Working as a nurse is a diverse, challenging and rewarding career path that enables you to make a real difference in people's lives. Registered General Nurses (RGNs) are the backbone of the NHS, acting as carers, clinicians and leaders all rolled into one. 

If the thought of helping others by delivering essential patient care excites you, you might be wondering how to get started and whether you can train to be a nurse on the job. In our latest insights piece, we delve into everything you need to know about what nurses do and the various routes into a nursing career.  

What does a Registered General Nurse (RGN) do?

A Registered General Nurse (RGN) is a professional caregiver who provides essential care for patients in various healthcare settings, including hospitals, GP surgeries, clinics and residential homes. Nurses play a crucial role in patient care, and their responsibilities go far beyond simply administering medication or taking vitals. They also monitor the condition of patients, assist with treatments, manage care plans, and educate patients and families. 

Registered General Nurses typically work alongside physicians, therapists, and other healthcare professionals to provide a comprehensive healthcare experience for patients. Their specialised training, compassion, and dedication to patient care ensure they're the NHS's beating heart. Undoubtedly, nurses are an essential part of the healthcare team who significantly impact patients' lives every day.

But how do you become a Registered General Nurse, and can you train to be a nurse on the job? 

The various routes into a nursing career

In the UK, you can pursue a career in nursing by following one of three pathways – each of which entails varying degrees of on-the-job training to gain hands-on experience of day-to-day life as a nurse: 

  • Nursing degree
  • Registered nurse degree apprenticeship (RNDA)
  • Nurse associate training

Nursing degree

The majority of Registered General Nurses qualify through a nursing degree. Your first task is to choose your area of specialism from the four main fields of nursing: adult nursing, children's nursing, mental health nursing or

learning disability nursing. Some dual-field degrees allow you to specialise in two areas. However, you can change your mind after graduation, so your career path isn't necessarily set in stone.

Each university sets its entry requirements. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, you'll likely need at least two A-levels or equivalent and five GCSEs, including maths, English and a science (usually biology). 

In Scotland, you will need either three to five SQA Highers and two Standard Grades/National 5's (including English and maths); a relevant HNC/HND including English and maths at Standard Grade/National 5 level; or completion of an appropriate Scottish Wider Access Programme (SWAP).

Most nursing degrees are three-year courses, although you might be able to complete a two-year postgraduate course if you have a relevant degree that qualifies for Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning (APEL). The first year of a nursing degree lays the foundations with lots of theory and practical skills, taught both in university classrooms and on placements at hospitals and community settings. Later years focus more on your chosen area of specialism. 

Upon completing your course, you must register with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) to legally practise as a Registered General Nurse.


Registered nurse degree apprenticeship (RNDA)

The registered nurse degree apprenticeship (RNDA) offers a flexible route into nursing that enables you to earn as you learn without the burden of university fees. The RNDA is typically a four-year course (although it can be shorter through APEL) split 50:50 in terms of academic theory and practical placements. 

Your studies will involve one face-to-face study session and two independent study days a week, while you will be expected to complete eight placements in total.

Entry requirements include level 3 maths and English. Still, if you have a level 5 nursing associate or assistant practitioner qualification, your apprenticeship may be fast-tracked to a shorter, two-year 'top up' RNDA. But, again, you must register with the NMC after completing your apprenticeship to practise as a Registered General Nurse.

Nurse associate training

Nurse associate training enables people from all walks of life to train towards becoming a Registered General Nurse. This pathway bridges the gap between Healthcare Assistants/Support Workers and registered nurses. 

Normally a two-year training programme (although, once again, this can be reduced through APEL), nurse associate training involves one day of study a week, and the remainder spent learning on-the-job in a wide range of health or social care environments, such as an acute hospital, residential home or hospice.

To undertake nurse associate training, you'll need GCSEs grade 9 to 4 (A-C) in English and maths (or key skills level 2 in both). You also have the opportunity to top up your training to level 5 foundation degree level, which enables you to eventually become a Registered General Nurse.


Latest nursing jobs at Spencer Clarke Group

If you’re searching for your next nurse job, why not take a look at all the vacancies currently available at NHS Trusts across the UK? 

Can’t find what you’re looking for? Why not upload your CV or contact our nursing specialist, Kaylah Henderson, to discover more about upcoming opportunities. 

Who is Spencer Clarke Group? 

Since 2017, we've been changing the face of recruitment. From our employees, to the way we do business, to the culture within our office, we're determined to make a difference and create a positive impact on everyone around us.

Recruitment to us isn't just about matching candidates and clients; we’re passionate about finding candidates the perfect job which has the ability to boost their salary and standard of living, better their work life balance and improve their mental health. 

Similarly, we understand the impact which an experienced and skilled employee can make to a business and we love seeing clients thrive through the hard work of candidates which we have placed with them. 

We operate in two sectors:

Private Sector

Public Sector 

In eleven specialisms:

Accountancy & Finance

Education & SEND

Construction, Trades & Labour

Healthcare, Social Care & Nursing


Corporate Functions & Business Support

HR & Workforce Development

IT & Digital

Property & Asset Management  

Planning, Development & Regeneration 

Highways, Infrastructure & Engineering

If you’re searching for a new role, why not visit our job page to take a look at the latest opportunities? Alternatively, upload your CV and one of our experienced consultants will contact you when a relevant opportunity becomes available. 

If you’re struggling to fill a role, why don’t you give us a call on 01772 954200 to see how we can help? One of our consultants will be happy to listen to the challenges which you are facing and advise on the best possible solution for you. 

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