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Let’s celebrate: nursing associates are here to stay!


A blog post by Teresa Shaw, Senior Lecturer in Adult Nursing (Trainee Nursing Associate Programme)

Healthcare provision in the UK is changing at a phenomenal rate and with the growing challenges of workforce recruitment and sustainability that most healthcare providers are facing it is vital that we look at new ways to help prepare staff deliver high quality, safe care (Gummer 2015) and this includes the development of new roles within the sector.

The Department of Heath announced the development of the nursing associate role as a strategy to address this shortfall. The introduction of the nursing associate to the nursing family within the UK aims to bridge the gap between the registered nurse and the healthcare support worker improving the patient experience at the bedside. This is achieved by nursing associates developing a range of practical skills and the underpinning evidence based knowledge to support them to make a difference to quality of life and care of people of all ages and in a wide range of health care settings. This was achieved through strong collaboration with practice partners from local NHS Trusts. The University of Wolverhampton was successfully selected as one of the 15 test sites nationally to deliver the Trainee Nursing Associate (TNA) Two Year Foundation Degree Programme that commenced in January 2017.

The trainee nursing associates who have now qualified and registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council are inspirational and will become new leaders and potential future managers of nursing care working in partnership with registered nurses and the wider healthcare team. One of the strengths of the programme is that nursing associates are prepared to undertake a generic role. This generic role was explored throughout the curriculum and in the placement experiences as the trainee nursing associates on the programme came from a variety of community, acute, mental health, child, maternity and learning disability settings. Therefore this has led to the preparation of newly qualified nursing associates who are now able to work in the NHS as well as the private sector, including working in social care, hospices and GP practices.

The teaching team witnessed how the experiences of the students within these diverse settings helped the cross fertilisation within the classroom. It provided a unique exposure to the challenges that different nursing associates faced particularly between those working within the NHS and private sector. Students were able to learn from their peers and these discussions with the classroom helped them to shape their world view thinking and craft their own philosophy and professional values and beliefs.

No one can underestimate what these students have asked of themselves in meeting the challenges of work based learning, medicine management, care planning, extensive clinical skills accomplishment and re-engaging with lifelong of learning to Level 5 academic standards to meet NMC requirements For many this will have been their first experience of study since school and often the first person in their family to attend University.

Two students shared their thoughts on completion of the programme:

“It felt amazing to realise how we are wanted and making a massive impact to a patient’s care and to the healthcare industry as a whole. It is a huge privilege to be a part of the pilot group and the celebration.”

 “I never used to have the confidence to speak out in practice but now I have a professional responsibility to be a patient’s advocate. I now feel that I have learnt the skills to effectively act as a leader in the delivery of care to patients.”

As educators we believe we have a fundamental duty to facilitate creativity, help empower and provide inspirational leadership so that students feel they can embrace the opportunities within the nursing profession development for the 21st Century in responding to the rising public expectations of health care delivery highlighted in the Nursing Associate Curriculum Framework (HEE 2016).

In May 2020, to coincide with International Nurses Day, the teaching team launched the Nursing Associate Ambassador Programme; working in partnership with students and employers to further raise the profile of this new role within the health and care sector and beyond.

The Ambassador Programme is open to second year and alumni students who will act as nursing associate ambassador within the workplace to provide peer support to those on the programme, act as a source of information and advice to those considering applying for the role, to assist with recruitment activities as part of the interview panel and to work in partnership with academic staff to co-deliver sessions during induction and in the classroom where possible.

We hope that one outcome of this programme will be to raise the profile of this new and emerging neophyte role within the nursing community. However it will enable us to stay in touch and to observe how the role is impacting and influencing health care delivery.

For some, the nursing associate role will fulfil their career ambitions but for others they will wish to continue their professional development. The NMC standards (2018) also include a shorten pathway that nursing associates will be able to undertake to become a graduate registered nurse. Many of the students embarking on the nursing associate programme see it as a pathway that will enable them to access a career in nursing which would have previously not been possible for them.

Therefore further lifelong learning journeys are already being created to help transition those nursing associates who wish to continue to become a registered nurse working in partnership with National Health Service Trusts and Independent employers.

A nursing associate foundation degree apprentice from the March 2018 cohort said:

“I decided to do the apprenticeship because I feel my patients need more from me and this is the best way to make sure they get what they need. It allows me to earn as I’m learning and it’s in a setting I feel comfortable with.

“I feel excited, anxious and hungry for knowledge and I love every minute of it. I hope to gain a better knowledge of nursing and to carry on completing a registered nurse degree.”

I am proud to play a role in facilitating the development of trainee nursing associates undertaking the process of transition from healthcare support worker to qualified nursing associate and entry to the NMC register, marking their new found role in the history of nursing within England.

The last three years has been a considerable learning curve for us all working at pace to develop new curriculum, creating new teaching resources to meet a variety of learning needs whilst supporting students on this new programme has been an amazing experience. I, along with my academic teaching team, feel honoured to have shared this innovation journey with the students, practice partner education teams and academic colleagues.

Let’s celebrate their hard work, development of new skills set, behaviours and attributes required to deliver high quality care to patients in a variety of settings. (NMC Standards October 2018).


  1. Gummer {2015}
  2. Health Education England (2016) Nursing Associate Curriculum Framework .
  3. NMC Standards of proficiency for Nursing Associates (2018)

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