An overview of the role

The role of a nurse is to care for patients in hospitals or health clinics. They may suffer from a diverse range of  health conditions, from injuries to chronic illnesses.

Nurses work as part of a team with other medical professionals, such as doctors, healthcare assistants, paramedics and many more. A nurse is also usually the first point of contact both for patients and their families, so the role is highly social. 

What are the responsibilities of a nurse?

The basic responsibilities of a nurse include:

  • Observing patients and recording their conditions 
  • Monitoring patients’ pulses, temperatures and blood pressure
  • Recording the results of tests in detail
  • Assisting doctors with various procedures, from examination to 
  • Designing and implementing patient care plans
  • Reassuring patients in distress and pain as well as their families
  • Training junior nurses

It is also vital that a nurse maintains a trusting confidential relationship with each of their patients, who must trust them to perform all sorts of tasks on their behalf. If a patient does not trust their nurse to feed, clean and otherwise care for them, these tasks will be much more difficult and distressing.

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What are the key skills required by a nurse?

Key skills required by a nurse include:

  • A warm and caring personality
  • Excellent interpersonal skills and sensitivity to patients’ needs
  • Excellent communication skills, both written and verbal
  • The ability to stay calm and act quickly in an emergency
  • Psychological resilience and the ability to deal with difficult situations
  • Good team working skills
  • An organised, methodical approach to tasks

What qualifications does a nurse require?

In order to become a nurse candidates will need a nursing qualification at an NMC-approved institution. Such nursing courses are made up of an academic and a practical component that combine to equip the nurse will all necessary skills. 

The qualifications necessary for acceptance vary between universities, but usually include:

  • At least two, generally three A levels, including at least one science subject
  • At least 3 GCSEs including pass grades in English, maths and a science (ideally biology)

Once trained, a nurse must then apply for registration with the Nursing & Midwifery Council (NMC) in order to be allowed to legally practice. 

NMC registration will not be permitted if the candidate is not in good health or a serious criminal record, though minor offenses are usually acceptable if sufficient time has passed. Failure to disclose this information could result in you being struck off your course or sacked.

At the interview for a nursing role, candidates will often be asked to pass basic literacy and numeracy tests to ensure that they are as competent as they need to be. These tests should be straightforward for anyone who passed their English and mathematics GCSEs with a grade C.

Do I need relevant work experience to become a nurse?

Thanks to the practical component of nursing degrees, work experience is not necessary in order to secure a job. However, this is not a career to choose lightly, and candidates are advised to undertake work experience for their own benefit so that they are fully aware of the role.

Any healthcare-related work experience will be useful, including placements in:

  • Health centres
  • Hospitals
  • Hospices
  • Residential homes
  • General practices

What are the prospects and salary of a nurse?

The salary of a nurse working for the NHS is determined by the national pay band system. If they live in or around London, they will also earn a supplement for living in a high cost area. 

Although it is theoretically possible for nurses to progress to salaries of £60,000, this is highly unusual and most nurses remain within pay band 5 (which is capped at £28,746) for their entire careers. Nurses working in private practice may well earn higher salaries.

  • Newly qualified nurse: £22,128
  • Nurse: £27,000
  • Senior nurse: £35,000
  • High level, consultant or specialist nurse: up to £60,000

Modern nurses also accumulate much more debt than in previous years. Bursaries are no longer available for trainee nurses; they must apply for student loans as they would for any other degree and pay it back at once due to the entry wages of their pay band.

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Is the role of a nurse right for me?

There are both pros and cons involved in the role of a nurse.

Pros of being a nurse include:

  • Seeing patients recover and know that you have helped them through their illness or injury is very satisfying and rewarding 
  • It is a highly social role and nurses have the chance to develop ongoing relationships with some of their patients
  • There are plenty of different environments to work in and areas in which nurses can specialise – if you get bored or find that your current job doesn’t suit you, it is easy to move into a new field
  • A qualified nurse is highly employable, and due to the shortage of nurses your skills will always be in demand
  • Good job security

Cons of being a nurse include:

  • The role of a nurse can be highly stressful due to its high responsibility – people’s lives are in your hands and any mistake could prove dangerous to their health
  • You will be expected to work overtime regularly
  • The pay is notoriously inadequate given how tough the job is
  • The job is physically strenuous – nurses often have back problems due to the heavy lifting and bending they do
  • Be prepared to work incredibly long days – you will be on your feet for as much as 15 hours at a time and will often miss bathroom breaks and meals
  • For the majority of nurses there is little opportunity for progression
  • It is not a job for anyone with a weak stomach – be prepared to come into contact with bodily fluids on a daily (if not hourly) basis
  • Now that all bursaries for nursing training have been removed, a nurse will accumulate the same level of student debt training as for a standard degree
  • Nursing is a field notorious for workplace bullying and relational aggression

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