Routes into Nursing: What Options are Out There?

Written by: Nigel Davies, MSc, BSc (Hons), RN, CertEd, FHEA
Principal Lecturer and former Head of Nursing, University of East London

Living and working in London means I have different options for routes to travel to work each day.  This made me think about the analogy this has with routes into the nursing profession.  I travel from zone 3 in the west of London to the edge of zone 2 in east London.  I can choose between a direct route along the Central Line starting at the beginning of the line – this is a nice “supported route” where I can always guarantee a seat is available, but it takes time stopping frequently at stations along the way.  Alternatively, I can take a faster route using the Piccadilly Line, but this route is very popular and crowded, and also involves a change to the Jubilee Line involving a very long walk between lines at the interchange.  Then again, I could mix and match routes taking a fast Main Line train to Paddington, followed by the underground to Liverpool Street and then another main line train – but despite the efficiency of each leg the possibility of each stage not being aligned (points failure or leaves on the track) usually rules this option out for me.  Or I could avoid the tube altogether and take the bus or drive by car (slow, not environmentally friendly and parking would be a headache).  Perhaps, I should have delayed working in east London until a new faster option was available (the awaited Elizabeth Line springs to mind).

So how does this relate to options for entering the nursing profession.  The routes typically available include:

  • A three-year full-time university degree in nursing with clinical practice placements in NHS and the private, voluntary and independent sector settings; perhaps this is the direct “Central Line” Route.
  • Post-graduate entry leading to either a post-graduate diploma or master’s degree with registration; depending on institution and the amount of previous experience and qualifications which are are accredited this route can take between 18 months and 2 years; the main line fast track route.
  • Degree apprenticeship with registration completed while employed usually by an NHS trust; this approach usually takes 4-years, but places are limited with most trusts preferring to promote and fund the two stage approach outlined next; this could be the bus or drive route.
  • Two stage approach with a nursing associate or assistant practitioner qualification gained first then a ‘top-up’ qualification gained with accreditation of the prior qualification and experience counting towards a nursing degree; this route typically takes 4-years of study in total, but may also include a break between the two stages; the Piccadilly + Jubilee line route.

One of the considerations in choosing the right option is how the route is funded.  For example, working while studying on an nursing apprenticeship scheme may take longer but not incur the level of debt associated with student loans arising from other routes.  Equally, some people might decide to put off entering nursing until government proposals for maintenance funding are clear (the Elizabeth Line option).  In addition to the route, the field of study is also an important and motivating factor – adult, child learning disability or mental health nursing – where choice of route may be limited for fields with less places available (e.g. learning disability nursing).

Navigating these routes and explaining them to potential students can be confusing and prompt questions and concerns.  Luckily, Capital Nurse in London last year completed work to make these choices more explicit.  Their interactive flow diagram hosted on the London Mayors website enables users to click on options which recognise their background, current qualification level and displays which routes into nursing are available.  This site is relevant to all in the UK not just for people considering nursing in London.

Whatever a potential applicant’s choice of route, from a Nursing and Midwifery Council standpoint, the destination or outcome will be the same – registration as a nurse.

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