Adult nurse

Adult nurses in the NHS help people cope with illness, treatment and recovery by assessing their needs, writing care plans and monitoring progress during medical care.

To work in the NHS, nurses must be registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC).

Starting your career

Choosing subjects at school

To get on a course that could lead to a career in nursing, useful subjects include:

  • Biology
  • Human Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Care
  • Psychology
  • English
  • Maths

Work placement and volunteering

You may find it helpful to get some experience of working in healthcare by doing a work placement. There may also be opportunities to volunteer. This could help you when applying to university, college or a new job with NHSScotland.


Foundation Apprenticeships

A Foundation Apprenticeship could give you the skills, knowledge and work experience to become an adult nurse.

Find out more about a Foundation Apprenticeship in Social Service and Healthcare

Modern Apprenticeships

Begin or continue your journey towards becoming an adult nurse by completing a Modern Apprenticeship.

Learn about the Modern Apprenticeship in Healthcare Support.

All Healthcare Support modern apprentices study the three mandatory units of communication, health and safety, and learning development. For nursing, you will then choose your remaining units from the clinical pathway options.

College and university

At college, you can do an HNC in Healthcare Practice, which could lead to an undergraduate pre-registration nursing degree.

Widening participation supports adult learners who want to go to university. If you’re an adult with few or no qualifications, you can get into higher education through the Scottish Wider Access Programme (SWAP). Many universities also provide access programmes to help learners get the degree entry qualifications they need.

Fully-funded degree-level nursing programmes through the Open University are available if you’re an experienced nursing support worker who wants to become a registered nurse.

In Scotland, the following universities offer undergraduate programmes in adult nursing, approved by the NMC:

  • Edinburgh Napier University
  • Glasgow Caledonian University
  • Queen Margaret University
  • Robert Gordon University
  • The Open University
  • University of Dundee
  • University of Edinburgh
  • University of Glasgow
  • University of Stirling
  • University of the Highlands and Islands
  • University of the West of Scotland

Pre-registration undergraduate programmes usually take 3 years full-time study. Part-time options and distance learning opportunities may also be available.

Some universities offer an accelerated postgraduate masters-level route for pre-registration nursing, which takes 2 to 2.5 years.

For more information on related further and higher education courses, search My World of Work

The role

You would have a vital role in helping adult patients and their families understand information about their diagnoses, treatment and health more generally. You’ll also learn how to carry out different types of clinical procedures and respond to each patient’s physical, clinical and emotional needs.

Depending on your role, you could:

  • develop specific skills in surgical and medical care
  • focus on community or palliative care

What you’ll do

Tasks include:

  • carrying out physical examinations and clinical assessments
  • monitoring patients and recording their clinical condition
  • giving medications and injections
  • responding quickly to emergencies
  • acting as an advocate for patients and their families

You would also support people with their wider nutritional, physical, hygiene and emotional needs.

Top skills

You’ll need these skills:

  • caring
  • listening
  • problem-solving
  • communication
  • teamworking
  • critical thinking

As a nurse, you’ll need to be able to review clinical information and make decisions about care. Soft skills like empathy and compassion are important too.

Who you’ll work with

Adult nurses usually work in a team with other health and social care professionals, including:

  • doctors
  • healthcare support workers
  • pharmacists
  • healthcare scientists
  • physiotherapists
  • social workers
  • carers

Working environment

As an adult nurse the NHS, you could work in:

  • hospitals
  • health centres
  • people’s homes
  • prisons
  • NHS24

Adult nurses also work in the care sector, independent healthcare sector, education, industry and the military.

Useful information

To work as an adult nurse in NHSScotland, you’ll need to:

Did you know?

There are over 47,900 registered nurses working in the NHS in Scotland.

Learning and development

Once registered as an adult nurse, there are ongoing requirements for education and skills development. You’ll also have lots of opportunities to go further and learn more.

In your first year as a newly qualified nurse, you’ll get extra support and guidance through the Flying Start programme.

In the NHS, you may choose to be a staff nurse throughout your nursing career, keeping up to date through continuing professional development. Taking extra courses and workplace learning could lead to progression through the career pathway to senior, advanced or consultant level.

When you’ve qualified and gained experience as a registered adult nurse, there are lots of specialisms to choose from, including:

  • district nursing
  • general practice nursing
  • rehabilitation nursing
  • older people’s nursing
  • accident and emergency nursing
  • intensive care nursing
  • theatre nursing
  • cancer and palliative care nursing
  • community staff nursing
  • occupational health nursing


Revalidation is a process that nurses need to follow to maintain their registration with the NMC every 3 years.

It is an ongoing process throughout your career as a nurse and aims to:

  • promote good practice
  • maintain and strengthen public confidence in the profession

Find out more about revalidation on the NMC website.

Professional bodies

To become an adult nurse, you must register with: