Different ways to become a nurse

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Different ways to become a nurse

If you’re thinking about becoming a nurse, you might be put off at the thought of spending years at university to qualify. In fact, there are multiple different pathways you can take to become a nurse in the NHS.  Working in the NHS comes with many benefits too; for example, you could be eligible for a Salad Money loan and various other perks.

However, before you seriously consider a nursing career, it is worth getting some work experience so you can learn if the field is right for you. Care homes and the NHS will often take on inexperienced staff and train them to become Healthcare Assistants. This gives an excellent grounding for those who then start official nurse training, as they will have developed skills essential to giving good care.

So how to become a nurse? Nurses are professionals and are therefore regulated by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC). ‘Registered Nurse’ is even a legally protected title, so in order to use this term, you must have a qualification that permits you entry onto the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s Register. 

There are various ways to become a nurse - until recently you were required to go to university but now there are many other routes available, as outlined below.

Nursing Degree apprenticeship

An apprenticeship is a great way to become a graduate registered nurse which doesn't require full-time study at university. Nursing degree apprenticeships offer flexible routes to becoming a nurse - although apprentices will still need to undertake some academic study at degree level.

To follow this route, you will need to gain a position as a nursing degree apprentice. Your employer will then release you to study at university on a part-time basis, which typically takes four years - while you also train in a range of practice placement settings.

Apprentices achieve the same nursing qualification and standards as students using a traditional university-degree route. On successful completion of the apprenticeship, you can then apply for registration with the Nursing and Midwifery Council. The nurse degree apprenticeship is an attractive route into the profession and has the double benefit of increasing social mobility and widening participation to nursing as a whole.

Blended learning nursing degree

From January 2021, some universities are offering adult nursing courses where much of the theoretical content is delivered online, making it easier to fit studying around other commitments. 

This blended learning nursing degree programme combines digital and traditional elements of learning. The programme aims to be interactive and integrated - supporting the development of digital competencies - and will help attract people who may previously have faced barriers to a nursing career. 

Nursing associate

A nursing associate is not a registered nurse - but entering through this route can then open up a route to becoming a registered nurse to people from all backgrounds. If you progress well as a nursing associate, it offers the opportunity to access further training. 

The nursing associate role is part of the nursing team. They help to bridge the gap between healthcare assistants and registered nurses. While the nursing associate role is a stand-alone registered role, it offers a neat progression route into graduate level nursing. Nursing associates who wish to train as registered nurses will then have their qualifications accredited against a nursing degree or a nurse degree apprenticeship, to shorten their training.

Trainee roles are often available in a variety of health and care settings. That means nursing associates have lots of opportunities and plenty of flexibility to move between acute, social and community and primary care. 


Most people qualify as a nurse by studying for a degree at university. You’ll get a lot of practical hands-on experience with patients as well - both in hospital and community settings. There is some flexibility too; you can study part-time to fit around other commitments if needed.

Most degree courses will require you to choose between the four fields of nursing: adult, children’s, mental health and learning disability nursing. There are some degree courses that allow you to study two of the fields - they are known as ‘dual-field’. Most degrees take at least three years of full-time study, but this can vary between institutions. If you study part-time, it will take a little longer.

Entry requirements for nursing degree courses can vary because each university sets its own entry criteria, but you will likely need at least two (usually three) A-levels or equivalent qualifications at level 3

You would also need supporting GCSEs including English, Maths and a Science (usually Biology or Human Biology). Courses often specify a preferred or essential A-level or equivalent subject, such as one Science (for example Biology) or Social Science. Some universities offer courses with a foundation year for those without the necessary entry qualifications, so it’s always worth checking if that applies.

In addition, if you’re eligible you can also receive at least £5,000 in financial support every year of your degree, which doesn’t need to be repaid. To learn more about financial support, check out the NHS bursary options. 

What is APEL (Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning)?

If you already have experience of healthcare settings or a degree in a relevant subject, you can often get recognition for this (a process known as Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning - APEL). Most often, this is used to shorten the typical three-year university degree (depending on your institution’s requirements).

APEL can also be used by existing NHS workers, such as healthcare assistants, nursing associates or assistant practitioners who want to further their careers and switch to a nursing track.

APEL can also shorten a nursing degree apprenticeship, which usually takes four years. If you already have prior learning and experience, APEL recognition can be very helpful in qualifying faster. This does depend on your local Higher Education Institution's (HEI) requirements, so be sure to check.

Bridging programmes

These are designed to help learners to develop the study skills they need to progress and succeed in nursing and other health professional education programmes, including degree-level apprenticeships. Bridging programmes can be used to help upskill NHS workers and often include Maths and English skills. 

Bridging Programmes are exclusively concerned with developing study skills for HEI and planning for entry to university, for those working in healthcare and in social care. Achievement of the Bridging Programme qualification results in an extra 70 UCAS tariff points, which may be counted towards the UCAS entry requirements for nursing courses.


A post-graduate nursing route can be ideal if existing staff, or anyone who already has a degree in a related subject, is interested in becoming a nurse. It takes two years to complete, with the use of APEL as mentioned above, although students will often have to fund this route themselves.

However you enter the nursing profession, you will find yourself in a rewarding and challenging career. After you qualify, you might have further decisions to make about whether you stay in the NHS or move to a private sector job. Whatever direction you go in, you will be glad that you have the nursing qualification you worked so hard for. This is because after two years of practice you can even choose to work abroad or diversify away from nursing. 

Some people move into research or specialist areas (which require further qualifications) such as health visiting, district nursing, midwifery, or school nursing. Some of these nursing specialisms still qualify for a fully sponsored bursary from the NHS, so this further training will even be paid for.

If you decide to become a nurse, you’ll be able to rely on us at Salad Money for small, affordable loans. We specialise in lending money to employed people across the UK in a way that doesn’t affect your credit score or put you in debt you can’t repay. Contact us today to find out more. 

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