a part-time degree course that lasts 5 or 6 years. But this is available only for existing NHS staff who want to develop their skills and knowledge while continuing to work.

Students must specialise in one of the following four branches: adult, mental health, learning disabilities or children's nursing. Before applying for a degree course you must decide which of the four branches you wish to train for. All of the branches begin with a general introduction to nursing with an emphasis on observational, communication and caring skills.

Half of the degree course is based at university on lectures, seminars and tutorials. You also practise on life-like models to develop your nursing skills. The other half of the course consists of supervised practical placements. Placements are based on the branch you choose to follow. They are undertaken in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and health departments.


How can you choose the right nursing course for you?

Make sure you choose a course in the branch of nursing that interests you most. Some courses offer more support to trainees than others. Choose one that has an excellent reputation for ensuring student nurses have all the help they need.


What kind of person do you need to be?

To make the most of a nursing course you must be:

·         prepared to study anatomy, physiology, chemistry, microbiology and nutrition.

·         responsible, understanding and caring because nurses work with a huge diversity of people during some of the most emotionally intense periods of their lives.

·         a good communicator to deal with people from a variety of backgrounds.

·         happy to work as part of a team liaising with GPs, health visitors and social workers, as well as patients.

·         calm and alert during in emotionally charged situations, encouraging patients to feel confident and positive.


Let’s hear what nurse Chrissie Clark has to say…


Where did you study nursing? Kings College, London


Why did you choose to study there? Kings College is home to the Florence Nightingale School of Nursing and Midwifery. And not only has it got a great reputation for nursing, but it is also affiliated with world-class hospitals and pioneering research. 


Why did you want to study nursing? People often ask me this and it’s hard to answer without sounding too soppy. Genuinely, I love to help people at times when they need it most. Nothing can compare to the feeling you get when you know you have helped someone at a difficult time. 


What is the best thing about being a nurse? As cheesy as it sounds, it’s knowing that you helped put a smile on someone’s face, it’s being a comforting hand on someone’s shoulder and knowing that you’ve really made a difference no matter how big or small.


What was the hardest thing about being a nurse? When things don’t always go the way you would have liked them to! Unfortunately you don’t always get the results you hope for but what helps is knowing that you did everything you could.


What is the strangest thing you've had to do? Seriously, there are too many to list. Injecting oranges to practice intramuscular techniques was always slightly surreal! For one of our modules we were assessed on our communication skills and they bought in professional actors to play the roles of patients, that was slightly strange but a great learning experience!


Britain's most famous nurse

Florence Nightingale is considered the founder of modern nursing practice. She was known as "The Lady with the Lamp" because of her habit of making rounds at night. In 1860 she she laid down the foundation of professional nursing with the establishment of her nursing school at St Thomas' Hospital in London, now part of King's College London.


By Nick Kennedy

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