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How to Become a Nurse in the UK: Steps & Qualifications

09 Sep, 2022
How to Become a Nurse in the UK: Steps & Qualifications

In a world with ever-evolving medical challenges - such as the Coronavirus pandemic for example - nurses are more important than ever.

The nursing profession is a true vocation. And what you do in your day-to-day role as a nurse can genuinely transform people’s lives. It is a highly rewarding career, which offers a diverse range of paths and specialisms, and many opportunities for professional development.

A diverse profession

A typical day in nursing is busy and varied; nurses don’t just work in hospitals. There are opportunities, for example, to work in GP surgeries, residential care homes, occupational health services, district nursing, voluntary organisations, education establishments or even in the military.

All qualified nurses must choose from one of four specialisms as part of their nursing degree (some universities now offer a joint qualification) – adult nursing, children’s nursing, mental health nursing or learning disability nursing. However, It’s possible to change after graduating, so this doesn’t mean your career is decided if you have a change of heart.

Global opportunities

It’s also important to note that nursing training offers you a career that can take you all around the world, and that gaining a nursing qualification in the UK will give you the scope to live and work internationally.

Table of Contents

Nursing fields

Entry requirements

6 schools to study nursing

Alternative nursing routes

Frequently Asked Questions

Nursing fields

As referenced above, there are four main types of nursing, and anyone applying for a nursing degree must select one to focus on before submitting their UCAS application. Some universities do however now offer a joint qualification.


Adult nurses work with patients over the age of 18. They can work in hospitals or in community settings such as health centres or nursing homes. Once qualified, they can take extra courses to specialise in areas such as women’s health, accident and emergency, cancer care, practice nursing, health visiting or school nursing.


Children’s nurses specialise in caring for young people and can work in a variety of settings, from specialist neonatal baby care units to adolescent units. Children react to illness in a very different way to adults, and children’s nurses are specially trained to deal with their needs. Children’s nurses also support and advise parents and carers. Once qualified, they can specialise in areas such as school nursing, health visiting, intensive care, and child safeguarding.

Learning disability

Nurses who qualify in this area of nursing help people of all ages with learning disabilities to live full and independent lives. Options include working with people in supported accommodation, or with those who need more intensive support - for instance, in hospitals or in specialist secure units for offenders with learning disabilities. There is also the opportunity to specialise in areas such as working with people who have sensory impairment.

Mental health

Mental health nurses plan and deliver care for people living at home, in small residential units or in specialist hospital services. Nurses working in this field need enhanced communication skills to support families and carers. They work with other health care professionals to ensure patients with mental illness get the specialised care they need. They may develop expertise in areas such as rehabilitation, child and adolescent mental health, substance misuse or working in secure settings.

Entry requirements

To become a qualified nurse or midwife you are generally required to study at undergraduate degree level. The entry requirements vary as they are set by the university, but you will need to:

  • demonstrate evidence of literacy and numeracy
  • complete a health questionnaire and identify any special needs related to a disability
  • declare any past criminal convictions
  • allow the university to check whether you have a police record (you will not automatically be barred if you have a criminal conviction or caution).


An example of the requirements in England, Northern Ireland and Wales is two A-levels or equivalent. In Scotland, one of the following is required:

  • 3-5 SQA Highers plus 2 standard grades/ National 5’s – this should include English and maths
  • Completion of a relevant HNC/HND including English plus maths at Standard Grade/ National 5 level
  • Completion of an appropriate Scottish Wider Access Programme (SWAP). Access to Nursing and SWAP programmes have been specifically developed for adults who have no or few qualifications and have been out of education for some time.


In addition to A-levels, most Nursing degree applicants will be required to have around five GCSEs including English, maths and a science (usually biology or human biology),

Foundation course

Those students who do not currently have the required qualifications or level of education can opt to do Foundation programmes, which will still give them access to a Nursing degree. Generally a year in length, they are especially useful for international students, and are designed to:

  • Gain UK national university entrance qualification
  • Raise English to university level
  • Develop study skills required at degree level
  • Develop specialist subject expertise

Options include a general Advanced Level Foundation, with the option to take a range of subject specific elective modules, or the more tailored Medical Foundation programme, which provides the same knowledge and skills as A-levels that universities want but additional modules specifically designed for those students who wish to pursue a degree within the medical field.

6 schools to study Nursing in the UK

UK universities have been helping to advance medical knowledge and nursing practice for centuries. So, if you want a career in nursing that’s right at the cutting edge of care, the UK is one of the best possible places to get a head start.

The century-old heritage of the Royal College of Nursing helps set the standard internationally for the profession.

Most of that care in the UK is provided within the world-famous public healthcare model, the National Health Service (NHS). Now 70 years old, the publicly funded model is closely integrated with private practice and the wider care system, and much of your learning will give you first hand insights into how it operates. So when you begin practising professionally you’ll have some amazing experience to offer, whether you pursue NHS jobs, positions in the UK private sector, or work in other parts of the world.

With almost 90 universities offering close to 500 nursing degrees, you’ll have plenty of choice on where to start or advance your nursing career path.

The flexible modular nature of university teaching in the UK means that you’ll be able specialise as you learn, choosing the modules that interest you most.

There are many outstanding universities in the UK which excel in the fields of nursing and, and below we look at six which often feature within rankings for the specialism. All are part of the prestigious Russell Group of universities.

  • University of Edinburgh
  • University of Glasgow
  • University of Liverpool
  • University of Manchester
  • University of Sheffield
  • University of York

1. University of Edinburgh

The University of Edinburgh is the sixth oldest university in the English-speaking world. It is made up of three colleges: Humanities and Social Science, Science and Engineering, and Medicine and Veterinary Medicine .The city of Edinburgh is said to be one of the best cities in the world to live and study.

As one of the first universities to offer a nursing degree in the UK (since 1956), the University of Edinburgh has a long tradition of preparing graduate nurses. In 2022, it was ranked number 1 in the UK for Nursing by the Guardian Good University Guide.

The undergraduate programme is a four-year programme which leads to a Bachelor of Nursing degree and registration as a nurse (adult branch). There are also several postgraduate degree courses from taught MSc/Diplomas to PhD.

Courses offered include:

Location: Edinburgh, Scotland

Nursing School Landing Page: Nursing Studies

2. University of Glasgow

The University of Glasgow is renowned globally for the quality of its teaching and research. Whilst it is the fourth oldest university in the UK and boasts over 100 listed buildings within its campus, it offers a very modern learning environment within one of the world’s most vibrant, and affordable, student cities.

The Bachelor of Nursing (Honours) programme at The University of Glasgow is consistently ranked at the top of the University league tables: for 2022 Nursing at the University is ranked 2nd in the UK in the Complete University Guide, 2nd in the UK in The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide and 3rd in the UK for Nursing & Midwifery in the Guardian University Guide.

Nursing students have rated the School as the Best in the UK and the university’s highly valued graduates have excellent employment prospects. A strong science component, integrated with caring and leadership skills and strongly underpinned by research is a unique feature of the programme. Students benefit from the excellent relationship that the university fosters with clinical staff across NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde where they have clinical placements in local hospitals.

The School offers a flexible programme of multi-professional postgraduate courses that may be taken individually or towards a postgraduate certificate, diploma or masters degree.

Courses offered include:

Location: Glasgow

Nursing School Landing Page: Nursing and Health Care School

3. University of Liverpool

University of Liverpool website

The Bachelor of Nursing (Honours) programme is run through the University of Liverpool’s School of Health and Life Sciences. It provides student nurses with the opportunity to hone their practical skills, with facilities including a virtual reality teaching suite, imaging suite, and a range of clinical practice rooms to facilitate simulated teaching. The curriculum is developed and assessed by leading healthcare providers throughout the North West of the UK, who also provide exciting placement opportunities.

The University of Liverpool is consistently ranked at the top of the University league tables: for 2022 Nursing at the University is ranked 2nd in the UK for Nursing & Midwifery in the Guardian University Guide and 6th in the UK in The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide.

Courses offered include:

Location: Liverpool

Nursing School Landing Page: School of Health Sciences

4. University of Manchester

The University of Manchester is ranked 6th in the world for Nursing (QS World University Rankings 2022). It is currently ranked 7th in the UK in The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide and 9th in the UK for Nursing & Midwifery in the Guardian University Guide.

Nursing courses are offered by the university’s Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health and have has produced many of the country's leading nurse practitioners, researchers and policymakers.

As with most nursing degrees, students split their time equally between learning theory on campus and applying their knowledge to practice alongside other health professionals on placements.

Courses offered include:

Location: Manchester

Nursing School Landing Page: Nursing Studies

5. University of Sheffield

University of Sheffield website

The University of Sheffield’s Nursing (Adult) BMedSci course teaches students about current research, policy and practice in adult nursing and give them the clinical skills and knowledge needed for entry into the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) professional register as an adult nurse.

The course is half practice and half theory. Students learn how to apply what they learn to a practical setting and improve their skills in leadership and problem solving.

Students benefit from a purpose-built simulation facility which includes mock clinical ward areas, resuscitation suites, simulated theatres, simulated homes, teaching rooms and a fully equipped filming studio.

Courses offered include:

Location: Sheffield

Nursing School Landing Page: Health Sciences

6. University of York

University of York website

The University of York is a university with a global reputation for inspirational and life-changing research. Its undergraduate nursing programme consistently ranks in the top 10 nursing programmes in the country. The Guardian Good University Guide currently ranks it 6th for Nursing and Midwifery, and the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide named it 7th in the UK for Nursing in 2022.

Courses offered include:

Three-year courses

Four-year integrated Masters

Postgraduate courses

Location: York

Nursing School Landing Page: Nursing Studies

Alternative Nursing Routes

Whilst many nurses choose the university route to complete their training and gain a recognised qualification, there are a couple of other options for those who are either not in a position to commit to the full-time study required for a university degree in Nursing, or don’t have the academic background needed.

Registered nurse degree apprenticeships (RNDA)

This offers a flexible route to becoming a nurse as the programme doesn’t require full time study at university – although nursing degree apprentices will still need to undertake academic study at degree level and meet the NMC standards.

Most nursing apprenticeships will take four years. If you already have prior learning and experience, you may get some recognition of this through APEL and so the nursing degree apprenticeship may take you less than four years to complete. In order to undertake an apprenticeship, level 3 qualifications are required as you will be studying to degree level.

Nursing Associate

The nursing associate role has been introduced across health and social care services in England. This position aims to bridge the gap between the health care support worker and qualified nurse. Upon completing the programme, nursing associates register with the Nursing Midwifery Council (NMC).

The training programme generally takes two years to complete. You will undertake academic learning one day a week and work-based learning the rest of the week. You’ll be employed in a specific healthcare setting such as an acute, community or mental health hospital, care home or hospice, but will also gain experience within other settings. This will mean travelling to placements and working a mix of shifts.

A nursing associate can do further training and ‘top up’ to foundation degree level.

Find out more

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q1. What qualifications do you need to be a nurse?

To become a qualified nurse or midwife you are generally required to study at degree level. There are, however, alternative routes available such as Registered nurse degree apprenticeships (RNDA), or training to become a nursing associate.

Q2. How many years does it take to become a nurse?

Approved full-time nursing degree courses last for three (or four years if taking a dual-field degree), or longer if taken on a part-time basis. Accelerated courses for graduates take two years.

Most nursing apprenticeships will also take four years.

Q3. What are the different nursing fields?

The four fields of nursing are: adult nursing, children’s nursing, learning disability nursing and mental health nursing.

There are some degree courses that allow you to study in two of the fields. These are known as ‘dual field’ degrees.

It's still possible to change your specialism after graduating.

Q4. Does it matter if I don't have any experience in nursing or healthcare when applying for a Nursing course?

Experience in healthcare would certainly strengthen an application, but is not an essential requirement. Undertaking volunteering or work in non-healthcare sectors would also be beneficial, as these will develop transferable skills such as communication, empathy, and practice remaining calm under pressure.

Next steps

We hope that this article has helped you understand more about the routes to a career in nursing, and some of the best universities to train as a nurse in the UK.

You can find more detailed information about Kings’ A-level and Foundation courses, and applying to university on the Kings website. If you would like receive more detailed information about the Kings and our programmes, please get in touch with us at