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Training to be a nurse

Training to be a nurse

To become a nurse you must hold a degree in pre-registration nursing. This leads to registration with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), enabling you to practice. The nursing diploma in higher education has been phased out. 

Branches of nursing

Pre-registration nursing degrees are offered in four branches:

You will need to decide which of the four branches of nursing you wish to train for, before applying for a programme. However, a small number of universities offer you the flexibility to choose your branch after having started the course. Our personality quiz may help you find the right one for you.

Some universities are approved to run dual branch pre-registration courses leading to registration in two branches of nursing. For example adult and mental health or adult and children's.

Some courses also offer the chance to combine social work with learning disability or children's nursing. However, you are strongly recommended to contact the universities that you are considering before making your application. Find all courses and universities.

Pre-registration programmes

Degree programmes comprise 50% theory and 50% practice. Your time will be split between the university and practical placements.

At university, you will learn about the safe and effective delivery of nursing care through a variety of teaching and learning methods, including lectures, seminars, presentations and tutorials. This will include practising on lifelike models which provides a safe way in which you can develop, practise and gain confidence in your nursing skills.

You will study four main areas of competence:

  • professional values
  • communication and interpersonal skills
  • nursing practice and decision making
  • leadership, management and team working.

Additionally, you may have the opportunity to learn alongside other students in other healthcare professions such as:

Part-time study

Part-time pre-registration nursing programmes are provided by some universities and normally last for five or six years. They are available to staff working in the NHS - usually as an assistant or an associate practitioner with qualifications up to NVQ level 3 (or equivalent). You'd be employed by the NHS, which would provide support in terms of time off to attend on a part-time basis. 

Clinical placements

The clinical placements that you experience will be related to the branch of nursing that you have chosen. So if you choose to go into mental health nursing, the placements will focus mainly on patients with mental health problems in hospital and community settings. However, some aspects of training are common to all branches of nursing.

After your pre-registration programme   

Once you've successfully completed your degree and registered with the NMC you can apply for nursing posts. With some experience, you can look to develop your career further, which may mean further study/training.

Healthcare is constantly developing, technology improving, and the needs of the population changing. Once qualified, it is necessary to keep yourself up to date with health care issues and practice. This will be required by the NMC, and encouraged by your employer. 

More information on post registration education and practice (PREP) requirements.

More information on developing your career in the NHS.