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How to become an adult nurse

To become an adult nurse in the NHS, you'll need to complete a pre-registration degree programme accredited by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC).

What is an adult nurse?

Adult nurses in the NHS help people cope with illness, treatment, and recovery. They assess needs, write care plans and monitor the patient's progress during medical care.

Starting your career as an adult nurse

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

Speak to your guidance teacher or careers adviser about subjects offered at your school.

Work placements and volunteering

You may find it helpful to get some healthcare experience by doing a work placement or volunteering. You’ll get training, increase your knowledge, and learn new skills. This could help you when applying to university, college or a new job with NHSScotland. 

Education and training pathway

There are lots of different routes you could take to become a registered adult nurse. You could apply directly to do a university adult nursing degree programme.

If you choose to go to college first, you could do an HNC in Healthcare Practice. You could then apply to do an undergraduate pre-registration adult nursing degree at university.

Some nurses start their careers as nursing support workers. They can follow an established education pathway leading to a new career as a registered nurse.

Widening access

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.

Pre-registration undergraduate adult nursing degree programme

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

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

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.

Pre-registration postgraduate adult nursing degree programme

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

Course search

Search for college or university programmes on My World of Work.

Get to know 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 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

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.

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.

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

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

  • hospitals
  • health centres
  • people’s homes
  • prisons
  • NHS 24

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

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.

Career progression

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

When you become a qualified adult nurse, you must register with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) to work in the NHS.

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Discover the skills and qualifications you’ll need for each role and what the work will be like.

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Help with recruitment

We'll guide you through the recruitment process, from applying online to interview preparation.

Help with recruitment