Children's nurses work as part of a multidisciplinary team of professional and medical staff that includes doctors, health visitors, healthcare assistants, hospital play staff, social workers and psychologists. They are sometimes known as paediatric nurses. Typical responsibilities include:
- assessing and planning nursing care requirements
- providing care before and after operations
- monitoring and administering medication, injections and intravenous infusions
- treating wounds
- taking samples from patients and monitoring their pulse, temperature and blood pressure
- checking on the condition of patients
- dealing with emergencies
- supervising junior staff
- organising workloads
- tutoring student nurses
- obtaining parental consent for treatment
- writing records
- providing information, emotional support and reassurance to patients and relatives
24-hour shift work is usually a standard requirement of the job. Children's care is increasingly being provided outside of hospitals and in the community, for example, in child health clinics and in children's own homes, so a career as a children's nurse could involve working in a range of different settings.
Children's nurses are employed by hospitals, NHS trusts, nursing agencies, health centres, charities/voluntary organisations, schools, private health care organisations, GP practices and residential homes.
Vacancies are advertised by recruitment agencies, via the internet, in newspapers, NHS trusts' jobs lists, on the NHS jobs website and in publications such as Nursing Times, Nursing Standard and Nursing Children and Young People.
The main route into qualifying as a nurse is to take a nursing degree in one of the four nursing specialisms: adult nursing, children's nursing, learning disability nursing or mental health nursing. Some degree courses cover two of these fields, and are known as 'dual field' degrees. Most nursing degree courses 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.
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 C (equivalent to grade 4) including English, maths and a science (usually biology).
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 two-year training programme that is being trialled from 2018. Nursing associates undertake academic learning one day a week and work-based learning in a variety of settings 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. There is a fee of £120 for this. 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.
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. The scheme's initial focus is training mental health and learning disability nurses.
Children do not necessarily have a well-developed ability to express how they are feeling, so it is essential for children's nurses to have particularly acute powers of observation and to be highly responsive to any signs that a child's health has taken a turn for the worse. Children's nurses also need excellent, sensitive communication skills to enable them to care for children in situations that may be stressful and distressing, to support children and their families and carers and provide information and advice. They must be able to assess patients and use sound judgement to decide on the best course of action.
All candidates must be of good health and fitness, with excellent teamwork and verbal and written communication skills. The work can be physically and emotionally demanding, so resilience and stamina are essential requirements. Previous relevant experience is not essential, but any gained caring for or working with people (particularly children) can be helpful. Children's nurses also need to be organised, flexible and able to prioritise effectively.