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A nurse is responsible for a variety of different tasks in numerous different environments. However, most nurses will work in a hospital and are responsible for making initial judgements based on medical knowledge and administering medical care to patients with a variety of complaints.

Nurses work in a variety of different environments caring for a wide variety of people ranging from patients in hospitals to pupils in schools, terminally ill patients in hospices to holiday makers at travel clinics and patients in GP surgeries to staff in large company offices. However, most nurses work in a hospital (either NHS or private) and are responsible for the care of both in-patients and out-patients.

Within the hospital environment nurses may be working in the operating theatre, on the high dependency or intensive care unit, in Accident and Emergency or on a ward. Their duties therefore vary considerably depending on their role.

Nurses on a ward are responsible for making initial diagnoses, drawing up treatment plans and deciding which procedures will suit the patient’s particular needs. They will also make sure that the patient does not have an infectious disease which could affect the other patients currently in the hospital. If they suspect any kind of disease, they will take the necessary steps to contain and treat the infection.

Other initial assessments made by nurses include deciding upon the mental wellbeing of the patient and learning about their nutritional health. They will administer medication to the patient and apply treatments including dressings, lotions, and creams if necessary.

They also carry out basic procedures including inserting and removing stitches and they will monitor patients on a regular basis throughout their stay in hospital. Regular observations are taken, including blood pressure readings, temperature readings, heart rate measurements, and breathing rate measurements.

If necessary, the nurse will be responsible for contacting a doctor and keeping them informed about the patient’s progress. If a patient is about to leave the hospital, the nurse will make sure that they have somewhere safe to go and that a relative is fully aware and informed of their condition. Social services may have to be contacted about a particular patient and the nurse will be responsible for ensuring that the patient receives appropriate attention from the necessary agencies.

The gender ratio in nursing is fairly unbalanced, with most nursing positions being held by women. However, this is changing and there is no reason why a man should not apply to become a nurse.


Nurses who have recently qualified can expect to earn approximately £19,000 pa. After a few years working as a nurse, individuals can expect their salaries to increase by approximately £5,000 or £6,000. Nurses who reach the position of senior nursing consultants can expect to earn approximately £40,000.


Nurses are responsible for a wide range of tasks and activities on a daily basis:

  • Carrying out a thorough assessment of the patient
  • Researching patient histories
  • Listening to the needs of the patients
  • Teaching patients self-care techniques
  • Educating patients about their particular condition
  • Providing advice to the family of a patient
  • Administering medication in tablet or liquid form
  • Applying dressings and treatment to wounds
  • Ensuring that the patient is comfortable at all times
  • Administering drugs through a drip
  • Monitoring the patient by taking their blood pressure and other readings
  • Providing services of a personal nature to the patient, for example helping them to bathe or get dressed
  • Drawing up plans for the treatment of a patient
  • Informing doctors about the progress of a patient
  • Ensuring that conflicting issues are resolved
  • Recording such conflicts on paper
  • Meeting with other members of the healthcare team
  • Providing regular updates on the progress of particular cases
  • Helping to make decisions as to when the patient should leave the ward or hospital
  • Keeping social services updated about particular patients


To qualify as a nurse, individuals can take a diploma or a degree course. Universities provide degree courses with placements in local hospitals. Diploma courses usually take three years to complete, whilst degree courses may take an extra year to finish. University courses are based half on theory and half on practical experience.


Good nurses will need to possess the following qualities:

  • Good interpersonal skills
  • Good teaching skills
  • Commitment to high standards of care
  • Sensitivity
  • Good listening techniques
  • A technical and creative mind
  • Good scientific knowledge
  • The desire to stay informed about current nursing issues and medical news
  • The desire to attend training courses in order to ensure that techniques are performed properly according to current regulations
  • Ability to solve problems and think outside the box whilst obeying strict medical regulations
  • Ability to work as part of a team
  • Ability to keep information confidential
  • Ability to cope under stress and work long hours
  • Ability to remain flexible
  • Good supervision skills and the ability to delegate
  • Highly tuned sense of responsibility
  • Ability to stay motivated even during tough times
  • Physical fitness to enable them to work long hours on their feet

Working conditions

The hospital environment can be a stressful one and nurses often feel under pressure during their working day. Hours can be long and, as a result of the constant human interaction, assaults are not uncommon. However, hospitals take such instances extremely seriously and officials do all they can to protect the safety of their staff at all times. The job can be quite physically demanding since nurses are on their feet all day long. Shift work and unsocial hours are the norm.


Before you start working as a nurse, you will have already gained invaluable experience since qualifications are based around both theory and practical experience. You will therefore already have a basic knowledge about how to act in a hospital environment. If you are trying to boost your CV before applying for a degree course or job, you could ask your local hospital for work experience or the opportunity to shadow a nurse for a day.


Nurses are generally employed by the NHS or private hospitals. However, nurses can also be employed by schools, prisons, hospices, medical practices, walk-in clinics, travel clinics, family planning clinics, the armed forces and numerous major employers who have their own company nurse. Many nurses find work through nursing bank and agency set-ups.

Career Progression

On qualifying student nurses become known as staff nurses and many progress to become senior staff nurses and may then become ward sisters. However, some individuals choose to study for a PhD, which will allow them to become involved in research or hospital management. Staff nurses may also decide to become nurse consultants, who specialise in particular fields of nursing. For example, they may be responsible purely for looking after individuals suffering from diabetes.

Also known as…

  • Paediatric nurse
  • Geriatric nurse
  • District nurse
  • Health visitor
  • Midwife
  • School nurse

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What’s it really like?

Claire, aged 24, is currently training to become a staff nurse. She has been training for a year and a half but is having a year’s break, which is a bonus of the particular course compared with other degree courses.

At the beginning of a typical shift, Claire will meet with the staff who have been working on the previous shift. They will discuss the conditions of the various patients and any outstanding issues which have to be dealt with. Patients are provided with medication by Claire or her colleagues primarily at breakfast, lunch, and dinner times and sometimes during the night too. She also accompanies doctors when they make their rounds and speak to the patients.

It is difficult to describe with great accuracy how Claire spends a typical day as much depends on the patients encountered and the ward currently being worked in. However, she will administer a wide range of medications and treatments and may also hold discussions and educational meetings with patients and their families.

Claire really enjoys the sense of personal satisfaction which results from the knowledge that individuals have been helped by her actions. She enjoys meeting and interacting with people from different walks of life and finds it particularly satisfying when she notices a patient improve over time.

However, Claire also pointed out some negative parts of the job. She believes that the way the NHS is structured at the moment has resulted in wards becoming short-staffed. This makes every shift very hectic and this can lead to intense frustration. Claire often becomes annoyed when she feels that she does not have enough time to provide the high standard of care expected of her to each and every patient. She sometimes worries that she may make a fatal mistake because the pressure is so intense. Certain patients can also become abusive and aggressive and this is obviously an extremely negative part of the job.

Claire says that individuals thinking of applying to become a nurse should be prepared to commit to the job completely. Nurses simply cannot afford to adopt a half-hearted approach to their work. She also advised those about to start nursing training to keep an open mind at all times, since one area of nursing may become more appealing than another. She was also keen to remind students currently on a nursing course to constantly assert their rights as a student. Staff nurses and senior nurses can often use student nurses as an extra pair of hands and assign them tasks which do not really provide the kind of experience needed.

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