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How to... become a registered nurse

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For many healthcare assistants, the prospect of training to become a registered nurse is an increasingly attractive idea. For others, it’s never been in question - it’s just been a case of finding the right time to take the plunge. But how do you go about it?

Essentially, you’d have to undergo Nursing and Midwifery Council-approved pre-registration training in one of the four branches of nursing: adult, children, mental health and learning disabilities. This would involve a mix of theory and clinical practice. You would qualify with either a university diploma of higher education or a degree, before registering as a nurse with the NMC.

Details of full-time pre-registration nursing programmes can be found on the UCAS website: If you’re not able to study full time, there are some part-time pre-registration nursing places available, details of courses can be found on the NHS Careers Course Finder.

Current entry requirements vary, but for a nursing diploma, you’d need five GCSEs (A-C) preferably in English, maths and/or a science-based subject. For the degree you’ll need the same GCSEs as the diploma, plus two or three A levels, possibly including a biological science. Some universities offer advanced diplomas for those with a related degree. Always check with universities first, as they often accept equivalent qualifications.

Your experience as a healthcare assistant can also help you with your university application. You should have lots of practical experience to draw on, and a good idea of what you hope to gain from the course - which demonstrates a focused and motivated student.

With one to two years’ experience as a healthcare assistant (plus NVQ Level 3 in health), your employer may agree to second you to nurse training. On secondment, you would receive a salary while studying. After you qualify as a nurse, your employer may expect you to work with them for a qualifying period. Speak with your line manager or contact your training department to check availability of secondment opportunities. If there are none available, see if you can register an expression of interest in taking part in future.

The NMC has confirmed that nursing will become an all-graduate profession, in the next few years. When this happens, nursing diplomas will no longer be offered, so it’s worth keeping in touch with universities offering nurse training for details of any revised entry requirements.

An NHS bursary is available for pre-registration nursing students (other than for those who have studied pre-registration midwifery, or are seconded by their employer). Details are available on the website of the NHS Business Authority.

For many nursing students, undertaking bank shift work is necessary to supplement the financial support available from the NHS Bursary Scheme. The experience you gain through bank work could prove valuable when it comes to applying for nursing jobs, particularly if you would like to stay with your bank shift employer when you have completed your nurse training. However, before you sign up to bank shifts, make sure you’ve planned how you’re going to balance your work and study commitments.

You can share your ideas with colleagues. Many HCAs post questions on the HCA section of the Nursing Times online forum. Alternatively, if you’re interested in nurse training, contact universities direct for details of open days.

Run by the Careers Advice Service and sponsored by NHS Careers and Skills for Health, the Health Learning and Skills Advice Line provides careers information to support people working in healthcare. The friendly, trained career coaches can also give you constructive feedback on your CV and help assess your skills.

For a free, confidential discussion about your career, call freephone 0800 150 850 from 8am to 10pm, seven days a week.

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