What can you do with a nursing degree?

Why you should study nursing, how to get on to a nursing degree, and the careers you can go into after graduation

July 4 2017

What is nursing?

Nursing is split into four different branches: adult nursing, children’s nursing, learning disability nursing and mental health nursing. Each degree programme will prepare you for a career in providing care for the sick and injured in a hospital, in the community, in a school or in general practice. Nurses will work alongside doctors and other medical colleagues to carry out the care pathway for each patient. 

From 2013 it became a legal requirement for all practising nurses to have a nursing degree.


Top universities for nursing degrees


What do you learn on a nursing degree?

The curriculum of the degree will depend on which of the four strands of nursing you select. A nursing degree will usually be 50 per cent theoretical study and 50 per cent clinical placements, across a range of different settings. During placements, student nurses will also be mentored by practising nurses.

Most first-year modules will introduce students to basic clinical concepts and procedures and will be similar across all four disciplines. Students will start to specialise from the second year onwards, based on their course choice.

An adult nursing degree is the broadest of the four, as it will allow you to work in most settings including hospitals, general practice, prisons, schools and in the voluntary sector. It will cover modules in public health, long-term conditions, complex care and leadership and management.

A children’s nursing degree will set you up for a career in caring for sick and injured children. This can include working in a school, hospital, a children’s hospice or with a charity. Modules could include infection prevention and control, working with families and carers and leadership in children’s nursing.

A learning disabilities nursing degree will cover working with both adults and children with learning disabilities, to support them in daily activities and to care for their mental and physical health. Modules will include understanding learning disabilities, managing complex situations, and ethical principles in nursing practice.

A mental health nursing degree will focus on the aspects of supporting the physical and mental health of patients with mental health conditions. Modules can include community engagement, delivering compassionate care and service improvement.

Some modules will overlap across courses and the syllabus will vary depending on the university chosen.


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What should I study at high school if I want to do a nursing degree?

Most nursing degrees will require a science or a social science subject to have been studied to an advanced level at high school. These could include biology, psychology, sociology and chemistry among others. Grade requirements will vary depending on the individual university.

It would also be useful to show a passion for nursing so work experience in a medical environment would help to boost your application.

What do people who studied nursing do after graduation?

Most people will go on to become registered nurses, working in a number of different fields and settings. The options are varied and far-reaching such as working in hospitals, general practice, schools, the community, prison, the army and hospices. 

Further study is required to take on other roles (such as health visiting or school nursing) or to specialise in a particular clinical field such as diabetes, oncology or neurology.

Nursing graduates can also go on to work as managers in healthcare trusts and hospitals, can take on a strategic role in the healthcare sector or can work in counselling and social welfare. 

Which famous people studied nursing?

Dame Julie Walters trained as a nurse at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and worked on the ophthalmic, casualty and coronary care wards. She left nursing 18 months later to study English and drama at Manchester Metropolitan University and has since gone on to have a successful TV and film career.

Comedian Jo Brand studied for a joint social science degree with a registered mental health nurse qualification at Brunel University London before working as a psychiatric nurse for 10 years. Although she has left nursing for her comedic career, she has delivered guest lectures in psychiatric nursing in the past and incorporates her knowledge of mental health into her books and routines. She has received two honorary doctorates for her work in raising the profile of mental health nurses and in challenging the stigma associated with mental health.

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