How to become a critical care staff nurse: Sarah's story

Meet Sarah, 24, a critical care staff nurse in Cardiff. Part of our Bitesize world of work series.

"You're always doing extra training to get more skills."

What is your job?

In critical care you look after the patients who need the most amount of care out of all other patients in the hospital. They may have suffered organ failure, where they might need extra machines to keep them alive. Shifts are 12.5 hours a day.

What are your day-to-day tasks?

You’ve got basic patient care, making sure they are washed, their nutritional needs are met and that they are hydrated. You check the patient's observations – this includes their blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, temperature and some people may need their blood sugar checked. If you notice a deterioration, you report it to the nurse in charge or the doctors.

What skills do you use in your work?

Time management is probably one of the most important things. If you’ve got a lot of patients, you’ve got to prioritise tasks for each patient. Communication and team work are also important. For example, if you have to roll someone on a ventilator you need three people working together. You are taught to work in pairs – some tasks need to be double-checked for safety.

What subjects did you study at school?

I needed a C in English, Maths and Science. I did Additional Science as it was my favourite subject. After GCSEs I went to college. I did AS Biology, because I knew that would help with nursing. I wasn’t too good on the written exams – I was better at practical tests, so I transferred to BTEC Science alongside Psychology and Religious Studies A-level. I also did the Welsh Baccalaureate and achieved the equivalent to an A-level. I applied to university but, unfortunately, I didn't get through the first time. I tried again and got an offer to study Adult Nursing.

Is this the job you always knew you wanted to do?

It was always nursing or teaching. Originally, I wanted to do child nursing, but with working in a care home and other experiences I changed to adult care. I have wanted to do nursing for 15 years.

Sarah with a colleague.

Top tips

  • If nursing is what you want to do, go for it. It’s not going to be easy, but if it’s what you want to do, you can do it

  • Keeping calm is an important skill, which comes with experience. If you panic, you're not going to think clearly.

What to expect if you want to be a nurse

  • Nuse average salary: NHS band 5-6. Read more about NHS bands. Salaries will differ in private healthcare.
  • Nurse typical working hours: 37 to 42 hours per week

What qualifications do you need to become a nurse?

  • Typical entry requirements:
    • University: Most people qualify by studying a degree in Nursing. You first need to decide which area of nursing you'd like to work in: adult nursing, children's nursing, learning disability nursing, or mental health nursing. Some "dual field" degrees allow you to study in two of the fields. Full-time courses usually take three years. You may be able to join a nursing degree on the second year of a course if you already have a degree in: a health-related subject; Psychology; Life Sciences, or Social Work
    • Apprenticeship: You may be able to do a "registered nurse degree apprenticeship (RNDA)", combining academic study and on-the-job training. You will need to secure a position as an RNDA and your employer will release you to study at university part time. Most RNDAs take four years, but it could be less if you have relevant previous learning and experience. Keep an eye on the NHS jobs website and the Government find an apprenticeship page for RNDA opportunities
    • Armed forces: You can train for a career as a nurse in the Armed Forces. Check out the Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy websites for more information
    • Nursing associate: Nursing associates work alongside health care support workers and registered nurses in both health and social care. You could start out as a nursing associate and work towards training as a registered nurse.

You'll find it helpful to get some paid or voluntary experience in social care or healthcare work before you apply for nurse training.

This information is a guide and is constantly changing. Please check the National Careers Service website for the latest information and all the qualifications needed. (Sources: LMI for All, National Careers Service, NHS Health Careers).

Find out more

For more information about careers in nursing, you can check out:

For careers advice in all parts of the UK visit: National Careers service (England), nidirect (Northern Ireland), My World of Work (Scotland) and Careers Wales (Wales).

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