Adult nurse: job description

Last updated: 21 Jun 2023, 15:37

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

Healthcare professional holding a patient's hand

What does an adult nurse do? Graduate salaries | 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, therapists and other professionals to make sure patients’ care plans are met.

Typical duties include:

  • writing and updating care plans
  • monitoring patients and keeping records of any changes in their health
  • providing pre- and post-operation care
  • 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 – such as public health, cancer care or theatre and recovery – as their careers develop.

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

Graduate salaries

NHS nurses’ salaries are set by the government rather than individual hospitals. Newly qualified adult nurses will start at band 5 with a salary of around £25,500. Pay increases with experience. If you work in London, you’ll be entitled to a high-cost area supplement to cover the higher costs of working in the capital.

Typical employers of adult nurses

  • Hospitals
  • Residential homes
  • Health centres
  • Prisons
  • Hospices
  • The armed forces
  • NHS24 and other helplines
  • Private companies.

You’ll find jobs advertised by individual NHS trusts, as well as at, and Specialist recruitment agencies also advertise roles, although these tend to be for more experienced nurses.

Qualifications and training required

The main route to becoming an adult nurse is to specialise in adult nursing as part of a nursing degree. (There are four areas of focus in nursing degrees; besides adult nursing, you can also specialise in children and young people’s nursing, learning disability nursing or mental health nursing. Some degree courses cover two of these fields, and are known as 'dual field' degrees.) You’ll experience a mix of formal teaching and practical experience on your degree.

Apply for full-time undergraduate nursing degrees through UCAS . Application criteria vary but you are likely to need at least two (and sometimes three) A levels or equivalent qualifications, plus GCSEs in English, maths and a science.

Alternatively, if you already have a degree in a nursing-related subject such as a life, health, biological or social science, you can qualify as a nurse via a shortened two-year postgraduate course (also known as a conversion course). 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.

You can also qualify as a nurse via a degree apprenticeship. These are similar to nursing degrees in that they involve a mix of academic study and placements, but involve working in a health-related role while studying on regularly scheduled days. This means you can apply what you’re learning to your job and the patients you work with.

Look for nursing degree apprenticeships on the NHS jobs website or the government's apprenticeship search.

All nurses working in the UK must be registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) . When you complete your nursing degree, your university will pass on your details to the NMC, and you’ll then receive an application to register. You’ll need to renew your registration and pay the registration fee each year, and you must revalidate your registration every three years. As part of your registration, you’ll need to complete a minimum of 35 hours of continuing professional development (CPD) and 450 hours of registered practice over three years.

You don’t need work experience to become a nurse, but any gained caring for or working with people can be helpful – for example, working as a care assistant or volunteering at a day centre for adults. The experience will help you build skills you’ll need as an nurse, such as being able to communicate with people from a range of backgrounds.

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:

  • excellent interpersonal skills and the ability to work with people from all sections of the community
  • good written communication skills
  • observation skills
  • teamwork skills
  • the ability to deal with emotionally charged situations
  • organisational skills
  • managerial and leadership skills
  • attention to detail.

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