Working as an adult nurse offers you the chance to make a real difference to the lives of others
Adult nurses care for patients suffering from a variety of health conditions, ranging from minor injuries and ailments to acute and long-term illnesses and diseases. They support recovery by using care plans, carrying out care procedures and assessments, and evaluating and focusing on the needs of the patient rather than the illness or condition.
Nurses usually work within a multidisciplinary team but are the main point of contact for patients, often providing the most consistent care. They have contact with the patients' families, particularly in cases of chronic illness where the patient may be returning regularly for treatment.
As an adult nurse, you'll need to:
- gain the trust and confidence of each patient
- write patient care plans
- implement plans for tasks such as preparing patients for operations, treating wounds and monitoring pulse, blood pressure and temperature
- observe and record the condition of patients
- check and administer drugs and injections
- set up drips and blood transfusions
- assist with tests and evaluations
- carry out routine investigations
- respond quickly to emergencies
- plan discharges from hospital and liaise with GPs and social workers
- reassure patients and their relatives and communicate effectively with them
- advocate on behalf of patients
- educate patients about their health - this may include running clinics and education sessions on topics such as diabetes, weight loss and quitting smoking
- organise staff and prioritise busy workloads
- mentor student and junior nurses
- maintain patient records
- make ethical decisions related to consent and confidentiality.
- Fully qualified nurses start on salaries of £24,907 rising to £30,615 on Band 5 of the NHS Agenda for Change pay rates. Salaries in London attract a high-cost area supplement.
- With experience, in positions such as senior nurse on Band 6, salaries progress to £31,365 to £37,890.
- At more senior levels such as advanced nurse, lead nurse, modern matron and nurse consultant (Bands 7 to 8c), salaries range from £38,890 to £73,664. Salaries may be in excess of this amount for director of nursing posts.
Payments for unsocial hours are made to NHS staff, though pay for unsocial hours in the private sector may vary so contact employers for information. Comparable rates of pay exist in the private sector.
The NHS offers a pension scheme, sickness and maternity benefits. Nurses employed outside the NHS may not have the same terms in relation to pension provision or benefits, but may be offered other incentives such as private health insurance or, occasionally, a company car for senior roles.
Income data from NHS Agenda for Change (AfC) pay rates. Figures are intended as a guide only.
Shift work is carried out in hospitals, which includes regular unsocial hours.
There's increasing scope for 9am to 5pm working in other locations, not only in the community and in specialist units and clinics, but also in industry and commerce.
Adult nurses usually work a standard 37.5 hours per week.
Career breaks and retraining opportunities may be available, as is overseas work.
What to expect
- You'll work as part of a multidisciplinary team with other healthcare professionals, such as doctors, therapists and social workers, and will also liaise closely with patients' families and/or carers.
- The environment and working conditions vary between hospitals and wards. You might be looking after many patients on a ward, or one or two patients in intensive care or on a high dependency unit. Alternatively, you could work on your own in patients' homes.
- Jobs are available throughout the UK in hospital wards, clinics and outpatient units, for example. Freelance work is possible through agencies or as a private nurse or, for senior nurses, as a consultant.
- Nursing can be physically and emotionally demanding, but seeing that the care you have provided has resulted in improvement of health, recovery or reduced suffering is incredibly satisfying.
- You may need to travel during the working day between hospital units, homes and clinics.
To work as an adult nurse in the UK, you must be registered with the Nursing & Midwifery Council (NMC). In order to register you must complete a pre-registration adult nursing programme run at an NMC-approved educational institution (AEI).
To get a place on an undergraduate training programme, you'll typically need four or five GCSEs (grade 4/C or above or equivalent), including maths, English and science, and two or, more often, three A-levels, including a science. Applications are usually made through UCAS for full-time courses.
Training usually lasts three years full time (four years in Scotland or if you're taking a dual-field degree that leads to registration in two fields of practice). The programme is a mix of clinical practice, giving you direct experience of working with patients and families, and academic learning. You could be based within a variety of settings including hospitals, the community, patients' homes and independent organisations.
There are some part-time degree courses available and also blended learning courses, where the theoretical part of the course is delivered mainly online. Contact individual providers for details.
You may be able to get accreditation of prior learning (APL) if you already have a degree in a health-related subject or other practice-based learning. Evidence of this learning may allow you to apply for a two-year accelerated pre-registration postgraduate programme in adult nursing.
Relevant degree subjects include:
- biological sciences
- life and health sciences
- social sciences.
You will also need to have relevant clinical practice experience in a health-related environment such as a care home, hospital, the community or home care.
It's also possible to qualify as an adult nurse by taking an employer-led nursing degree apprenticeship, which combines paid work with study at an AEI. Find out more about nursing degree apprenticeships.
Contact individual institutions for exact entry requirements, including information on accreditation of APL. For a list of approved pre-registration training programmes, search Nursing & Midwifery Council - Approved programmes.
The NMC states that good health is necessary to practise as a nurse, but this doesn't mean that you'll be exempt if you have a disability or health condition - you'll just need to be able to carry out safe and effective practice without supervision.
You'll also need to declare any criminal convictions, charges or cautions. A criminal record may not be a bar to training, but would be the subject of full and open discussion at interview.
All pre-registration undergraduate and postgraduate nursing students can receive non-repayable funding support of between £5,000 and £8,000 per years towards their studies. For full details, see Health Careers.
You'll need to have:
- interpersonal and verbal communication skills in order to liaise with other medical and healthcare professionals
- the ability to gain patients' trust and support them both emotionally and through advice and information
- empathy, sensitivity and emotional resilience, to help those in difficult circumstances
- written communication skills to keep patient records and write care plans
- observation skills and attention to detail
- the ability to deal with a variety of patients at once
- excellent teamworking skills
- a flexible approach to work and the ability to work well under pressure
- good judgement
- good organisational and managerial skills, particularly as your career progresses.
Nursing can be demanding so it's good to get some relevant healthcare and/or social care experience to get an idea of what the role involves.
Work experience as a care worker or in some other work with people in the community is good preparation for life as a nurse.
It's also a good idea to visit hospitals and either shadow a practice nurse or talk to nurses directly about the role.
Find out more about the different kinds of work experience and internships that are available.
As an adult nurse you can find work in hospitals, GP practices, in the community (attached to a health centre or general practice), in residential homes and hospices, and in specialist units and schools. You may also work with patients in their own homes.
Once you've gained enough experience you may also work as a nurse trainer or deliver health education, rather than carrying out hands-on clinical work.
- air ambulance services
- community and school health education units
- emergency helplines
- general practices
- health promotion
- holiday companies
- leisure cruise ships
- nursing agencies
- occupational health
- overseas aid and development
- private healthcare organisations
- research, teaching and education
- residential nursing homes
- schools and universities
- specialist units and hospices
- the armed forces
- voluntary organisations.
See NHS Authorities and Trusts for details of trusts in your area.
Look for job vacancies at:
- BUPA UK Careers
- Circle Health Group
- NHS Jobs and NHSScotland Jobs
- Nuffield Health Careers
- Nursing Times Jobs
- RCN Bulletin Jobs
For nursing jobs in the armed forces, see:
- Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps (QARANC)
- Royal Air Force - Medical Careers
- Royal Navy Careers
There are many specialist nursing agencies, such as Pulse, that recruit for both permanent and temporary positions in the UK and overseas. For a searchable directory of agencies, see the Nursing Agencies List.
As a newly registered nurse, you will usually start your first job with a period of preceptorship. This transition phase is designed to help you further develop your practice and gain in confidence. It covers fundamental competencies in patient care as well as broad skills in leadership, management, teaching and communication.
You must renew your registration with the NMC every three years by revalidating. Full details of what you need to do are available at Nursing & Midwifery Council - Revalidation.
Requirements include completing 450 hours of registered practice and 35 hours of continuing professional development (CPD) over the three-year period.
Training is available in clinical specialisms, such as:
- cardiac nursing
- infection control
- multiple sclerosis
- theatre and recovery.
Many universities offer structured part-time learning programmes in areas such as advanced practice, which may lead to MSc (post-registration) or even PhD qualifications. Search postgraduate courses in nursing.
There are various routes for career progression. Once you've completed your period of preceptorship, you can work in a range of settings and start to move up the career ladder into roles such as:
- senior staff nurse
- ward sister/charge nurse
- advanced nurse practitioner
- lead nurse
- nurse consultant.
You'll start by gaining some experience in a more generalist role, but can then choose to undertake further training in order to specialise in an area of interest. There are many branches of adult nursing, and popular specialisms include:
- accident and emergency
- intensive care
- occupational health
- sexual health.
All nurses have management responsibilities, but some career paths are more management-orientated than others. As you become more senior, you may have less hands-on nursing responsibility.
Progression to roles such as ward sister, ward manager and team leader depends on the development of management skills and your level of specialist knowledge. You may then progress either within a clinical specialism up to posts such as nurse consultant, or through further managerial responsibility as a matron and then up the executive ladder to a director of nursing post.
For more information on possible career pathways see the NHS Careers in nursing resource.
Find out how Kate became a critical care nurse at BBC Bitesize.