Nursing is well known to be a demanding profession, especially in today’s climate. Nurses are expected to work long hours, be attentive and caring towards their patients, and to remain calm under intense stress. However, those who thrive in the career know the rewards far outweigh the challenges of the role.

After the completion of a nursing degree, there’s a variety of specialisations and career paths to choose between, so stagnating isn’t an option. Not to mention it’s one of the most trusted and respected professions in the world. Long stressful days and a strong stomach can be expected as part and parcel of your day, but for those who choose this path - it’s a calling. 

Before you begin your journey on becoming a Registered General Nurse, read through this article to find out the best way to move forwards in your career.

What can I expect as a registered nurse? 

Standard work days in hospitals are often up to 12 hours long, with little time for lunch breaks, especially if there is a medical emergency to attend to. However, don’t be too put off by this, as a standard nurse’s weekly hours are 37.5 hours per week, and you only need to work three 12 hour shifts a week before you’re set for a four day weekend. Overtime payments work out to 1.5 times the standard hourly rate, and 2x during bank holidays.

The standard salary for fully qualified registered general nurses in the NHS start between £21,692 - £28,180, but this is flexible depending on whether you live in an area with high living costs like London. There are yearly incremental salary increases, and the pay for senior nurses increase to £26,041 - £34,876. However, for private nursing jobs, it’s possible to expect more.

How do I become a registered nurse? 

To become a registered nurse, you first need a nursing degree, which takes a minimum of three years to complete. However, those with previous education, such as the no longer available UK nursing diploma, are able to move through special fast-tracked entry routes. Entry requirements for nursing degrees are typically 3 A levels or equivalent, but this varies between Universities, so always check. Those without relevant entry requirements may be able to attend a foundation year offered by select Universities and colleges. 

There’s also the option to enter the profession via apprenticeships. These can be taken while working with an employer, however you’ll still need to attain the same level of education as traditional nursing degree routes to succeed, and this can take four years, possibly longer, as you won’t be studying full time. 

What does a registered nurse do? 

The day to day life of a registered nurse varies, as there are many different roles, from working in a GP to assisting on the surgery table. However, during a typical day a nurse would be expected to:

•    Take care of patient administration
•    Assess, plan and carry out nursing care requirements
•    Monitor patients
•    Report significant changes to the supervising doctor
•    Be ready to deal with medical emergencies
•    Prioritise patient care 
•    Provide emotional support
•    Give advice on various health conditions

As the role varies, so do the working environments. There’s a chance that during your working day you may come into contact with individuals with infectious diseases. You would be expected to practise due diligence and follow strict guidelines to protect yourself and others from disease, infection, and other injury.

Is becoming a registered nurse right for me? 

Along with needing the right qualifications to apply for a degree in nursing, you’ll also need to have the right motivations, temperament and physical capabilities for the job.

Being drawn to a career in nursing because you want to be useful and enjoy caring for people is a good start, however having the physical capabilities to deal with long days on your feet is a must. A day in the life of a nurse is an active job and often calls for a lot of walking, bending, lifting, and sometimes running.  

You’ll also need to be a good communicator, as speaking with patients directly, clearly and compassionately about their issues is a large part of the job. 

What career opportunities does becoming a registered nurse lead to? 

As a registered nurse, you can choose to specialise in a variety of different roles, depending on your own interests. If you demonstrate competence, the desire and ability to learn, and strong leadership skills, you may find yourself progressing quickly through the ranks of leadership. Typically, nurses begin their careers as generalists, and then develop their own niche and specialisation, and that specialised knowledge is what will get you noticed. 

Promotion through the NHS is managed through different pay bands, all registered nurses begin in pay band 5, and on average it takes around 18 months for a nurse to be promoted to band 6. At this point, the nurse must demonstrate that they can perform their duties safely and is able to take on the senior tasks of the role, such as mentoring newly trained nurses. Attending courses designed to expand your current skills is always helpful, though these are not always free. After this, it’s possible to rise up to the position of Ward Manager or Matron (pay bands 7-8), after demonstrating many years of good leadership and management capabilities. 

However, if management is not your thing, advance nurse practise can include becoming a midwife, anaesthesia nurse, gynaecological care, neurological nurse and other clinical nurse specialises. These are some of the highest paid branches of the profession.