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Graduate entry into nursing: your training options

Want to become a nurse but studied a different degree? Here's how.

New entrants to the nursing profession are now expected to have studied for a nursing degree. If you are keen to train as a nurse but have already done a degree in another subject read on to find out what your training options are.

Nursing degrees are also referred to as 'pre-registration' courses because, after completing them, nursing graduates can register with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC). You have to register with the NMC before you can practise as a nurse.

What you learn on a nursing degree course

Full-time nursing degree courses are three years long and are available in all four main branches of nursing:

  • adult
  • child
  • mental health
  • learning disabilities.

You usually need to decide which of the four branches you wish to train for before applying for a course.

Nursing degree programmes begin with a common foundation programme (CFP) which provides a general introduction to the four branches of nursing and maternity care, lasting for 12 to 18 months. This is followed by an 18 to 24 month programme specialising in one of the four branches of nursing. There is a strong emphasis on hands-on caring and 50% of the course consists of supervised nursing practice in hospital and community settings.

Masters nursing degree programmes are also available and can take up to four years to complete.

Part-time degree courses are available from some universities and colleges for staff who are working in the NHS, typically as assistants or associate practitioners. They usually take five or six years to complete.

Recognising previous learning

Your previous learning may meet some of the requirements of the nursing degree programme and allow you to complete it more quickly. Up to a third of a three-year programme can be accredited in this way, so you could potentially complete your nursing degree in two years.

Universities and colleges offer shortened nursing degree courses for candidates with relevant previous learning. These are sometimes known as accelerated programmes.

Examples of previous learning could include a health-based or biology-based degree. Degrees in social sciences, psychology or behavioural sciences could also be considered relevant. It’s down to the higher education institution offering your nursing programme to decide what counts as relevant and how much accreditation to award for it, so it’s important to get in touch with the admissions tutor to discuss your situation.

Entry requirements vary, so it could be worth contacting a number of different course providers for advice. You certainly shouldn't assume that your degree course is irrelevant. In the past, graduates of subjects as diverse as music and geography have been able to earn places on accelerated nursing programmes because they were able to show that their degree course had prepared them in some way for the nursing course.

For example, a geography graduate could highlight the social dimension of their degree, while a music graduate could show that the performance element of their degree (where they had to receive criticism, reflect on performance and develop practice) was very similar to the style of learning they would experience in a clinical setting.

Funding for nursing degree courses

From 2017 student nurses will need to apply for loans in the same way as students on other undergraduate courses. Like other students, they will be able to apply for non-repayable grants to cover additional childcare, adult dependants, parent learning costs and some costs towards travel to placements. Students with a disability can also apply for additional grant funding through the Disabled Students' Allowance.

In the long run the government plans to provide access to the student loans system for those studying nursing as a second degree. In the meantime, funding will be made available for a capped number of new starters on postgraduate healthcare courses in 2017.

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