Skip to content
Skip to main content

About this free course

Download this course

Share this free course

So, you want to be a nurse? A brief introduction to nursing
So, you want to be a nurse? A brief introduction to nursing

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

2 Being a nurse

In this section, you will look at a definition of nursing and explore further what it means to be a nurse in the UK and beyond.

Definition of nursing

The International Council of Nurses (2002) defines nursing in the following way:

Nursing encompasses autonomous and collaborative care of individuals of all ages, families, groups and communities, sick or well and in all settings. Nursing includes the promotion of health, prevention of illness, and the care of ill, disabled and dying people. Advocacy, promotion of a safe environment, research, participation in shaping health policy and in patient and health systems management, and education are also key nursing roles.

(International Council of Nurses, 2002)

There are key messages about nursing within this definition, including how the focus in nursing is not just on those who are ill but on maintaining the health of those who are well. This is a key role when working with people, of all ages, who have disabilities or other health conditions. It is also clear from this definition that nurses don’t just work in hospitals but in a variety of settings. Nurses also work in education, research and the building and shaping of health policy.

In the quiz in Section 1, you looked at some aspects of what being a nurse in the UK involves, but of course nurses exist all over the world. Although their roles may vary, and they may undertake different types of education to become a nurse compared to those in the UK, the word nurse is recognised globally. According to the World Health Organization’s ‘The State of the World’s Nursing 2020’ report, there are 27.9 million nurses worldwide and the global nursing workforce makes up the largest group of workers in health care (World Health Organization, 2020).

Each country has its own approach to the education of nurses, but the UK is currently the only country that has four ‘fields’ of nursing at the point of qualifying as a Registered Nurse. Many countries have more generic style education and then the nurse will specialise after qualification.

In some countries, the role of the midwife is also included in the role of the nurse and there is not a separate qualification for midwives, however in the UK, midwifery is a separate qualification with a separate educational programme.

The role of the nurse and their education will also reflect how health services are set up in a particular country. For example, in countries where health care is focused on more specialist treatment, then you will find more specialist nurses. As an example, in the UK nurses can study specialist courses after their initial qualification to become Epilepsy Specialist Nurses or Diabetes Specialist Nurses. Additionally, nurses may undertake further qualifications to become District Nurses, School Nurses or Health Visitors in the UK.

Nursing across the world faces some similar challenges, which include a shortage of nurses and of course in recent times, a global pandemic. Many health issues that face populations exist across the world, including nutrition (malnutrition and obesity), child health, sustainable health care, emergency and trauma care and public health in communities. Nurses in many countries also work in conflict zones and deliver care under the most extreme conditions, for example in field hospitals during or following a war or after natural disasters, such as flooding or earthquakes.

Activity 2 International nurses’ day

Each year International Nurses Day celebrates the work of nurses around the world. Watch Video 1 below, which was made for the 2020 celebration.

Download this video clip.Video player: Video 1
Copy this transcript to the clipboard
Print this transcript
Show transcript | Hide transcript
Video 1
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

What messages did you notice when watching this video?

To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).


You may have noticed that the people in the video were from all across the globe and each had their own stories of how nursing had impacted on them personally. The message that there is a global nursing shortage and a call for Governments to respond to this may also have resonated with you.

This video was due to be longer, but as the presenter says the COVID-19 pandemic impacted on nursing across the world. A series of images of nursing then followed showing the many different roles of nurses in many different countries.