How to Become a Nurse

nurse holding heart

Within the healthcare industry, nurses are a vital part of the system. They take signs, maintain records, perform physical exams and diagnostic tests, administer medications, change bandages, provide health education, and ensure the comfort of patients. Nurses can be found in all different settings depending on their education and training including hospitals, clinics, GPs and personally administering care for patients from home.

If you are interested in pursuing a role in nursing, read on to learn all of the important information that will help you to achieve your goal, including the typical responsibilities of a nurse, educational requirements, salary expectations, and how you can continue developing your career.

1. Research the Profession

Researching the profession before deciding on your career path is essential. Begin with examining the duties the job entails, work environment, required skills, and the all-important salary prospects.  

Job Description

  • Provide care to patients and residents based on their care plan outlined by their doctor
  • Providing pre- and post-operation care
  • Monitoring and observing patient’s condition and identifying any changes
  • Maintaining accurate records and administrating any medication that’s required
  • Taking patient samples, pulses, temperatures and blood pressure
  • Carry out risk assessment
  • Reevaluate patient care plan as conditions change
  • Consult and coordinate with other healthcare team members
  • Direct or supervise less experienced nursing staff
  • Monitor patients' diet and exercise
  • Manage stocks of supplies
  • Organising workloads
  • Providing emotional support to patients and relatives
  • Tutoring student nurses
  • Assist with the investigation of complaints by patients or family members
  • Maintain continuing education and licensing requirements
  • Report any issues that arose during each shift

Essential Skills and Qualities

Nursing can be challenging at times and it’s essential that anyone considering this occupation possesses the below skills:

  • Good health and fitness
  • Caring and compassionate nature
  • Excellent teamwork and people skills
  • Observational skills
  • Ability to use initiative
  • Ability to deal with emotionally charged and pressured situations
  • Ability to inspire confidence and trust in people
  • Ability to remain calm under pressure
  • Excellent listening and communication skills
  • Resilience
  • Stamina

Working Hours and Conditions

Nurses usually work 37.5 hours a week including evenings, weekends, night shifts and bank holidays. The job can be physically demanding and many nurses are required to do overtime in the case of an emergency.

Depending on the facility you work in, your conditions can vary. If you are in a private clinic, working hours will usually be set. If you are visiting patient’s homes, you have the ability to manage your own working hours. Overall, it’s a job with high prospect that can be tiring but very rewarding.

Salary Prospects

Nurses are paid according to their qualifications, job role and level of work experience. Once you have your degree and have successfully completed a probationary period to reach RGN (registered general nurse) or staff nurse status. You’ll be on Band 5 of this scale, meaning a minimum salary of £23,000 in the UK and $28,000 for the US according to PayScale.

As nurses gain more experience they usually notice a salary increase of 5,000 in both the UK and US. Higher salaries are available for those who opt to climb the management ladder, all the way up to £80,000 (UK) $87,000 (US) plus for directors of nursing. If you specialize as a practitioner, your salary can increase to £150,000 (UK) and $180,000 (US).

2. Get the Qualifications

To qualify as a nurse you must study a three to four-year degree course. Graduates who already have a degree in a relevant subject such as life, health, biological or social sciences can qualify via a shortened two-year postgraduate diploma course. The course length does vary depending on what type of nursing you would like to follow.

Licensed Registered Nurse (LPN)

LPN’s main responsibility is to provide basic medical and nursing care. The educational requirements are not as in-depth as becoming a registered nurse. In order to qualify you must complete an accredited practical nursing program which usually takes about one year to complete. These programs are most often taken at technical or community colleges. Courses usually combine academia in nursing, biology, and pharmacology, in addition to supervised clinical experiences. After completing your practical nursing course from a state-approved program, you’ll receive a certification in practical nursing. Once that is completed, you must take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN) in order to obtain a license and be able to work as an LPN.

Registered Nurse (RN)

There are three ways to become a registered nurse; by completing a bachelor’s degree in nursing, an associate degree in nursing or a diploma program in a hospital. In the UK, applications for full-time nursing courses are made through UCAS. Alternatively, Nurse First, a pilot two-year fast-track programme for graduates who want to enter nursing, has recently been launched by NHS England, and combines hands-on experience and training with an educational course. In the US, you can apply directly to registered colleges that provide the specific courses.

Registered nurses must have a nursing license; after completing your course you will need to take the National Council Licensure Examination — Registered Nurse (NCLEX-RN). This test is the nationally recognized licensing exam for registered nurses.

Nurse Practitioner (NP)

Nurse practitioners have the authority to see a patient on their own and can diagnose and treat acute illnesses, and can prescribe medications. To qualify as a nurse practitioner you must have completed your undergraduate degree in nursing and have some relevant field experience. You can then apply for your postgraduate degree as an advanced nurse practitioner so you can perform a variety of tasks that RN’s are not licensed to do.


After completing their RN qualifications, many nurses decide to specialise in a certain field. They may relate to patient age, mental health, critical care and types of care. Here’s a full list of specialisations below:

  • Cardiovascular Nursing
  • Community Health Nursing
  • Critical Care Nursing
  • Critical Care Pediatric Nursing
  • Emergency Nursing
  • Enterostomal Therapy Nursing
  • Gastroenterology Nursing
  • Gerontological Nursing
  • Hospice Palliative Care Nursing
  • Medical-Surgical Nursing
  • Nephrology Nursing
  • Neuroscience Nursing
  • Occupational Health Nursing
  • Oncology Nursing
  • Orthopaedic Nursing
  • PeriAnesthesia Nursing
  • Perinatal Nursing
  • Perioperative Nursing
  • Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing
  • Rehabilitation Nursing

3. Land Your First Job

Once you have achieved the necessary qualifications and work experience you’ll need to find a job in your desired establishment. Hospitals are a natural setting for nurses, but you can also consider healthcare settings like outpatient care, assisted living, prisons, plastic surgeries and psychiatric facilities.

There are many online websites that give you job posts for graduate nursing positions. A word of advice is that you should start applying before you graduate and pass your NCLEX.

In the UK, you can apply for NHS Jobs or look for other positions through various job search sites.

In the US, your job search can also be done through various nurse-specific sites like AllNurses.

4. Develop Your Career

You can excel and further develop in the field of nursing after qualifying and gaining field experience. You can eventually become a nursing sister, ward manager or team leader. As you work, you will find your niche and you can further develop your professional skills within this category. You may find that you want to work in operating theatres or care for the elderly in intensive care. In the US, you also have the option of enrolling in either an offline or online RN to BSN program to gain extra responsibility and higher pay.

The sea of options is endless as long as you’re willing to put in the time and work towards having a life-long career.

Do you feel that nursing is your calling in life? Let us know your comments in the section below…

This article was originally published in March 2014.