Working as an adult nurse offers you the chance to make a real difference in the lives of others. Plus, by studying nursing you'll have excellent employment prospects

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 for patients, often providing the most consistent care. They have with the patients' families, particularly in cases of chronic illness where the patient may be returning regularly for treatment.

Responsibilities

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.

Salary

  • Fully qualified nurses start on salaries of £24,214 rising to £30,112 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 £30,401 to £37,267.
  • At more senior levels such as nurse advanced, modern matron and nurse consultant (Bands 7 to 8c), salaries range from £37,570 to £72,597.

Payments for unsocial hours are made to NHS staff, though pay for unsocial hours in the private sector may vary so 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.

Working hours

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.

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 seeing that the care you have provided has resulted in improvement of health, recovery or reduced suffering is incredibly satisfying.

Qualifications

To work as a nurse in the UK, you'll 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 - 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 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
  • physiology
  • psychology
  • social work.

The NMC states that good health is necessary to practice 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.

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:

  • Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS)
  • Student Finance Northern Ireland
  • Student Finance Wales

Skills

You'll 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 help those in difficult circumstances
  • the ability to deal with a variety of patients at once
  • excellent teamworking skills
  • good organisational and managerial skills, particularly as your career progresses.

Work experience

Pre-entry experience isn't essential, but relevant 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 talk to nurses directly about the role.

Employers

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.

Options include:

  • 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
  • prisons
  • 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:

  • BMI Healthcare Jobs
  • BUPA UK Careers
  • 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.

Professional development

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
  • theatre and recovery
  • multiple sclerosis.

Many universities offer structured part-time learning programmes, which may lead to MSc or even PhD qualifications.

Career prospects

Nursing begins with a period of preceptorship, which is a transition phase designed to help newly registered nurses 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 branches of adult nursing, and you can choose to undertake further training in order to specialise in an area of interest. Popular specialisms include:

  • accident and emergency
  • cancer
  • district
  • intensive care
  • occupational health
  • practice
  • sexual health.