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'Do I have to go to university to train as a nurse?'


Can you advise this student nurse?

“I started my course in September last year and am totally loving being on placement, meeting patients, learning new skills – all the practical stuff that comes with being a nurse. But I just find the lectures so tough.

“I work hard and actually get good grades, but with three children at home it’s sometimes hard to find the time to give my essays and revision the attention they need!

“This morning I noticed on Nursing Times that Norman Lamb is talking about bringing back state enrolled nurses (or whatever they’re going to be called!) and think that might be the answer to my prayers!

“I know it’s not definitely going to happen but I’m considering dropping out, waiting until my youngest is in school and then going down this learning-on-the-job route.

“But how likely is it to happen? I know it’s been talked about by a few politicians but do nurses and student nurses actually see it happening? And am I being naïve in thinking this will be nurse training without the essays?”

Please use the comments section below to share your advice

If you would like to post a question here, please email We will publish first names only, but please let us know if you’d rather remain anonymous.



Readers' comments (6)

  • I disagree with the plans proposed by UKIP and supported by the Liberal Democrats.

    I strongly feel the re-introduction of enrolled Nurses can damage the reputation and values of our profession.

    I think that Nursing education needs to change making it slightly more practical, however practical and theory comes hand-in-hand.

    The profession as a whole is evolving, there are more duties given to Nurses today that in the past Doctors would have undertaken. There is a lot more relevance on evidence based practice in improving care delivery.

    Taking the theory out of Nursing education would be a ridiculous more and will undermine the profession. We need theory to ensure our knowledge and skills are continually updated, it allows us to make sense of research and reports and make critical connections between those to our clinical practice.

    If Nurse education goes 100% practical then we risk the next generation of Nurses drifting away from other HCPs especially Doctors.

    As I say they come hand-in-hand, I am keen for reforms on Nursing education as I felt unprepared coming out of University but this is not the answer.

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  • Hi there.
    I felt that at first I may be unsuitable to answer your question as I loved the academic content of the course. Having worked in healthcare for years, I also enjoyed the environment as one where I could focus on myself and meet like minded people to learn without the pressures to constantly apply it as happens in practice. The time where you can enjoy practice ever day of your working life will come soon enough!
    However the two go hand in hand, I often found myself applying what we had learnt-say for instance in a critical care lecture-on a subsequent placement and found that there often was not the time to learn factual information so clearly on the ward. It is often difficult on placement to ensure all learning needs are provided as it is without expecting them all to be covered without university learning as well.
    Additionally, university education ensures the regulation of high quality nurse training and that each student nurse has the practical skills and knowledge to be a good nurse. Although I agree with you that 'on the job' training' sounds more enjoyable in some respects I think the university aspect of the course is equally important.
    I also trained as a single parent with three young children, but once they were in bed was when I studied. To be honest I found it easier than working weekends and nights because I could plan my work while in university and had a familiar routine to complete it.
    Don't forget that you will still have to write essays, even in reflection form, at some point of training even if it is practice based. I believe politicians often misunderstand what the nursing role entails and whilst it is idealistic to say that a nurse should be involved in 'care' the underpinning knowledge which is needed to provide it is currently, and in my opinion, successfully, provided by university education which maintains the high skill standards of student nurses in the UK.
    I would say that although the essays are a grind for most of us, they are an important way to demonstrate the practical and theoretical knowledge that we have gained at numerous stages. You have come so far already, your children will benefit too. Keep going and before you know it you will have qualified and be looking back at your training as a distant memory!

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  • I would love for the on-the-job training option to become a nurse to come back. I'm good at practical work however the exams baffle me. Doesn't matter how long I will revise for I might still fail the main exam! :/ I'm currently doing a HND health course; hopefully in year and a half I will be graduating as a level 6 HND health student! :D

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  • First of all I'd like to say, yes State Enrolled Nurses were less qualified than State Registered Nurses, but they were still qualified nurses in their own right, cared for their own number of patients, did mostly what the RN did, medicine rounds as well, except certain skills and were not supposed to take charge of wards. They trained in two years, rather than three years, and many people will compare SEN's to healthcare assistants, which is totally wrong as they are not the same thing. Many older nurses you meet, will have once been an SEN however will have converted to RN years ago when the education standards changed. I do not think they deskilled the profession in fact they were a great help, however they were used and abused, being left to run wards when they were not paid to do that and couldnt progress beyond their role, I could go on. We already now have Band 4 Assistant Practitioners which are nearly identical to Enrolled Nurses, however they do not do medicines and have no registration. AP's were introduced to fill the work force gap which was left when the SEN was phased out and more so they wanted staff at a cheaper cost as well, and more and more are being asked of them, but they are not accountable for their actions, and as time goes by they are going to eventually become registered. So either way the Enrolled nurse is back or coming back, but AP oppurtunities are only offered to healthcare assistants with years of experience. If you are thinking of nursing, just go ahead and do it now, yes academics are hard, but you will be at university to get a degree, when you are on placement you will be learning to be a nurse. I support nurses having a degree education, as the job is much more complex and it keeps us on parr with fellow health professionals, whom once looked their noses down at nurses, however you are a nurse to care for people, and a degree doesn't teach you that, hands on experience does. So I understand why people want old style training back, but then again, not everything was nice and rosy back then, proper techniques have been developed due to bad practice years ago etc.

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  • I personally think nursing degrees are a good thing.
    Not undermining the jobs done in years previously, but because many patients are living longer, and often with increased comorbidities that would have been nearly impossible to manage due to the lack of certain types of technology.
    The role of a nurse is evolving and changing all the time, and I think a base in education enables you to swiftly learn new things that are theory based.
    As someone said previously, you would probably find that the academic content won't disappear completely. You're there now, you went through the interview process and have obviously done quite a bit of your degree already, so even if it is tough now, the rewards you get at the end will be worth it. I'm a nursing student with two children, and you are not alone in feeling this, but I'm focusing on the end goal. I WILL be a nurse! :)

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  • There is another route the Foundation Degree in Health and social Care to become a band 4 basically like the old state enrolled nurse but, to be honest you are better off just doing the 3 year Nursing Degree. This is a 2 year course and more essay writing. I know from experience as I did the FD. Now I am back in uni for another 2 years to complete the Nursing Degree as I apelled (Accredited Prior Learning) my 280 FD credits so am doing 2 yrs of Adult Nursing. In reality its now taken me 4 years to get my Nursing Degree. In principle the FD is great but only if the wards utilise the skills correctly. I felt that my skills were not being applied to wards but others who have gone into clinic areas are doing really well. I guess it comes down to what you want to do.

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