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Your free guide to a career in nursing

The best things about nursing

Nurses can have a massive and lasting impact in the lives of those they treat. Registered nurse Laurie Bickhoff expands on that beautifully here. The scope of what people are doing with a nursing degree is expanding, and Australian College of Nursing CEO Debra Thoms speaks about nurse leadership from the ward to the boardroom.

Registered nurse Jennifer Smith listed the things she love about being a nurse. She detailed how being a nurse helped her improve her relationships which in turn let her discover more about herself. 

During the course, you will be undertaking interesting clinical placements in a variety of settings. There may be an opportunity to do a clinical placement overseas or to work overseas. In this video registered nurse Sharon Armstrong talks about where her career has taken her:


Things you really need to consider before deciding to study nursing

Not a back-up career – Registered Nurse Laurie Bickhoff said that nursing should not be seen as a back-up career for students who weren’t able to get into their preferred course.

Enrolled vs Registered – You also need to look at whether you want to become an enrolled nurse (EN) which is generally an 18 month diploma course, or a registered nurse (RN) which is generally a 3 year university course. Here is RN Belynda Abbott’s take on the difference between an enrolled nurse and a registered nurse.

Mathematical skills – While you do not have to be a mathematical genius to become a nurse, there is often the need to do calculations in your head.

overworked nursesBurnout – One study has suggested that nurses who only have altruistic motives are more likely to burnout or having emotional exhaustion. If you simply want to become a nurse to “help people” it might be worth finding other reasons why you want to go into the profession before enrolling in a course. RN Jennifer Smith has boldly spoken about her experience with burnout, and Sue Rittmeyer encourages nurses to look after themselves while looking after others.

Experience – there are some lessons that can’t be taught in nursing. Sometimes you need to experience them for yourself. There has been some debate about whether graduate nurses are workforce ready. Research also shows that graduate nurses may have difficulty caring for their patients due to factors in workplace dynamics.

Attitude and culture –  Great nurses have well developed interpersonal skills. Nurses need to develop good relationships with patients, doctors, and other members of the health care team. It can be very difficult to treat each patient fairly without judgement, stereotypes and unconscious bias. Nurse Manager HQ founder Nicole Nash-Arnold has questioned the changes to the culture of nursing that has occurred during her career.

A review led by Laurence Guillaumie PhD also found out that nurses who practice mindfulness perform better. Mindfulness is characterized by awareness, inner calmness, enthusiasm, and high sensitivity to patients’ experiences. 

Nurse to patient ratios – The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation are often lobbying for higher nurse to patient ratios, and with good reason. Research shows that patient safety suffers when nurses are overworked.

The issue of nurse understaffing especially in the aged care sector is also something the Australian Nursing Midwifery Federation advocates for. ANMF calls for strengthened support for the nursing and midwifery workforce. They have discussed the current issues of staffing levels and shortages of nurses all over Australia. 

Shift work – Many nurses who work in a hospital will work long shifts which can include regular work on nights and weekends.

Female to male ratio – Nursing is a profession that dominated by females, and in Tasmania around 13% of nurses are men, and in New South Wales it is 10%.

Not like on TV – Registered nurse Gail Timms covers the point that nursing in the real world is nothing like you see on TV here:


What do nurses do and where do they work?

The traditional working environment for nurses is at a hospital, with emergency departments being one of the most stressful working environment. Research suggests that it takes a “special breed” who possesses certain personalities to be successful in this demanding area.

These days nurses have a vast array of career opportunities that stretch beyond the traditional ward or hospital. The fields include:

While there are many areas of specialization within nursing, these may require the completion of a Transition to Specialty Practice Program (TSPP). Gaining a position in one of these programs can be highly competitive, and in some cases there can be around 40 applicants for one position.

Brett Aimers has gone on to become the Chief Nurse at St John Ambulance Australia. Some nurses make the successful transition into health-based businesses, with two examples of these being Shelley Straw and Sharon Armstrong.

Nurses can be involved in wound management and in the lead up to and at the time of death of their patients. It has also been said that nurses are well placed to look for signs of domestic violence, and that there should be further training for them to do so.

There are many technical skills that you need to learn to become a nurse. These include giving an injection and administering drugs. The training often includes simulations. Here is a video of a nurse demonstrating the removal of surgical clips:

Many nurses perform procedures which can cause the patient to be uncomfortable (in terms of physical discomfort and embarrassment), so a sense of humour, excellent communications skills and the ability to put people at ease are essential. Nurses are also often required to think on their feet and need the ability to quickly use their clinical reasoning skills to make decisions.


Are nursing graduates getting jobs?

Many people go into a nursing course believing that they are always assured of a job in nursing. While this is arguably the case for nurses who have at least 1-2 years’ experience, there has been a shortage of graduate positions for nurses for a number of years.

The number of registered nursing graduates finding a full time job within 4 months of completing their university degree dropped by almost 10% between 2012 and 2013. Since this time around 80% of registered nursing graduates have been able to find full time work directly after completion of their degree.

The 2018 Graduate Outcomes Survey – Longitudinal showed that for 2015 nursing graduates there was a 78.8% full time employment rate that year, and that 3 years later there was a full time employment rate of 92.6% of the 2015 graduates.

The Health Workforce 2025 document stated that unless there is national reform, Australia will have a shortage of 109,000 (27%) nurses by 2025, suggesting there is plenty of demand for nurses in Australia.

Traditionally, nursing graduates transition into nursing practice via a one year “transition to professional practice” program, which is usually a full-time job in a hospital where they develop their skills in a supervised environment. A lack of these positions means that it can be difficult, and can take a few months or longer for graduate nurses to find a job as other employers are looking for nurses with experience.

For more details:


ATAR for nursing

Click here for the ATAR for every nursing course in Australia in 2018.

Click here for the ATAR for every midwifery course in Australia in 2018.


How long does it take to become a nurse?

It generally takes 3 years to become a registered nurse and 18 months for an enrolled nurse, but it depends on the pathway you take.


How much money do nurses earn?

According to the Australian Job Outlook,

The 2017 Australian Primary Health Care Nurses Association survey of primary care nurses showed that registered nurses earned an average of between $34.50 to $45.20 per hour, while enrolled nurses earned an average of $24.57 to $33.00 depending on which state they resided in. The survey also showed a nurse practitioner hourly rate ranging from $44.90 to $53.00 and a nurse/midwife hourly rate ranging from $38 to $73.50.

This article looks at 5 ways nurses can earn more money.


University schUniversity scholarshipsolarships

Click here for a listing of university scholarships.


Videos about a career in nursing

Click here to go to our videos about a career in nursing by real nurses.


Where are the courses?

Please refer to the list on the Australian Health Practitioner Agency website for accredited registered nursing courses and enrolled nursing courses.


Latest News

Click here for the latest news about nursing.


Career information from professional associations

Go to this page and click on the links from there.


This page was last updated in March 2019.