How to Leap into a Career as a Nurse A Complete Guide

People change careers all of the time. Some have a change of heart in the middle of their life, while others change jobs because they have a family to support. Many more simply come across the field that they realize they love a little later in life. One of the most common of these is nursing: a job that many people with high levels of empathy excel at. It’s also a job in which you can feel a sense of purpose, as if you’re genuinely making a difference in people’s lives each and every day. If you’re one of the thousands of people thinking about taking up a career in nursing, this guide’s for you – showing you how you can leap into the job as quickly as possible. 

  • Qualification 


First up, it’s important to note that nurses must be trained, qualified and accredited. That may come as no surprise, given the often life-and-death situations in which nurses provide care. Acknowledging this initial obstacle to your nursing career is important, because there are several hoops you’ll need to jump through before you pull on the uniform and head out onto the ward. 


Studying to become a nurse takes time and money. These are two things that you’ll want to line up and prepare straight away. You should find a way to financially support yourself in anticipation of your future studies. Plus, you should set aside some time now and in the future for you to take your course. With this accounted for, let’s look at how you’ll find and secure a place at a course in a university. 

  • Getting to University 


There are hundreds of universities that you could feasibly study within. Many will be local enough for you to access via your home – commuting in on public transport or in your vehicle. If proximity is an important factor in which university you choose to study at, then you’ll naturally have a small pool to pick from. For those willing to relocate, you may be able to be more selective about which universities and courses you apply for. 


Still, at the undergraduate level, most nursing courses are roughly similar. It’s the follow-on courses, helping you develop a specialty, that differ from place to place. There are sometimes also entry requirements at nursing colleges and universities. These may take into account your previous grades at school, or your work experience since leaving school. So make sure you have something to share with officials when you’re applying. It’s just like applying for a job: you’re out to impress. 

  • Choosing a Program


Even at this first level of the nursing ladder, there are choices to make about your program. While you’ll be learning roughly the same information and practical skills across the different programs on offer, they’ll leave you with slightly different experience and qualifications on completion. In terms of choosing between an AND and BSN program, you’ll benefit from some advice online. If you’re still concerned about which program to take, contact universities directly to ask for advice and information. 


You can decide on your post-graduate studies later in your career. For now, your focus is finding a course that’s suitable for your lifestyle, and placing your application. Once it’s accepted, you can start planning for how you’ll start life as a highly motivated and successful nurse. 

  • Studying Hard


This is the career you’ve set your sights on, so it shouldn’t necessarily feel like a feat of endurance for you to work hard as you’re studying to earn your nurse’s qualifications. Nonetheless, you should make an effort to keep up with your studies, consult further reading materials, and spend some time talking with your tutors and supervisors if you need anything to be cleared up and explained again. Engage with your peers too so that you have allies, revision buddies and advisors among you in your class. 


There are two sides to your studies: the practical on-the-ward experience you’ll get, and the academic readings and information you’ll be asked to memorize. Both of these are of equal importance, even if you feel that the practical clinical experience is far more fun. So do concentrate equally on these two sides of your study. It’s through this balanced learning that you’ll become a fully-fledged and well-rounded nurse.

  • Graduating


After months and years of studying, working to become an accredited nurse, your graduation is a hugely significant step to attaining the career you set your sights on long ago. It’s a time for celebration and reflection – but it’s also an exciting moment to start considering your options. 


Most qualified nurses tend to spend at least a little time in the hospital that they trained in before they look to move elsewhere. This makes sense on a financial level, as you’ll begin earning right away without having a career break or the disruption of moving home. It also makes sense on a personal level, as you’ll ease gently into nursing without having to learn a new team and a new building. Yet you may already be setting your sights on further positions and promotions down the line.

  • Setting Career Goals


Your career goals now become far more important. You’re qualified, which means that the world is your oyster – you can travel anywhere to work as a nurse. That’s fantastic in the sense that you can see more of the world while earning a wage. It’s also useful in that you can explore different types of nursing roles, or different types of medical institutions, in which you’ll have the chance to further develop your skills and your career. 


So setting career goals is about slowly coming to terms with the kinds of jobs that you think will be most fulfilling to you. Do you want to place an emphasis on where you work, or on how you work? Do you want to climb the career ladder as soon as possible, or find a comfortable role that will fit nicely around your family or social life? These are key questions that’ll help you determine the direction of travel in your career. 

  • Making Progress


With your career goals set, it’s time to focus on how you’ll start achieving them. Most often, this will involve a combination of hard work and smart decision-making at various stages in your career. You might choose to go back to university in order to attain further qualifications that will likely propel you into more senior roles. Or you could instead seek openings in local hospitals that you know will develop your skills on the job. 


There’s another aspect to making progress in your career that’s worth bearing in mind. It’s being assertive, and putting yourself in positions in which you’re in line for promotion or recognition. Do let your supervisors know that you’re interested in taking on more responsibilities if that’s one of your career goals. Be sure to request wage increases when it’s reasonable to do so. Even be assertive in asking for critical feedback, as that’ll help you become a better nurse in the long-run too. 

  • Life as a Nurse


It’s important to note, at this juncture, that nursing can be tough. There will be down days and weeks during which you’re exhausted – emotionally and physically. On occasion you’ll encounter an unpleasant patient, and on other occasions you’ll lose patients that you’ve grown very close to. Sometimes you’ll make mistakes that you blame yourself for, and sometimes you’ll see colleagues blaming themselves and getting themselves down on the job too. 


This isn’t to say that nursing is a cruel career – far from it. Nursing is a wonderfully rewarding job. It’s just that you will need to put in place some support structures to ensure that you’re able to recharge when you get home, living with friends, family or even colleagues who will hear you out when you’ve had a tough day. Often, you’ll find most solace in conversation with other nurses, who will truly understand your predicament. Be prepared to share and open up so that the hard times don’t get to you quite so much. 

  • Specializing 


Finally, most nursing careers tend to work towards some form of specialization. This can happen gradually and naturally over time, or you can be the driving impetus behind which jobs and roles you tend to pick up more and more. In either case, specialization is good: it means that you become more senior as well as becoming more expert in certain parts of the nursing experience. 


There are hundreds of ways that a nurse can specialize. You can decide that you love working with children, and move towards that form of care. Or you might find the medical side of nursing fascinating, sticking to the ER and accident and emergency departments for the duration of your career. Try to follow how you feel when it comes to specializing, and you’ll end up with a career that’s richly rewarding and ever-more engaging over time. 


This complete guide should help any prospective nurses get themselves qualified and on their way to a fantastic and meaningful career as a nurse. Bear each tip in mind so that you leap rather than stumble into your new career in nursing.

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