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Becoming a nurse or midwife

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Information from Royal College of Nursing

As a nurse it is possible to work in, among others, hospitals, GP surgeries, clinics, nursing and residential homes, occupational health services, voluntary organisations that run hospices or residential care and the pharmaceutical industry. Nurses also work in the prison service, university education, on leisure cruise ships or for the armed forces.

As a nurse it is possible to work in, among others, hospitals, GP surgeries, clinics, nursing and residential homes, occupational health services, voluntary organisations that run hospices or residential care and the pharmaceutical industry. Nurses also work in the prison service, university education, on leisure cruise ships or for the armed forces.

Nurses focus on the needs of the individual, rather than specific illnesses or conditions. They help individuals and their families to live more comfortable lives by providing care, advice and counselling.

Midwives are often the key health professional supporting, guiding and caring for the mother, baby and family through the months of pregnancy, during the birth itself and afterwards in the postnatal period.

Nurse and midwifery education

It is possible to take either a diploma or degree course to qualify as a nurse. Education is provided by universities, with placements in local hospital and community settings. The course is 50% theory and 50% practical. The first year is a Common Foundation Programme, which will introduce you to the basic principles of nursing. You will then specialise in either adult, children's, mental health or learning disability nursing. Full time diploma courses last three years. Degree courses last three or four years.

Midwifery education is also at diploma or degree level. You will learn the theory and practical skills required to care for pregnant women, delivering babies, educating and supporting parents. The social , political and cultural issues affecting maternity care are also covered.

Adult nursing

The number of opportunities for those qualifying in the adult branch of nursing is huge. It is possible to work in hospitals or the community - in peoples homes, attached to a health centre or in nursing homes. You will care for, support and educate people of all ages. Once qualified, many nurses take extra courses to specialise in areas such as cancer care, women's health, accident and emergency, critical care, practice nursing, health visiting or school nursing.

Children's nursing

Those qualified in the children's branch of nursing work with 0 to 18 year olds in a variety of settings, from specialist baby care units to adolescent services. Children react to illness in a very different way to adults, which is why they need to be cared for and supported by specially trained nurses who understand their particular needs. Children's nurses also support, advise and educate parents and other close relatives. Once qualified, it is possible to specialise in hospital and community settings in areas such as burns and plastics, intensive care, child protection and cancer care.

Learning disability nursing

About two to three percent of the population has a learning disability. Nurses who qualify in this branch of nursing help those with learning disabilities to live independent and fulfilling lives. This may involve working with people in supported accommodation - typically three to four people with learning disabilities live together in flats or houses, with 24 hour support. Some nurses work with individuals who require more intensive support - for instance, in hospitals or in specialist secure units for offenders with learning disabilities. Others specialise in areas such as epilepsy management or working with people with sensory impairment.

Mental health nursing

Mental health nurses work with GPs, psychiatrists, social workers and others to co-ordinate the care of people suffering from mental illness. The vast majority of people with mental health problems live in the community. Nurses plan and deliver care for people living in their own home, in small residential units or specialist hospital services. Some are based in health centres. It is possible to develop expertise in areas such as rehabilitation, child and adolescent mental health, substance misuse and working with offenders.


Many midwives carry their own caseload of women and work in the community. others are based in hospital. There are opportunities to specialise in public health, women's health and to run specialist services, such as teenage pregnancy clinics.


Those who undertake an NHS funded degree course receive a means tested bursary. Your tuition fees are paid, but the grant allowance you receive will depend on your income or that of your partner/parents.

Those who undertake an NHS funded diploma course receive a non means tested bursary, which currently stands at £5,432 (£6,382 in London). Depending on your circumstances you may be elligible for extra allowances - for example, if you have children.

Further information is available from the following organisations:

The NHS Student Grants Unit
Rm 212c Government Buildings

Tel: 01253 655 655 (Diploma Enquiries)
Tel: 01253 333 314 (Degree Enquiries)
Fax: 01253 333256

in Scotland,
The Students Awards Agency for Scotland
3 Redheughs Rigg
South Gyle
EH12 9HH

Tel: 0131 4768212

in Wales,
NHS Wales Student Award Unit
2nd Floor
Golate House
101 St Mary Street
CF10 1DX

Tel : 029 2026 1495
Fax: 029 2026 1499.

in Northern Ireland,
The Department of Higher and Further Education Training and Employment
Student Support Branch
4th Floor Adelaide House
39-49 Adelaide Street

Tel: 028 9025 7777

Entry requirements

Personal qualities

If you enjoy working with people and would like to make a difference to their lives nursing has a lot to offer you. You need to be non-judgmental and a good communicator, with the ability to listen, empathise and provide support. Nursing attracts all kinds of personalities from all sorts of backgrounds. Whether you're an extravert or introvert you'll find an area of nursing that helps you to fulfil your potential.


By law you must be aged 17 and a half (17 in Scotland) at the start of the course.


You have to complete a health questionnaire when you apply for nurse or midwifery training and will be asked to identify any special needs related to a disability. Your acceptance on a course will be subject to satisfactory health clearance. If you have a disability, you may find it useful to contact SKILL (The National Bureau for Students with Disabilities), on telephone number 0800 328 5050, or visit their website at

Past convictions

If you have any past convictions, you will need to declare this on the application form. The university will also ask you to sign a form allowing them to check whether you have a police record. You will not automatically be barred from entering the nursing or midwifery profession if you have a criminal conviction or caution. The university will take into account the circumstances surrounding the case and should treat any information in the strictest of confidence.


The minimum entry requirements are given below, but note that many universities will require you to hold more than the minimum, including A' levels:

  • 5GCSE/GCE O levels, grade C or above (including English and a Science/Maths subject for entry to Midwifery); or
  • 5 CSEs Grade 1; or
  • 5 SCEs grade 1 (Scotland); or
  • 5 SCE ordinary, grades A-C (Scotland); or
  • GNVQ Intermediate level plus one GCSE/GCE O level, grades A-C; or
  • GNVQ Advanced Level or NVQ level 3; or
  • SVQ level 3; GSVQ level 3 (Scotland); or
  • SVQ level 2 (Scotland) if the programme began after Sepetember 2000
  • A Kitemarked Access to Higher Education course; or
  • EDEXEL Foundation (BTEC) National or Higher National Diploma; or
  • Passes in the Northern Ireland Grammar School Senior Certificate of Education;
  • A qualification awarded by the NNEB dating from 1985, including the Diploma in Post-Qualifying Studies

Further details are available from NHS Careers (England) or the organisations in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales listed (see Application Process below).

Nursing cadets

If you do not hold any of the above qualifications you can apply for a new initiative called the nursing cadet scheme. Run by various NHS trusts in England, this scheme enables you to undertake an initial training programme, successful completion of which gives you an NVQ level three or Access to nursing qualification. You are then seconded to a nearby university to take a nursing diploma course, leading to registration as a nurse. Further details are available from NHS Careers (see below).

Application process

There is a central application process for both degree and diploma programmes.

For degree programmes you will need to apply to:

The University and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS)
Barn Lane
GL52 3LZ

Tel: 01242 227788 - for application package only
01242 222444 - general enquiries
Fax: 01242 544961

For diploma programmes you will need to apply to:

The Nursing and Midwifery Admissions Service (NMAS)
New Barn Lane
GL52 3LZ

Tel: 01242 223707 - application package only
01242 544949 - general enquiries
Fax:: 01242 544962

Further information on all of the above is available from the following organisations

NHS Careers
PO Box 376
BS99 322

Telephone: 0845 60 60 655
Web site:

NHS Education for Scotland
66 Rose Street

Telephone: 0131 220 8666
Web site:

Health Professions Wales
2nd Floor
Golate House
101 St Mary Street
CF10 1DX

Telephone: 02920 261400
Fax: 02920 261499
Web site:

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