Adult nurse: job description

Adult nurses plan and provide nursing care to adults suffering from a wide variety of medical conditions and illnesses, supporting their treatment, recovery and well-being.

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Previous care work is not essential, but demonstrates commitment and is a useful opportunity to experience the role.

What does an adult nurse do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Adult nurses are the main point of contact for adult patients and their families, and play a vital role in teams of professional and medical staff. They work with doctors, social workers and therapists, and attend to a patient's comfort and emotional well-being as well as their medical needs. Typical duties of the job include:

  • assessing and planning nursing care requirements
  • writing care plans and records
  • providing pre- and post-operation care
  • monitoring a patient's condition
  • carrying out routine investigations and care procedures, such as administering medication, injections and intravenous infusions, and taking patient samples, pulses, temperatures and blood pressures
  • dealing with emergencies
  • supervising junior staff
  • organising workloads
  • tutoring student nurses
  • providing advice and promoting good health
  • providing information, emotional support and reassurance to patients and relatives

Many adult nurses choose to specialise in a particular clinical field as their careers develop – such as public health, cancer care or theatre and recovery.

Shift work to provide 24-hour care is a common requirement. Some travel may be necessary as you may work in different units of hospitals, outpatient units, homes and clinics.

Typical employers of adult nurses

  • Hospitals
  • NHS Trusts
  • Residential homes
  • Agencies
  • Health centres
  • Prisons
  • Charities
  • Hospices
  • Schools
  • The armed forces
  • Private companies
  • GP practices
  • Day centres

Vacancies can be found on the websites of the Nursing Times, or of potential employers such as Bupa or Nuffield Health.

Qualifications and training required

The main route into qualifying as a nurse is to take a nursing degree. Most are three years long, with the exception of dual field degrees and nursing degrees in Scotland. Nursing degree courses provide a mix of formal teaching and practical experience. If you already have a degree, a postgraduate qualification may be an option.

You apply for full-time undergraduate nursing degrees through UCAS. Application criteria vary but you are likely to need at least 2 (more often 3) A levels or equivalent qualifications, plus a minimum of 5 GCSEs at grade 4 (or C) including English, maths and a science.

Graduates in a relevant subject such as life, health, biological or social sciences can qualify via a shortened two-year postgraduate course. The recognition process for your first degree is known as APEL (accreditation of prior experiential learning). You can find out more about accelerated nursing courses for graduates from UCAS and the NHS health careers website. You will need to check directly with institutions to find out if your degree course is acceptable for entry.

Nursing degree apprenticeships are now offered by a small number of NHS organisations. They are similar to nursing degrees in that they involve a mix of academic study and placements, but they are employer-led rather than being led by universities. Nursing degree apprentices are released by their employers to undertake academic study at degree level on a part-time basis, and also train through a series of practice placements. Level 3 qualifications (that is, A level or equivalent) are usually required, as the apprenticeship is at degree level.

You can look for nursing degree apprenticeships on the NHS jobs website or the government's apprenticeship search. Applicants who have completed a nursing associate apprenticeship will be able to finish a nursing degree apprenticeship in a shorter period of time than other candidates, as the nursing associate apprenticeship will count towards it.

The nursing associate apprenticeship is a training programme that involves academic learning one day a week and work-based learning in a variety of settings for the rest of the week. You need to have GSCEs in maths and English at grade 9 to 4 (A to C) or equivalent to apply. More information about nursing associate apprenticeships is available from the NHS health careers website.

All nurses working in the UK must be registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC). When students complete their nursing degrees, their universities pass on their details to the NMC, which then gets in touch to let them know how to create an online account and apply for registration. Nurses are required to renew their registration and pay the registration fee each year, and must revalidate their registration every three years. In order to revalidate registration, nurses must have completed a minimum of 35 hours continuing professional development (CPD) and 450 hours registered practice over three years.

Key skills for adult nurses

Good interpersonal skills are vital for nurses, who have to communicate with numerous other medical and care professionals as well as being a key source of information and emotional support for patients. Other valuable attributes are:

  • verbal/written communication skills
  • empathy and sensitivity to patients' needs and concerns
  • observation skills
  • willingness to be flexible
  • teamwork skills
  • an ability to deal with emotionally charged situations
  • organisational skills
  • managerial and leadership skills
  • attention to detail
  • good health and fitness
  • good hygiene

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