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

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 24 September 2022 | Published 30 November 2021

Updated 24 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.

Working in healthcare may be ideal for you if you're interested in health or medicine and would like to help people maintain their wellbeing. As a nurse, you may have the option to specialise in learning disabilities, which is a branch of nursing that focuses on taking care of patients with learning and developmental disabilities. Knowing what it takes to pursue this nursing specialisation may help you create a more realistic plan for your career. In this article, we explore what a learning disability nurse is, explain how to become one, list important nursing skills and provide salary expectations.

What's a learning disability nurse?

A learning disability nurse, or a developmental disability nurse, is a healthcare professional who supports people of all ages who struggle with various kinds of learning disabilities. These specialised nurses help patients maintain their health and wellbeing and improve the overall quality of their lives. If you decide to pursue this career, you'd have the chance to look after people and teach them how to take good care of themselves so they can become as independent as possible.

How to become a learning disability nurse

There are several paths to explore if you'd like to work with patients with learning disabilities. Consider these steps to better organise your journey towards a successful career in nursing:

1. Make sure you're a good fit for the role

Working with patients who have learning disabilities may be challenging or daunting, but it's also a rewarding career path that creates opportunities to help others through your work. Making sure you're a good fit for it requires that you identify and analyse your strengths, weaknesses, skills, motivation and values in life. You may find it easier to pursue this career if you have strong communication and interpersonal skills so you can easily interact with patients with different disabilities and needs.

Related: What qualifications do I need to be a nurse? (plus salary)

2. Choose a relevant university course

Obtaining a university degree, which usually takes around three to four years, is the most common way to gain professional qualifications as a learning disability professional or nurse. To qualify, universities may require that you have four to five GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) or two to three A levels, including science, and a personal statement. If you're already a student but want to change degrees, you may be able to join during the second year of the course if you prove that you've studied for a degree in life sciences of a health-related subject.

Related: How to write a nursing personal statement (with example)

3. Consider an apprenticeship

A good alternative to university courses is a degree apprenticeship in nursing. You may qualify for an apprenticeship of this type if you have previous experience working in a hospital or healthcare setting. Throughout the duration of the programme, you'd have the chance to work while attending lectures and seminars that equip you with relevant healthcare knowledge and essential nursing skills. Requirements for nursing apprenticeships are usually similar to the requirements of university degrees.

Related: All you need to know about apprenticeship vs university

4. Become a volunteer

Volunteering in a hospital, clinic or another facility that helps patients with disabilities is a great way to gain your first work experience. Through volunteering in social care or healthcare, you can start testing your skills in practice. It's also a great way to see if there's a sub-specialisation of learning disability nursing that you may want to pursue in the future, for example, by obtaining a relevant postgraduate degree.

5. Become a registered nurse

Upon successful completion of your degree or apprenticeship, it's critical that you register as a nurse with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC). Depending on your background, there are various ways in which you can join this register. In most cases, your university or employer may offer you this as you approach the end of your training. As a part of your programme, they'd upload your course and personal details for NMC's approval, after which you'd have the option to pay the £120 registration fee and fill out the rest of your application.

6. Find an entry-level job in nursing

Registering as a qualified nurse gives you the opportunity to reflect on your career and analyse how much you've accomplished to date. Consider taking this time to identify important skills and listing your experience and qualifications, which you can use to develop an effective job application, including a CV and a cover letter. It's also important that you spend some time preparing for your nursing job interview. A key step to take is to review common questions that interviewers ask aspiring nurses and prepare answers that highlight your best qualities.

Related: Interview question: 'why do you want to be a nurse?'

7. Consider a postgraduate degree

If you're considering further advancing your career in healthcare or social care, it may make sense for you to think about obtaining a postgraduate degree in nursing. A degree of this type usually makes it possible for you to obtain specialised knowledge in your desired area of nursing, such as a child or community learning disability nursing. It also positions you as an expert in your field, which may be useful if you're considering teaching others, for example, while working as a university lecturer.

Essential nursing skills

Although your priority as a nursing student may be to obtain enough specialised medical and healthcare knowledge, it's also important to develop key soft and interpersonal skills that nurses use. Here are essential skills for a successful career in learning disability nursing:

Sensitivity and empathy

Empathetic nurses who are sensitive to other people's moods and behaviour typically find it easier to communicate with their patients. When working in this profession, you never know how severe the situation of your new patients may be. Regardless of the situation, quickly identifying their needs and choosing the best method to interact with them is typically the key to teaching patients how to properly take care of themselves.

The ability to manage people

The ability to manage people is especially important if you aspire to advance to a leadership role that would allow you to oversee the work of other nurses. Developing this skill makes it easier to establish trust and build better professional relationships with people. It also allows you to position yourself as an accountable and approachable manager and leader that others can look up to.


When working in learning disability nursing, you may come across difficult or upsetting situations that require a lot of emotional strength and motivation. If you learn how to motivate yourself, you may start enjoying your professional struggles and view them as learning opportunities. To learn how to self-motivate, consider getting to know yourself better through participating in personal and professional development activities.

Stamina and strength

Working on your stamina and strength may make it easier for you to work long shifts at a hospital or clinic. You may also find these qualities beneficial when managing unresponsive or difficult patients, as sometimes you may make the decision to restrain them to ensure their safety and the safety of others. To maintain a good level of strength and stamina, consider regularly engaging in physical activities that you enjoy, which may also help you relax.

Average salary of nurses specialising in learning disabilities

The national average salary of a learning disability nurse is £35,898 per year. If you're interested in working in disability support but are unsure about making the huge time commitments involved in becoming a registered nurse, you may consider working as a disability support worker. Disability support workers earn an average of £9.76 per hour. In some cases, the first step in becoming a nurse specialising in learning disabilities may be to find a job as a registered nurse. The average national salary of a nurse is £14.90 per hour.

Related: The highest paid nurses UK and their primary duties

Career progression for nurses specialising in learning disabilities

After working in learning disability nursing for a while, you may consider moving to a senior or leadership role. If you work at a healthcare or social care facility, a good option for you would be to become a nurse manager, where you'd supervise less experienced nurses and nursing associates. You may also consider advancing to a role in upper management, for example, as a clinic or social care facility manager. Depending on your individual skills, you may be responsible for managing budgets, staff or patient admissions.

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

Please note that none of the organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.


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