If you're a pre-registration nursing degree student or graduate (or you started a pre-registration nursing diploma before they were phased out) you have already made a significant career decision and are probably considering where your career in nursing might take you now.  This page contains useful information to help you move on in your career.  If you'd like to talk anything through, such as applications, interviews or your plans for the future, visit the Careers Centre where one of our careers advisers will be pleased to help you.

If you are doing a degree other than nursing and are interested in a career in nursing, please see the section on Pre-registration courses below.

Starting out

Initial employment outcomes on qualification are positive, with over 90% of 2011/12 qualifiers from the University of Wolverhampton already employed as nurses within 6 months of completion. 

By the end of your course, you will have developed a view on what sort of roles and environments suit you and how you want your career to progress, at least in the short term; these preferences are probably reflected in your final year placements.

Newly qualified nurses typically start out as staff nurses on band 5 with a salary of over £21k.   For information on nursing salary scales see the Royal College of Nursing.

Completing your degree successfully will enable you to register with the Nursing & Midwifery Council (NMC). The NMC regulates nurses and midwives in England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland. You must register and maintain your registration to work as a nurse in the UK. 

Pre-registration courses

There are accelerated programmes enabling graduates with health-related degrees to train and qualify as nurses.  These courses usually last two years.

For accelerated courses see

Pre-registration degrees and diploma programmes are offered in four branches: adult, children's (paediatric), learning disability and mental health. You need to decide which of the four branches of nursing you wish to train for, before applying.

See the NHS's Careers in Nursing  or Prospects' Occupational Profiles on nursing for more details on the different branches.

Career progression and training

Most newly qualified staff nurses start with a period of preceptorship, to support the tranistion from student nurse to staff nurse and develop the confidence, skills and knowledge required.  Throughout your career you must maintain post-registration and practice standards (PREP), which covers both your continuous professional development and a minimum number of hours that you must practise as a nurse per year.

Typically you might progress to a senior staff nurse role in about two years.  This role will be likely to demand a certain level of expertise/specialism.

Progression to ward sister/charge nurse depends on the development of management skills and level of specialist knowledge. These roles are usually appointed at band 6 or 7 of the Agenda for Change pay scale (see above).

You can choose to undertake further training in order to specialise in an area of special interest, such as district nursing, occupational health nursing or general practice nursing. Many of these roles involve working in the community or within alternative settings such as schools or GP practices. Other specialist areas of nursing include cancer care, renal care, sexual health, women’s health, accident and emergency and intensive care. Secondments for training are sometimes available.

Read case studies on the NHS website to find out more about the rich variety of career paths in nursing.

The NHS website includes a useful tool for planning your nursing career, based on a representation of the career pathways framework as a wheel.

Nursing specialisms

Here is a summary of just some of the special roles you might progress to as a nurse. For more detail visit NHS careers

Health Visitors

Health visitors work mainly with pre-school children and their families, checking the development of the children and promoting healthy lifestyles.  You will work autonomously for much of the time, and also work with wider health and social care teams in the community to ensure equal access to services and safeguard vulnerable children.

You first need to qualify and gain experience as a nurse or midwife, and then undertake further training at degree level to qualify as a health visitor.  Sponsorship for this retraining is sometimes available.

See the NHS guide to Careers in Health Visiting

District Nurses

District nurses care for people in their own homes, at GP surgeries or in residential care.  Many of their patients are elderly or have disabilities or life-limiting conditions, or they may have had recent hospital treatment.  You first need to qualify and gain experience as a nurse, and then undertake further training at degree level to qualify as a district nurse.  Sponsorship for this retraining is sometimes available.

Neonatal nurses

Neonatal nurses work with sick and premature newborn babies, continuously monitoring their respiration, nutrition, temperature and response to any medical or surgical treatments.  Neonatal nurse training programmes are normally undertaken by registererd adult or paediatric nurses as part of continuing professional development.

Practice Nurses

Practice nurses work as part of a primary care team that is likely to include doctors, nurses, dieticians and pharmacists. You would typically be involved in screening tests, monitoring the treatment of chronic conditions such as diabetes, vaccinations and family planning.  You need to qualify and gain experience as a registered nurse. With further study, you can become a qualified nurse practitioner and manage your own caseload.

Prison Nurses

Prison nurses are registered nurses based in prison, either employed by the prison service or by the NHS. Many prisoners are addicted to drugs or have a mental health problem; improving mental and physical health may help to lower re-offending rates, and have a positive impact on prisoners, their families and the wider public. You need to be registered and experienced in adult, mental health or learning disability nursing; a background in mental health nursing is particularly helpful. 

School Nurses

School nurses are usually employed by a primary care trust, local health authority or an individual school. They provide a  health and sex education within schools, carry out developmental screening and administer immunisation programmes. It is possible to go straight into this role after qualifying as a registered nurse. Experience of working with children, in child protection or health promotion is beneficial. As a school nurse you will usually work towards qualification as a specialist practitioner in school nursing/specialist community public health at degree and masters level.

Theatre nurses

Theatre nurses work with patients before, during and after an operation.  They carry out pre-operative assessments and are involved in delivering and monitoring anaesthesia, assisting surgical procedures and providing post-operative care.

Nurse consultants

Nurse consultants are experienced and highly skilled nurses who specialise in a particular field, spending 50% of their time with patients and the rest of their time on research, and in educating and developing other nurses. 

Bank nurses

Bank nurses work for an NHS Trust, working shifts as and when required and available. You will need a minimum of six months post-registration experience depending on the organisation. With some health care providers training could be offered and could lead to a permanent job.

Agency nurses

Agency nurses are registered with the agency and take on assignments handled by the agency on behalf of care providers.  The contract is managed by the agency. You need to be flexible with both general and specific experience, and preferably prepared to travel.

Other professions

A degree and experience in nursing equips you with skills and knowledge that can be transferred to other careers in the future.

Further Education Lecturers

Some nurses go on to work in colleges and other training centres, where they teach healthcare related subjects to post-16 students including adults, apprentices and employees on vocational courses.

See Prospects' occupational profile on further education lecturer for more information. 

Higher Education Lecturers

Some experienced nurses with a strong academic background go on to teach clinical and academic skills to student nurses in universities.

See Prospects' occupational profile on higher education lecturer for more information.


Counsellors help people to explore their feelings and reflect on a wide range of personal problems, in order to devise strategies to deal with them. Some roles are particularly related to helping people deal with health related issues.

See Prospects' occupational profile on counsellor for more information.


Midwives provide advice, care and support for women before, during and after childbirth. Registered nurses can do a 12-18 month shortened course to qualify as a midwife.

See Prospects' occupational profile on midwife for more information.

Health Promotion Specialist

Health promotion (or education) specialists aim to inform and educate people to make healthier life choices. They work directly with the public or at a policy/strategic level with organisations such as local government, the NHS or charities.

See Prospects' occupational profile on health promotion specialist for more information.

Further study

Information about the range of continuous professional development (CPD) available can be found by visiting NHS Careers . You can also contact the Royal College of Nursing (RCN)  careers service.  You need to be registered to access this area of the RCN website.

Working abroad

Qualified nurses also have the option of working abroad in countries where their qualifications are recognised. Find out more by contacting the Royal College of Nursing (RCN)  international office. You need to be registered to access this area of the RCN website.

Where to look for jobs

Nursing job websites

Further information