Healthcare professionals with the right skills, qualifications and experience can take their career in a new direction by completing a degree-level nursing apprenticeship

Nursing is the UK's most employable degree subject. What do graduates do? 2018 revealed that 94.2% of nursing graduates were in a job six months after graduation. The nursing profession was also the largest gainer of workers from those surveyed - 1,785 more 2016/17 graduates were working as nurses than 2015/16 graduates.

These promising figures show that nursing is a popular career choice for many, despite the government's decision to move from bursaries to loan-based nursing funding in 2016. Those who were previously discouraged from a career in nursing for financial reasons are now being offered an alternative route into the profession with the introduction of a degree-level nursing apprenticeship.

But what does the qualification involve, who is it intended for and how do you apply?

What is a nursing apprenticeship?

Offered as a Level 6 degree apprenticeship, you'll obtain a Bachelor's degree and full Registered Nurse status on completion of a nursing apprenticeship.

Courses typically run for four years. 'Learning fits around the apprentice's work commitments and involves flexible learning modes, including block learning, distance or blended learning,' says Dr Debbie Porteous, associate head of the Department for Nursing, Midwifery and Health at Northumbria University, Newcastle.

'The apprenticeship route provides a flexible, work-based approach, combining university study and workplace learning to develop new knowledge, skills and thinking whilst completing an undergraduate degree.'

Not only will your tuition fees be covered, but you'll also be treated as an employee and paid a wage for the duration of your course. How much you're paid will vary on where you study your apprenticeship, but you'll be entitled to at least the current minimum apprenticeship wage rate.

Who is a nursing apprenticeship for?

Currently, nursing apprenticeships have been developed to boost existing healthcare support workers (HCSWs) and Assistant Practitioners into nursing roles.

If you're not yet in the profession, consider completing a Level 3 nursing associate apprenticeship. You'll gain directly relevant skills that are transferable to a nursing position, and having this qualification can reduce the length of the degree apprenticeship.

If you're unsure whether doing the apprenticeship and becoming a nurse is right for you, Debbie recommends doing some research. 'The NHS, Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) and Royal College of Nursing websites are all great sources of information,' she suggests.

Which universities offer nursing apprenticeships?

Anglia Ruskin University, Northumbria University and The Open University all currently offer nursing apprenticeship courses. The following universities currently have courses in development:

  • Coventry University
  • Keele University
  • Southampton Solent University
  • University of Cumbria
  • University of Suffolk.

The University of Greenwich, University of Derby and The University of Sunderland have courses in the pipeline, though it's not confirmed when these will be available to applicants.

How do I apply?

You'll be able to find out more about the opportunities available to you by speaking to your current employer. Opportunities may also be advertised via NHS Jobs and Find an apprenticeship.

Generally, to apply for a nursing apprenticeship you'll need to provide:

  • evidence of your current permanent employment in a healthcare setting
  • certificates of relevant Level 3 qualifications, such as the nursing associate apprenticeship or at least two A-levels, one being in a science or health-related subject
  • English and maths GCSEs or equivalent, to at least a C/4 standard
  • a clear Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check.

Debbie highlights the importance of demonstrating your suitability for the course with previous experience in your application. 'This could be from volunteering in different sectors, working in care homes or even having a placement in a hospital setting if possible,' she says. 'Also, think about developing skills that would be transferable into nursing, such as communication skills, how to manage or lead, or effectively handle multiple priorities.'

See how to apply for an apprenticeship for further guidance on what to include.

Why should I become a nursing apprentice?

Julie Messenger, professor of nursing at The Open University, sheds some light on why aspiring nurses should consider this new training route:

  • Nursing apprentices put their learning into practice as they go. 'Not only will you earn as you learn, the nursing apprenticeship also has clear benefits in the application of skills,' she says. 'Unlike the traditional undergraduate route, our current cohort of more than four hundred students has the opportunity to put their newly acquired skills to use in a real-life setting immediately.'
  • The course offers greater flexibility than a traditional degree. 'Typically, our apprentices will spend two days a week on practice learning, one day a week on protected study time and two days a week undertaking duties within their employment setting. What this means is that both patients and apprentices have a better experience,' Julie explains. 'Those who do a nursing apprenticeship through The Open University have the additional benefit of a national network of nursing experts, and greater flexibility through our online learning platform,' she adds.
  • Applying couldn't be easier. 'With The Open University, there are no additional entry requirements to those required by the NMC,' Julie says. 'If you're interested in the Registered Nurse degree apprenticeship or the Nursing Associate higher apprenticeship, read up on the course and what it entails, and keep an eye out for employers accepting applications.' Find out more about entry requirements at NMC - Becoming a nurse.

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