SO… you want to be a NURSE?

Before returning to business in 2017, I spent 10 years working in further and higher education so that I could spend time with my children. It was a great time where I could bring all my business and training skills into education. Most useful was my knowledge of different jobs and routes to various careers as I had worked in Recruitment, Training, and Business consultancy for 15 years previously. I was the course leading lecturer in Health Studies across three colleges.

Those students who were studying with us and wanting to enter the nursing profession had a few options open to them such as 3 A levels including a science subject, a BTEC Level 3 Health studies or equivalent, or if you were over 19 and considered a mature student you had the option of an ACCESS to health professions course. A quick look at a choice of universities on will usually identify the entry requirements for universities that you might like to attend. 

The first two suggestions above are pretty straight forward. Both two years of study, working hard to achieve the best grades possible. However, to access Nursing at a select few Russell Group Universities, students who were studying a BTEC Level 3 often required an additional A level in a science subject. 

For choice one or two, at the end of the first year of your study, you applied to go to university and then worked super hard in the second year to make sure you achieved the grades needed by your chosen University for onward education. 

The third option, the ACCESS course was slightly different. This is not a qualification in itself, but a vehicle to get adults into University to study their chosen profession. You would usually need to retake an ACCESS course after three years, so it should only be started as a chosen route to University if you are an adult, ready to go to your next career, your workplace understand the commitment and additionally, your childcare is in place….this is one fast track assignment driven course with research and projects, vivas, timed assignments and all very focused. 

ACCESS to Health professionals allowed adults to apply to University the year they start their study course and with dedicated tutor support and a lot of hard work, the equivalent of three A level credits are stuffed into one year ready for onward study at University. Phew. 

But, the ACCESS courses were such a rewarding place to be when those adults who thought they could never ‘do it’ actually achieved their goals and off they went with their ACCESS to health professions, to be a nurse, midwife, occupational therapist and so on. Some adults needed to resit their GCSE English, Maths, and Science too. 

The great thing about nursing degrees and allied health professions before 2017 was that the University course fees were paid for by an NHS Bursary, making it a great way to study with no loan to repay at the end. Yes, there were maintenance loans, but there were real cracks in this offer. There were failures in exam rates in the first year at University, students dropped out because they had nothing to lose or repay, adult learners found shifts and childcare a challenge. It questioned some of the motivations of students, and this meant massive losses to our NHS equity.

I’m sure there were other reasons the bursary was stopped. NHS Wales however retained the bursary arrangement and it runs successfully with the proviso that students have to work in the NHS in Wales for two years at the end of their health professions degree.

Under the new funding offered by NHS England, students had the opportunity to become a Health Care Assistant (HCA) for a year before embarking on training as an NHS nursing apprentice. Of course, students could still go to university and pay for their fees, but there was the alternative available. 

Here’s a fact.

The previous Conservative government hoped that removing the nursing bursary in 2017 would mean universities would offer more training places, eventually leading to

10,000 more nursing students. Instead, the number of nursing applications dropped, while acceptances remained broadly static. The new Conservative government has restored elements of the bursary, but will this be enough to address the decrease in applications of recent years?

According to the latest UCAS figures ( in 2019 nursing applications for undergraduate courses increased by 6% from 2018, with almost 3,500 more people applying. This was the first rise since the bursary was removed in 2017. In the same report, it said that there has also been a record number of people accepted into nursing courses in 2019. 30,390 applicants were accepted, an increase of 6.1 percent in 2018.

The NHS currently has almost 44,000 nursing vacancies in hospitals and future projections suggest a gap of 100,000 full-time equivalent staff by 2028/29.

Not everyone is cut out to be a nurse or health professional. As mentioned previously, long hours on your feet, shifts to fit in with family, and so on, however, in 2019 the applications for 25-35-year-olds were higher than younger students. These students might have studied through the ACCESS programme. Up to date and with the inclusion of the new grant available from the government of £5000, it is hoped that this will go some way to filling the gap of nurse shortages with a financial incentive. A similar offer was made to those entering teaching a few years ago I remember.

So why would someone want to change their career to become a nurse? Maria was one of those people. Maria called me during the CV19 health event and said she had been stuck in a rut and didn’t know what she wanted to do after the lockdown period. Maria had been working as a hairdresser, in an office, and a variety of other roles and also been mum to two daughters. She had been thinking about doing something that made ‘a difference’ but didn’t want to work in care homes or particularly with children. 

Of course, all the roles she had held made a difference. As a hairdresser she made people look and feel great, working in an office supported business plans and strategies, but she felt unfulfilled. We talked about retraining and having a new career. We talked about different opportunities in the NHS including occupational therapy and nursing. Maria would have to study completely from scratch, with level 3 qualifications (A level equivalent) so that she could access university and higher education qualifications. She had been inspired by the dedication of nurses that she had seen on TV and in the media during the crisis and decided that this was what she wanted to do. 

She wasn’t sure of the route to nursing so I called Bournemouth University and asked some questions. They said because her qualifications weren’t relevant to working in health, and also the fact that she had not studied science subjects previously or had relevant experience, that she would have to complete some training in a suitable subject.

I set Maria a task to look at her options for Level 3 Health studies, Health and Social Care, and of course the ACCESS to Higher Education offer. Pleased to say that as soon as they reopen Maria is going to study with a local college on the ACCESS to health professions course and progress with some luck and the wind behind her to Bournemouth University which is her chosen location. Her final thought was Occupational Therapy where she could support all manner of people, in a wide variety of settings. I feel sure that we would all want to say a massive good luck, Maria, you will be amazing. 

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