Nurse holding the hand of a patient

What are the most common routes into mental health nursing?

The world is facing a mental health crisis. More and more countries are struggling to deal with an ever-increasing wave of anxiety, depression and stress (to name but a few conditions). This epidemic is thought to be so severe that experts predict the bill to tackle the problem could hit £12 trillion by the year 2030. The need to combat negative mental health has never been greater.

The need to fight back against this scourge to mental wellbeing is more important than ever before, and so the call for qualified mental health nurses grows ever louder. So how do you become a mental health nurse?

What is the most common route into mental health nursing?

Currently, the most common route to becoming an RNMH is through university and the completion of a degree in mental health nursing. There are plenty of courses to choose from, with over 60 universities in the UK offering degrees that specialise in mental health nursing.

In order to be accepted onto one of these courses, you will need to have obtained a minimum of five GCSE grades between A* (9) and C (4), including English, maths and science, and two/three A-Levels, including one in science or a health-related subject. However, it is worth noting that each university sets its own entry requirements, so it’s advisable to contact your chosen university before applying. This path is also open to those who already possess a relevant degree in another subject, with the length of time to qualification being drastically reduced.

Once you have been accepted, you must work towards achieving a degree in pre-registration nursing that specialises in mental health. Many courses are split between theory and practical work, meaning you’ll gain plenty of hands-on experience. Once you’ve qualified, you will need to register with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) before you can seek employment. This registration must be renewed every year, with revalidation required every three years.

Are there any alternate routes into mental health nursing?

Although the A-Level to university route is the most common, there are alternate avenues that can lead to a career in mental health nursing. If you have not achieved the desired grades at A-Level, there are a number of other qualifications that can help you clinch a place at university, including Scottish/Advanced Highers, Pearson BTEC Level 3 Diploma qualifications, OCR Cambridge Technicals, International Baccalaureate and Access Courses.

Nursing degree apprenticeships are also an excellent way of breaking into mental health nursing. First announced by the UK government in 2014 before being rolled out in September 2017, this exciting scheme is designed to give students the chance to earn as they learn, with time split between studying the theoretical side of nursing, as well as gaining first-hand experience in the workplace. The degrees on offer are equivalent to those obtained at university, however, apprentices are able to graduate with several years of work experience under their belt. Better still, there are no training fees or student loans to pay off once your course is complete.

The postgraduate route is another pathway that can lead to a career in mental health nursing. Following the UK government’s decision to scrap bursaries for undergraduates, City, University of London rolled out a new scholarship for postgraduates applying for pre-registration courses in nursing. Aimed at students who “demonstrate either clinical or academic excellence”, the initiative, which was first launched in September 2018, promises to provide support for those looking to start their journey into healthcare. Scholarships, which cost £4,450, are awarded to those who have over 500 hours of clinical practice in health care, while those graduating with first-class honours are rewarded with academic scholarships.

Equally, Return to Practice (RTP) courses can provide a gateway to mental health nursing. These programmes, available at multiple UK universities, are designed to reintroduce qualified nurses back into the profession and must be completed before re-registration with the NMC can take place. In addition, 450 hours of registered practice over a three year period, or 750 hours over a five year period, must be logged before you can enter the readmission process. However, RTP course hours can be used to fulfil the requirements for revalidation.

How long does it take to become a fully qualified mental health nurse?

Don’t be fooled into thinking that the path to becoming a mental health nurse is a walk in the park. It is a trail littered with hard work and daily challenges, but the rewards are certainly worth the effort. You must be fully committed to qualifying, with many mental health nursing degrees consisting of three to four years of intensive training.

Part-time courses are available if you cannot commit to full-time study, however, these can take considerably longer to complete - five to six years in some cases. Additional years of postgraduate study may be required if you want to specialise in a particular field of mental health nursing.

Nursing degree apprenticeships can take up to five years to complete, however, any course costs are covered by your employer. Course times for both degree level and apprenticeship level learning can be significantly reduced, but only if you are able to obtain accreditation of prior learning (APEL). This demonstrates that you have practice-based learning or a degree in another health-related subject.

What key skills does an RNMH require?

If you’re seeking a career in mental health nursing, you need to possess a number of key skills. As well as being able to remain calm and think quickly under pressure, you’ll need to be a master in the art of communication. This will allow you to connect with your patients and their families, build relationships and fully understand the needs of those in your care.

Of course, as with any nursing role, you will need to be able to empathise with your patients, so a caring personality is essential. Keen observational skills, an ability to problem solve and being a real team player are also vital if you want to thrive in your role.

Once qualified, what are the career opportunities for qualified mental health nurses?

There are a variety of options open to newly qualified mental health nurses, many of which are available through the NHS. Alternatively, you can seek employment in the private sector, in prisons or with local authority social services, or you can continue down the education trail and specialise in a particular field. Depending on your skills, educational roles such as a lecturer or clinical researcher are also options to consider.

What are the options for international nurses hoping to work in the UK as RNMHs?

The recruitment of nurses from outside the UK is commonplace and can help plug gaps in the country’s labour force. For international nurses, the journey to working in the mental health sector can be long and filled with hurdles. However, these are far from impossible to conquer. The entire process of registering to work in the UK can take six to eight months, although, with plenty of hard work and preparation, an International English Language Testing System (IELTS) level 7 or an Occupational English Test (OET) level B can be achieved in just three.

Once these challenges have been overcome, international nurses may register with the NMC and begin searching for work in the UK. All overseas workers must start out as general nurses before entering into mental health care. This enables them to receive specialist training and gain valuable experience in the workplace. Once fully qualified, nurses can look forward to a rewarding career in the NHS or private sector.

Mental Health Nursing – A Rewarding Career

Whether you’re a student looking to work your way up through university, a healthcare professional hoping to gain experience by undertaking a nursing apprenticeship or an international nurse seeking an exciting new life in the UK, mental health nursing can be a truly rewarding career. Yes, there may be challenges, and you’ll be required to put in plenty of hard work, but the end result will almost certainly be worth the effort.

Find Out More

Medacs Healthcare offers a range of jobs for mental health nurses. If you would like to learn more, take a look at our latest jobs or call 01785 256434 during office hours. 

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