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How to Change Your Career and Become a Nurse

20th May 21

Training to become a nurse takes time, commitment and an academic degree in nursing. This requires at least 3-4 years of university level study. However, you can change your career and become a nurse at any age and at any point in your career.

This may seem like a daunting prospect, especially if nursing is far removed from the career you’re in now. But rest assured, many people successfully make this transition every year.

In fact, a record number of nursing students were accepted onto university courses in 2020. With the number of successful applicants over the age of 35 rising by 43.6% compared with the previous year.

So, many people just like you are making the decision to go back into education to train as a nurse. The decision often stems from personal experiences, either through receiving care themselves or witnessing the care of a loved one. Seeing the compassion and professionalism displayed by the nursing team first hand spurs them change careers.

But before you can make the switch, you need to know what steps to take. Nursing is a profession that is regulated by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC). And a ‘Registered Nurse’ is a legally protected title.

To become a registered nurse, you’ll need a qualification that permits you for entry onto the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s Register.

Find out the entry requirements you need to meet plus what you need to consider when you become a nurse below.

learndirect - How to Change Your Career and Become a Nurse


There are numerous academic requirements you need to meet to be accepted onto a regulated nursing degree. These can vary depending on the university and the type of nursing course you aim to study. So it’s always best to check before applying.

Generally, most universities ask for:

  • 5 GCSEs, including maths and English, at grades A-C. Some may ask for Biology to be one of the five.
  • 2 traditional A Levels relevant to nursing or other Level 3 equivalent qualifications. These could be Scottish Highers or an Access to Higher Education Diploma.

If you don’t have GCSEs, you can either take the subjects you need or study Functional Skills equivalents online. You can also study an Access to HE Diploma (Nursing) should you not have relevant A Levels.

If you already have a degree in a related subject, there are post-graduate nursing diplomas available. Nursing degree apprenticeships are also another option to gain your academic degree which combines study with hands-on training.

Once you meet the necessary entry requirements, you apply for the nursing degree you want at your preferred university through the University and College Applications Service (UCAS).

learndirect - Change Your Career and Become a Nurse

Choose your Area of Nursing

When choosing your nursing degree, take some time to research which area of nursing you’d prefer to go into. There are different avenues you can align yourself with that work with specific groups of people.

Nursing roles can be quite competitive so, studying a degree in a targeted area can help employers see you have the skills they need.

There are many avenues of nursing you can work in, but university degrees are generally split into:

Adult Nursing

Nurses who are responsible for treating adults of all ages, cultures and descriptions. Providing care and fulfilling duties aimed at improving the lives of your patients. This can involve administering medication, assisting with personal hygiene or helping with medical and emergency procedures. You’ll be a listening ear and advisor to your patients who you can teach to better manage their own conditions.

A Level 3 Diploma in Adult Care is a great way to understand the needs of those you’d work with.

Paediatric Nursing

Nurses who play a key role in assessing the nursing needs of children. Considering their medical, social, cultural and family circumstances when providing them with care. Working with children requires certain skills since many are scared, anxious or too young to comprehend their situation. You can learn better methods of working with them by taking a course in Child Development ahead of your degree.  

Learning Disability Nursing

Nurses who teach individuals with disabilities the skills to look after themselves in daily life. Helping them to overcome challenges, both physically and mentally, so they’re able to better manage their health. This requires you to interpret and understand different behaviours while engaging with vulnerable people. You can begin gaining skills in this area with a course that focuses on Caring for People with Learning Disabilities.

Mental Health Nursing

Nurses who specialise in working with patients with mental health issues and enduring disorders. These can range from anxiety and depression to psychosis and behavioural disorders. You would become an advocate for them, help them overcome their challenges, reach their goals and maintain a state of wellbeing.

With the diverse range of mental health challenges, it can be beneficial to study courses dedicated to mental health education.

It’s worth noting that despite nurses and midwives completing some training together, becoming a midwife requires a different degree path.

learndirect - Different Nursing Degrees You Can Study

Get Experience

As competition for nursing jobs can be quite high, relevant caring experience is extremely beneficial. Not only does it prove to employers that you’ve got practical skills, it allows you to test the waters first.

Nursing, though undeniably rewarding, can be a challenging career. So, getting voluntary or paid experience before enrolling on your course can help make sure it’s the job for you. Giving you the chance to get a feel for the physical work that’s involved. As well as the emotional situations you can be exposed to.

You can also study introductory courses in Working in Healthcare if you’d like to explore the field ahead of your degree.

learndirect - Get nursing experience ahead of your degree

Get started with an Access to HE Diploma (Nursing)

If you’d like to study nursing at university but need to get your level 3 qualifications first, consider an Access to HE Diploma. These courses are a common alternative to A Level study which can be completed online at home.

An Access to Higher Education Diploma (Nursing) provides an ideal starting point for any nursing degree. Covering important topics like cell biology, the roles & responsibilities of the registered nurse, human diseases and prevention.

The knowledge gained in this course removes the need for multiple A Levels. And it equips you with the study skills for university.

What’s more, the course is studied completely online and at your own pace. So you can prepare for your new career in nursing, without having to jeopardise your current job.

Studying a course with learndirect also means you’ll receive professional tutor support. As well as the option to spread the cost of your learning.

Make the move today. Enrol now to change your career and become a nurse with our Access to HE Diploma (Nursing).

learndirect - change your career - become a nurse at any age

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