How to become a nurse or midwife
Nursing offers a diverse, challenging and rewarding career to all those who'd like to make a difference to people's lives. Nurses and nursing staff take responsbility for the care they provide and answer for their own judgements and actions. They constantly respond to new challenges and act as a leader, carer and clinician.
Experienced nurses find fulfilling careers in positions of responsibility, often running nurse led clinics or in leadership roles, up to executive level. Nursing is changing rapidly, with more focus on public health and preventing disease. It is possible to develop career pathways in clinical, research, education and management roles.
Nurses don't just work in hospitals. There are opportunities to work in, among others, GP surgeries, clinics, nursing and residential homes, occupational health services, voluntary organisations that run hospices or residential care and the pharmaceutical industry. Nurses also work in university education, on leisure cruise ships or in the military.
Midwives are often the key health professional supporting, guiding and caring for the mother, baby and family through the months of pregnancy, during the birth itself and afterwards in the postnatal period.
Nurse and midwifery education
Nurse education is provided by universities, with half the programme devoted to supervised placements in local hospital and community settings. Students specialise in the fields of either adult, children's, mental health or learning disability nursing. All nursing programmes will be offered at degree level by 2013. Up until this date it has been possible to complete either a diploma or degree programme. The move to graduate level entry reflects the changing face of nursing, which requires a high level of technical competence and clinical decision making skills.
During the midwifery degree programme students learn the theory and practical skills required to care for pregnant women, delivering babies, educating and supporting parents. The social, political and cultural issues affecting maternity care are also covered.
The number of opportunities for those qualifying in the adult branch of nursing is huge. It is possible to work in hospitals or the community - in peoples homes, attached to a health centre or in nursing homes. Once qualified, many nurses take extra courses to specialise in areas such as cancer care, women's health, accident and emergency, critical care, practice nursing, health visiting or school nursing.
Those qualified in the children's branch of nursing work with 0 to 18 year olds in a variety of settings, from specialist baby care units to teenage services. Children react to illness in a very different way to adults, which is why they need to be cared for and supported by specially trained nurses who understand their particular needs. Children's nurses also support, advise and educate parents and other close relatives. Once qualified, it is possible to specialise in hospital and community settings in areas such as burns and plastics, intensive care, child protection and cancer care.
Learning disability nursing
About two to three percent of the population has a learning disability. Nurses who qualify in this branch of nursing help those with learning disabilities to live independent and fulfilling lives. This may involve working with people in supported accommodation - typically three to four people with learning disabilities live together in flats or houses, with 24 hour support. Some nurses work with individuals who require more intensive support - for instance, in hospitals or in specialist secure units for offenders with learning disabilities. Others specialise in areas such as epilepsy management or working with people with sensory impairment.
Mental health nursing
Mental health nurses work with GPs, psychiatrists, social workers and others to co-ordinate the care of people suffering from mental illness. The vast majority of people with mental health problems live in the community. Nurses plan and deliver care for people living in their own home, in small residential units or specialist hospital services. Some are based in health centres. It is possible to develop expertise in areas such as rehabilitation, child and adolescent mental health, substance misuse and working with offenders.
Many midwives carry their own caseload of women and work in the community. Others are based in hospital. There are opportunities to specialise in public health, women's health and to run specialist services, such as teenage pregnancy clinics.