Learning disability nurse

Learning disability nurses support people of all ages with learning disabilities to help them lead active, independent and healthier lives.

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 a learning disability nurse.

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

Modern Apprenticeships

Begin or continue your journey towards becoming a learning disability 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 learning disability nursing, approved by the NMC:

  • Edinburgh Napier University
  • Glasgow Caledonian University
  • The Open University

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

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

The role

As a learning disability nurse, you would work to improve the wellbeing and social inclusion of people in your care.

You’ll use a variety of skills and techniques to communicate with individuals in your care. Helping people express their needs, integrate and engage with the wider world is also part of the job.

What you’ll do

Tasks include:

  • assessing a person’s health and social care needs
  • providing access to healthcare and other therapies
  • teaching people everyday practical and personal skills
  • supporting people to lead a fulfilling life
  • reducing barriers and challenging negative attitudes

Top skills

You’ll need these skills:

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

Who you’ll work with

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

  • doctors
  • healthcare support workers
  • speech and language therapists
  • occupational therapists
  • social workers

Working environment

As a learning disability nurse the NHS, you could work in:

  • hospitals
  • residential homes
  • community centres
  • people’s homes
  • education
  • prisons

Useful information

To work as a learning disability 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 a learning disability 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 learning disability nurse, there are lots of specialisms to choose from, including:

  • sensory disabilities
  • autism
  • epilepsy
  • special needs education

You could also combine your nursing training with social care work. There are also opportunities to move into:

  • service management
  • public health
  • voluntary or private sector organisations
  • research and education

You could combine these roles with ongoing clinical practice.


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 a learning disability nurse, you must register with: