How to Become a Nurse: A Quick Overview

Nursing is one of the most highly respected and rewarding careers you can go into. Plus with the current shortage of nurses across places like the UK and the US, it’s a job that can offer high levels of employability, job security, and financial stability. All of this means that it’s a field well worth considering training in. This is true both for students still in school and mature students looking to retrain in a different area. 

There are a number of different nursing qualifications you can take and the one that's right for you will depend on a number of factors, such as your desired career path and your current lifestyle. Here’s a quick overview to help you out.

What does the job of a nurse involve?

As a qualified medical expert, the role of a nurse is extremely varied. This is in part due to the wide range of locations that you can work in. These include:

  • hospitals
  • health centres
  • care homes
  • mental health services
  • the military
  • patients’ homes
  • schools and universities
  • summer camps
  • prisons

Nurses function as a vital part of a multi-disciplinary team alongside other healthcare professionals such as doctors. They help to deliver treatment and care for patients of all different ages and walks of life. The types of tasks that you will do as a nurse could include:

  • helping with physical examinations
  • taking blood pressure, pulse and temperature readings
  • administering drugs and injections
  • cleaning and dressing wounds
  • monitoring the progress of patients
  • using a variety of medical equipment
  • setting up drips and blood transfusions
  • taking blood samples
  • updating patient records
  • giving healthcare advice to patients 

As you progress in your career you may have the opportunity to specialise in an area that is of particular interest to you. This could be a field such as intensive care, mental health or neonatal, or focusing on a particular condition such as obesity, diabetes, or heart disease. Should you wish, you could also train to take on a leadership role like a ward manager or director of nursing. Alternatively, there are opportunities for going into teaching or research.

What skills do I need?

To be a good nurse, a wide range of skills are required. As you will be responsible for many different patients, each with their own needs and health conditions, you must be highly organised and observant to provide the best possible care for everyone. Communication and interpersonal skills are also vital. This is because you will need to be able to reassure patients and their loved ones during potentially difficult times, as well as offer advice on health conditions and preventative measures. 

Perhaps the most important thing you'll need though is the right attitude. The job is not always easy, hours can be long, and you’ll have to be able to cope with some difficult situations. Therefore, having compassion, resilience, empathy, the ability to work well under pressure, and a strong passion for caring for others is key. If that sounds like you, you’ll find nursing can be one of the most satisfying and rewarding careers out there.

How do I train to become a nurse?

The best way to become a nurse is by taking an accredited degree. The exact qualification that's right for you will depend on a number of factors, such as where you want to work, the career path you have in mind, and lifestyle factors. 

One of the most common nursing degrees to take is a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. In the UK, this will take three years and you'll need to choose which one (or possibly two) of four areas you want to specialise in: adult nursing, children’s nursing, learning disability nursing, or mental health nursing. In the US, on the other hand, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing usually takes four years. 

Alternatively, you may be able to take an accelerated degree if you already have a nursing licence or a degree in a different field. You could even do an online nursing degree for non nurses in as little as one year. Studying online offers greater flexibility, making it ideal for those looking for a career change but who already have family or work commitments that they need to fit their studies around.

Wherever you study, a nursing degree is very hands-on and practical. As well as classroom-based learning, you'll undertake lots of clinical placements and work experience. This enables you to put the knowledge you learn into practice straight away and learn directly from qualified nurses. Eventually, you’ll be able to treat your own patients under supervision. This all helps you to get used to the long hours a job in nursing involves, too.

If you want to take your studies further, you could opt to take a Master of Science in Nursing or even a doctoral degree in nursing. The latter is ideal for those who wish to teach at university level, or to conduct research.

One final option available in the UK is to study via an apprenticeship scheme. This enables you to combine work and study, which can be a big benefit financially. It is usually only available for people already working in a healthcare setting, and you’ll need to speak to your employer about being supported on this route.

What to do next

If you’re keen to train (or retrain) as a nurse, the first thing to do is start researching where you might like to study. Then when you have narrowed down your options, you can look at entry requirements and start putting together your application. In addition to academic requirements, having some volunteering experience in a relevant field can be a big help in making your application stand out. 

Don’t forget to look into funding options, too. There are many scholarships, loans, bursaries and other types of financial aid available for students who wish to study nursing, but it helps to apply early for these. Most importantly, remember why you want to go into nursing. That passion will shine through in your application and give you an edge when it comes to achieving your dream!