Skip to main content
University of Sunderland

The role of nursing in healthcare

Posted on: November 10, 2021
Nurse helping an elderly woman walk down a corridor

Nursing is not only an incredibly diverse profession, it’s often described as a vocation.

Whether directly or indirectly, most people have had some experience with the NHS or other healthcare providers. While doctors and consultants may ultimately oversee treatment, it’s often nurses who deliver the majority of the care, support and comfort.

There are currently almost 670,000 registered nurses in the UK – which doesn’t include the numerous health professionals working in other nursing-related roles. Their roles and responsibilities are complex, and depend on a multitude of factors. However, they share one common goal: to make a real difference in the lives of others.

The role of nurses in healthcare environments

Nurses are team players. They work collaboratively, with numerous other health professionals, to deliver the highest standards of patient care. The Royal College of Nursing state that “nursing should be at the heart of minimising the impact of illness, promoting health and helping people to function at home, work and leisure. Improving public health should be seen as part of all nursing and midwifery roles.”

Nurses play a critical role across almost every aspect of healthcare. Their wide-ranging responsibilities depend on speciality, role, staffing levels and skill set. Much of a nurse’s time is spent organising care – reports suggest approximately 70% – alongside other, specific duties. Prospects outline the main responsibilities of an adult nurse, however, the overarching goals of nursing include:

  • Providing high quality patient care
  • Educating patients and their families/carers
  • Promoting a safe environment
  • Evolving professionally

Getting into nursing

There are three primary categories of nursing. The level of care provided by each depends on the qualifications, and can help to inform decision making for those considering a career in nursing or care services.

NHS guidelines detailing how to become a nurse explain what the three types of nurse are, as well as the various pathways into a career in nursing and healthcare professions:

  • A nursing degree is the most common route into the sector, designed for individuals who want to become registered nurses. Nursing students must complete a Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC)-approved, three-year degree programme of full-time study. As required by the Standards for Pre-registration Nurse Education, learning must take place equally in both university and practice placement settings.
  • The Registered Nurse Degree Apprenticeship (RNDA) is a more flexible route into nursing practice. Alongside on-the-job training in a clinical setting, students will complete part-time study at university and undertake placements in settings such as hospitals, GP practices, mental health services and nursing homes.
  • Working as a nursing associate is ideal for those without a nursing degree, or who want a role that acts as a stepping stone to training as a registered nurse. Suitable for people from all backgrounds, not just health sciences, these roles are available in a wide range of healthcare, social care and social work settings.

For those without relevant qualifications or work experience – or limited caring experience – joining as a healthcare assistant can be a good route into a patient care role.

Registered nurses differ from licensed practical nurses in that the former provide direct care to patients, while the latter assist doctors and registered nurses.

The four fields of nursing

Prospective nurses will study a specific field of practice as part of their degree – or two, depending on the higher education provider. The four fields of nursing are:

  • Adult nursing. These nurses look after adult patients of all ages who suffer from short-term or long-term physical health conditions. The role involves assessing the patient’s needs and planning care to return them to health.
  • Children’s nursing. These nurses work with children of all ages, from babies to adolescents. The role includes providing the child with treatment and care, as well as offering support to parents or carers.
  • Learning disabilities nursing. These nurses support people with learning disabilities to lead a fulfilling, independent life. Working alongside a multidisciplinary team, nurses support patients of all ages.
  • Mental health nursing. These nurses deliver care and support to patients who are struggling with their mental health, and help them to manage their condition with relevant therapies or medication.

Registered nurses

After qualifying, and completing any relevant training, nurses can enter a variety of specialities and roles. These include: midwifery; neonatal; paediatric; critical care; psychiatric; orthopaedic; theatre; geriatric; respiratory; and cardiology.

The roles themselves are varied. They can span hospital nursing, district nursing, working as a health visitor or in health education, nursing within schools, prisons or GP settings, and much more. Once registered, a nurse is eligible to work throughout the UK and often internationally.

Nurses who hold a BSc nursing qualification can also apply for postgraduate study. Depending on interests and career aspirations, nurses could, for example: train as advanced nurse practitioners; develop leadership capacities and expand skills in advanced clinical practice or medical decision making; or follow specialist routes such as palliative care, health promotion, occupational health, oncology and more.

The benefits of a career in nursing and healthcare

Nursing attracts individuals who seek to care for, and improve the lives of others. While it can be a demanding and challenging role – and is not for the faint-hearted – it is also intensely rewarding.

Personal fulfilment and meaningful vocation aside, nursing offers a host of other great benefits. Career advice experts at Glassdoor, a global leader in job and workplace insights, highlight five key reasons for training in nursing:

  • Career progression and professional development
  • Benefits
  • Ongoing learning
  • Work-life balance
  • A future-proof role

Pave the way for change in health and social care settings

Want to make a measurable difference in the lives of others and improve quality of life?

Choose the University of Sunderland’s online MSc Nursing Studies programme and advance your nursing care and practice, with support from experienced practitioners and professionals.

You’ll join a community of aspiring nursing and healthcare leaders – from across the world – to develop your skills, knowledge and capacity in your healthcare role. Study a broad range of topics, including: health inequalities and determinants of health; digital literacy; diversity in healthcare; strategic global health and care policy; workforce development; and healthcare innovation.

« Previous EntryNext Entry »