A career in nursing could see you caring for others in a range of settings, from hospitals to prisons and the armed forces. You'll need a degree to get started - find out more about how to become a nurse
Adult nurses care for adult patients who are 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 continuity of care. They will 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 through tasks such as preparing patients for operations, wound treatment 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 be good at communicating 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 prioritising 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 £22,128 rising to £28,746 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 nurse team leader on Band 6, salaries progress to £26,565 to £35,577.
- At more senior levels such as nurse advanced, modern matron and nurse consultant (Bands 7 to 8c) salaries range from £31,696 to £69,168.
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 is 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.
What to expect
- Nursing shortages have led to the introduction of flexible working, as a means of retaining staff.
- The environment and working conditions vary between hospitals and wards. You might be looking after many different 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.
- Career breaks and retraining opportunities are often available, as is overseas work.
- 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 it can also be satisfying when you see that the care you have provided has resulted in improvement of health, recovery or reduced suffering.
To work as a nurse in the UK, you need a degree and must be registered with the Nursing & Midwifery Council (NMC). You need to have completed an accepted pre-registration nursing programme in order to be eligible to register and these are only run at NMC approved educational institutions (AEIs).
Half of the programme is based in clinical practice, giving you direct experience of working with patients and families. You could be based within a variety of settings including hospitals, the community, patients' homes and independent organisations. The other half is time spent on your academic learning.
You may be able to get accreditation of prior learning (APL) if you have a degree in another health-related subject or other practice-based learning. Evidence of this learning may count towards the programme requirements of some of the approved degrees and postgraduate diplomas, allowing for the course to be accelerated. You should contact the relevant institution directly for more information. Details of all approved programmes can be found at Nursing & Midwifery Council: Approved Programmes.
Relevant subjects may include:
- biomedical science
- human biology
- life and medical sciences
- social work.
The NMC states that good health is necessary to practice as a nurse but this does not mean that you cannot have a disability or health condition, just that you must be able to carry out safe and effective practice without supervision.
You will 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.
Nursing bursaries are no longer available in England and students must apply for any help through the student loans system. For bursary information in Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales, see:
You will need to have:
- the ability to communicate with and gain the trust of people from a range of backgrounds
- empathy, sensitivity and emotional resilience to be able to help people under what may be difficult circumstances
- the ability to deal with a variety of patients at one time
- excellent teamworking skills
- good organisational and managerial skills, particularly as your career progresses.
Pre-entry experience is not essential, but relevant work experience as a care worker or in some other work with people in the community is good preparation. It is a good idea to visit hospitals and talk to nurses directly about the role.
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:
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.
You must renew your registration with the Nursing & Midwifery Council every three years by revalidating.
Full details of what you need to do are available on the Nursing & Midwifery Revalidation page.
Requirements include, having completed 450 hours of registered practice and 35 hours of continuing professional development, over the three-year period.
Training is available in clinical specialisms, such as:
- cardiac nursing
- infection control
- theatre and recovery
- multiple sclerosis.
Many universities offer structured part-time learning programmes, which may lead to MSc or even PhD qualifications.
Nursing begins with a period of preceptorship, which is a transition phase designed to help newly registered nurses to further develop their practice. It covers fundamental competencies in patient care as well as broad skills in leadership, management, teaching and communication.
After successfully completing this, you can begin to progress through various different roles, including:
- senior staff nurse
- junior sister
- ward sister
- nurse practitioner
- nurse consultant.
All nurses have management roles, 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 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.
There are many specialist branches of adult nursing, and you can choose to undertake further training in order to specialise in an area of interest. Popular roles include:
- accident and emergency nurse
- cancer nurse
- district nurse
- intensive care nurse
- occupational health nurse
- practice nurse
- sexual health nurse
- specialist nurse.