A comprehensive guide to nursing degrees (with jobs)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 19 September 2022 | Published 30 November 2021

Updated 19 September 2022

Published 30 November 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Nursing is a career that is always in demand, as healthcare is an essential service to society. Nursing degrees prepare students for careers in nursing by providing them with practical skills and scientific knowledge. Understanding what a nursing degree entails may help you determine if it's a suitable degree option for you. In this article, we discuss what nursing degrees are, the topics they cover, how long they take and what careers are available.

What are nursing degrees?

Nursing degrees are higher education certifications that prepare students for a career in nursing. The degree programme typically comprises a combination of lectures, classroom tutorials, practical skill sessions and placements on a hospital ward. Students learn about a variety of topics, and teaching staff assess their understanding through different methods, including:

  • written exams

  • practical assessments, called Objective Structured Clinical Examinations (OSCEs)

  • drug calculation tests

  • coursework

  • presentations

There are both undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in nursing, and general or specialised programmes, depending on your area of interest.

Related: Nursing entry requirements (with specialisations)

What topics do they cover?

Syllabuses for nursing programmes cover similar topics, as they're controlled by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC). Specialist degrees are available for those wishing to pursue a particular area of nursing, but most programmes cover:

  • clinical care

  • pathophysiology, anatomy and physiology for health

  • epidemiology

  • complex care

  • basic life support

  • blood draws and cannulation

  • how to lift and turn patients safely

  • healthcare ethics and law

Besides the core topics mentioned above, there are additional modules that are included in specialist nursing programmes.

Related: 17 types of nurses (with job descriptions and salary info)

What types of degrees are there?

Nursing degree programmes cover the key topics to prepare students for nursing careers. Those that wish to pursue a more specific area of nursing can undertake specialist programmes such as:

  • Adult nursing: Also known as general nursing, adult nursing courses prepare students for careers caring for adults from 18 years and up.

  • Children's nursing: Children's nurses, or paediatric nurses, provide care for patients from newborn babies to adolescents. Children's nursing teaches students about the specialist requirements of child patients.

  • Mental health nursing: Mental health nursing programmes teach students about mental health conditions, different treatments and medication. A nursing degree focused on mental health prepares students for the important work of recognising and intervening in mental health crises.

  • Learning disability nursing: Nursing programmes focused on caring for those with learning disabilities help students to improve the lives of individuals with learning disabilities. These programmes teach students the importance of regular health screenings and how to promote social inclusion.

For those wishing to pursue senior nursing positions or further develop their expertise in a specialist subject, postgraduate degrees are available. Postgraduate diplomas and certificates provide specialist training in a specific area of medicine or life science. Postgraduate qualifications can enhance nurse CVs and help them progress in their careers.

Related: Your guide to postgrad degrees (with career options)

How long does a nursing degree take?

Undergraduate degrees take three to four years to complete for full-time students. The Nursing and Midwifery Council requires nursing students to complete 2300 hours of clinical placement while training, which can include long shifts and nights. Postgraduate qualifications can take one to two years of full-time study or three to four years for part-time students.

Nursing degree entry requirements

Many students enrol in a nursing degree after completing A level qualifications. Universities typically require nursing students to have a minimum of five GCSEs at grade 4/C or above, plus two A levels or equivalent level 3 qualifications. Some alternative routes to enrolling on a nursing degree include:

  • Access to nursing course

  • BTEC level 3 diploma qualifications

  • International Baccalaureate

  • Scottish Highers/Advanced Highers

Entry requirements may vary depending on the university you wish to study at, so be sure to review your chosen degree programme's entry requirements.

Related: GCSE equivalent qualifications

Career options for nursing degree graduates

The skills and experience gained while studying for a nursing degree prepare graduates for a variety of healthcare careers. Some of the job roles nursing graduates may pursue include:

1. Travel nurse

National average salary: £29,207 per year

Primary duties: Travel nurses are healthcare professionals who undertake temporary assignments across the country and sometimes overseas. They assist patients and perform regular nursing duties in areas that are short-staffed or require extra help because of natural disasters or emergencies.

Related: 7 types of nursing careers

2. Nurse

National average salary: £14.87 per hour

Primary duties: Nurses care for people who are sick, injured or have physical disabilities in a variety of healthcare settings, such as hospitals, clinics and other medical facilities. They work alongside other healthcare professionals to create care plans for patients. Their day-to-day duties include taking patients' vitals, administering drugs and cleaning wounds.

3. Paediatrics nurse

National average salary: £16.46 per hour

Primary duties: Paediatric nurses provide specialist nursing care for children, including newborns through to adolescence. While the duties of paediatric nurses are much like that of general nurses, the key difference is that their patients are children. Easing the concerns of patients and their families is essential as a paediatrics nurse, so strong interpersonal skills, compassion and empathy are beneficial for them to have.

Related: How much does a paediatric nurse make? (With duties)

4. School nurse

National average salary: £31,952 per year

Primary duties: School nurses provide basic health services to students throughout the school day. They're responsible for overseeing the emotional, physical and mental health of students. School nurses work closely with students with chronic health conditions or disabilities to give them medication as needed and establish care plans with parents and teachers. They work at all levels of education, from nursery to secondary school.

5. Theatre nurse

National average salary: £32,122 per year

Primary duties: Theatre nurses work with patients who are undergoing surgery or minor operations. They're involved at all stages of the surgical process, from pre-operative preparations to anaesthetic and surgery before helping patients to recover after their procedure. Theatre nurses primarily work in operating theatres and recovery areas, and having excellent interpersonal skills is essential for building positive working relationships with other healthcare professionals in the department.

Related: What are the most popular undergraduate healthcare degrees?

6. Mental health nurse

National average salary: £24.84 per hour

Primary duties: Mental health nurses help their patients to come to terms with their conditions, with the aim of recovery or improved quality of life. They work with patients in a variety of settings including, their own homes, community healthcare centres, specialist units and hospital outpatient departments. Mental health nurses may specialise in a particular aspect of mental health, such as personality disorders, drug addiction, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression and anxiety. Their responsibilities include assessing patients, administering medication, helping patients manage their emotions and monitoring patient progress.

7. Learning disability nurse

National average salary: £35,937 per year

Primary duties: Nurses who specialise in learning disabilities provide care and support for people of all ages with learning disabilities. They teach patients the skills they need to look after themselves and keep healthy, both physically and mentally. Learning disability nurses usually work in the community or supported living settings. Their duties include developing a relationship with vulnerable people, organising home visits and helping patients complete everyday activities. Positive interpersonal skills are essential for learning disability nurses to build trusting relationships with patients and liaise with other healthcare professionals.

Related: How to become a learning disability nurse (salary and tips)

8. Neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) nurse

National average salary: £37,766 per year

Primary duties: Nurses who work in neonatal intensive care units provide care and treatment for newborn babies who are born premature or sick. Premature babies have specific problems and needs that require 24-hour care, so NICU nurses typically work varying shift patterns, including working weekends and night shifts. Some nurses also work within the community, providing ongoing care for babies and their families after they're discharged from the hospital.

Related: Nursery nurses vs NICU nurses: a comparative guide

9. Public health nurse

National average salary: £40,153 per year

Primary duties: Public health nurses work in public or private institutions to inform national and local health policies. They may help perform healthcare services for communities, advocate for public health measures and educate community members on health practices. Public health nurses typically begin their career nursing in hospitals before undertaking additional training to specialise in areas such as health protection or sexual health. The focus of their role is to promote healthy lifestyles, reduce the likelihood of ill-health and support people with long-term illnesses.

10. Nursing supervisor

National average salary: £46,019 per year

Primary duties: Nursing supervisors are a key link between hospital management and nursing staff. They oversee patient care, implement quality improvements and monitor nursing staff. To excel as a nursing supervisor, a background working as a nurse and strong leadership skills are essential. Undertaking postgraduate qualifications also helps experienced nurses to progress into supervisory roles and shows hiring managers that they're committed to their career development.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at the time of writing. Salaries‌ ‌may‌ ‌‌vary‌‌ ‌depending‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌hiring‌ ‌organisation‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌candidate's‌ ‌experience,‌ ‌academic‌ background‌ ‌and‌ ‌location.‌

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