How to change your career and become a nurse

How to change your career and become a nurse resident nurse and specialist writer, Ruth Underdown, explores why she became a nurse and how. If you’re considering nursing as a job, read on to find out how to set about it – and why it’s more than just a job.

Nursing found me and it is more than just a job for me. It’s part of who I am.

First steps to becoming a nurse

Things have changed a lot since I began my training.

When I started, we were predominantly bursaried diploma students. If you did the degree, you didn’t get a bursary but you did get academic terms. I chose to do the diploma because of the bursary.

I believe in student nurses getting experience of what the job entails before they jump into a full-time nursing course.

Being a student nurse requires a lot more commitment than an average degree. We were either in teaching, or on placement for 45 weeks a year.

Now, you stick to academic terms for placements, but you are still expected to work the shift roster of the rest of the staff.

You can enter a nursing course through the traditional A-level/Scottish Highers route, but also with an Access to Higher Education or BTEC through a local further education college.

You will also need 5 GCSE’s, including Maths and English, grades A-C.

From completing the entry requirements, you apply for a nursing degree at your chosen university through the University and College Applications Service (UCAS).

You need to choose which branch to go into; adult, child, mental health or learning disabilities.

If you wish to train to be a midwife, this is a different degree path but nurses and midwives usually do some of their training together.

There is also the prospect of nursing apprenticeships appearing in the near future.

This will mean that nurse training will have gone full circle. Before the Project2000/Diploma nurse course that I did, nurses were trained on the ward as part of the routine ward staffing.

What qualifications does a nurse need?

As a nurse, we are professionals and regulated by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC). In order to be called a registered nurse, you must have a qualification that permits you to have entry onto the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s Register.

‘Registered Nurse’ is a legally protected title. Someone who refers to themselves as a registered nurse without being on the register is committing an offence.

These days, most nurses have a degree, but we all have at least a Diploma of Higher Education in nursing.

A lot of newly qualified nurses will go on to complete their Masters in the first year after they complete their degree, and it is expected that nurses who become unit managers or clinical specialists be educated to Masters or equivalent levels.

We study at University for a MINIMUM of three years. Students entering nursing are expected to enter a lifetime of learning, keeping themselves up to date with current practice, best practice and research throughout their working lives.

It is known as Continued Professional Development (CPD) and is mandatory to your continuation.

Gaining experience

You can start your training with no experience but by the time you qualify, you will have spent approximately half of your degree in clinical practice, working shifts as part of a nursing team.

Before you start applying for a nursing degree, I would wholeheartedly recommend getting some work experience as until you have actually given hands on care, you won’t know if the job is for you.

The moment you change a patient who is distressed, incontinent and embarrassed, and you find yourself reassuring them instead of thinking how gross it is, is when you know you can do this job.

Care homes and the NHS will often take on inexperienced staff and train them to be Healthcare Assistants. This gives exceptionally good grounding for those who do their nurse training as they will develop skills essential to giving good care before they start their course, and reduces the shock value of their placement.

Read more on Ruth’s first post, what to expect from your first job, nursing salaries, working in the NHS and interview tips and advice here.