Nursing occupations – gaining in significance during the coronavirus crisis

The coronavirus epidemic has made us appreciate just what a key profession nursing is within society. People infected with coronavirus are being treated in every medical and care setting. It is now obvious that our need for qualified nurses and new nursing training entrants is greater than ever. A particular degree of expertise is required in order to be able to react in a professional manner to the nursing, medical and social challenges associated with a pandemic virus outbreak.

Nursing occupations – gaining in significance during the coronavirus crisis

Profile and main task focuses of the occupation

A new occupational profile of “qualified nurse” brings together the former professions of geriatric nurse, registered general nurse and registered children’s nurse. Qualified nurses work in various medical settings, but are mainly deployed in in-patient or outpatient acute and long-term care.

Nurses are familiarised with the various fields of nursing care during their training. This training includes completing deployments at hospitals and care institutions and with outpatient nursing and care services. Once they are qualified, nurses take on professionally demanding tasks which are entirely reserved to them. The main focuses are investigation and identification of people’s individual nursing needs, organisation of the nursing process, execution of nursing and medical measures and quality assurance of nursing care. A nurse’s work is also characterised by collaboration in multi-professional teams, i.e. with doctors, therapists and nursing assistants.

The current coronavirus crisis is creating particular challenges for qualified nurses. The new nursing training programmes are addressing these requirements, which occur across various areas. In the area of in-patient acute care, nurses are responsible for looking after people in hospital. Their everyday work usually takes place on a ward or in a specific specialist department. Especially during the coronavirus outbreak, detailed medical knowledge, emergency management, expertise in connection with invasive patient ventilation and particular hygiene measures are all crucial aspects of acute care nursing.

Qualified nurses working in outpatient or in long-term nursing care take on responsibility for people living in residential homes and in private households. They carry out their everyday duties in residents’ homes or rooms or in common rooms that are in general use. Older people are one of the particularly vulnerable risk groups. For this reason, special hygiene and isolation measures such as prohibition of contact, quarantine and protective confinement are necessary in old people’s homes. This is associated with considerable psychosocial problems, especially in the area of in-patient and outpatient long-term care. However, the supply shortage of the personal protective clothing and equipment which is currently necessary also poses a particular problem for nurses.

Occupational fields of deployment

Nursing training offers various elective opportunities and possible specialities. Trainees who wish to specialise in the area of geriatric or children’s nursing face a choice before embarking upon the final year of training. They can either decide to continue their generalist training, which will qualify them to provide nursing care to persons of all ages, and go on to obtain the vocational qualification of “qualified nurse” or else opt to pursue a new alignment. In the latter case, their final year theoretical and practical training will be oriented towards children’s or geriatric nursing. Their vocational qualification will then have the title of “qualified children’s nurse” or “qualified geriatric nurse”.

Access opportunities/prerequisites

Those wishing to enter vocational nursing training should have completed an intermediate school leaving certificate, another form of ten-year general schooling or an equivalent recognised qualification. A university of applied sciences entrance qualification or a general higher education entrance qualification is usually required in order to commence degree-level nursing training.

Working in nursing involves dealing with a wide range of different people. This requires comprehensive social and professional skills and abilities. For this reason, an interest in nursing and medical topics and possession of attributes such as good communication skills, empathy and a sense of responsibility are useful prerequisites at the beginning of nursing training. The ongoing coronavirus crisis is presenting a particular challenge in terms of the mental and physical resilience of nurses. An ability to engage with people who are in need of help and to cope with stressful situations is especially important during these difficult times.


Given the high demands of the profession, the salary paid to qualified nurses is relatively modest, even if shift and public holiday allowances are taken into account. The proportion of part-time staff is also relatively large. Improved remuneration and special payments are currently being discussed against the background of the coronavirus crisis.

Qualified nurses enjoy diverse career opportunities within different care settings and specialist areas. They are able to expand or deepen their field of activity by pursuing advanced or specialist continuing training in areas such as nursing and care facility management, mentoring, case management or wound management. Training is also a prerequisite for entry to subsequent higher education study. Depending on the course completed, nurses may then progress to employment as a healthcare scientist, nursing tutor or nursing manager.

Duration of training

The duration of full-time qualified nurse training is three years. It may also be completed on a part-time basis over a maximum period of up to five years. The provider of the practical nursing training is statutorily required to pay an appropriate training allowance throughout this time. Teaching and training materials for the theoretical and practical parts of the training are made available free of charge.

Figures relating to training

No generally binding collective wage agreement is in place in the nursing sector. This means that remuneration varies between federal states and between the respective training institutions. Trainees starting out at an institution in the public sector will receive an allowance based on the collective wage agreement for student nurses. In 2019, gross payment was about €1,140 in the first year. This rose to €1,202 in the second year and to €1,303 in the third year of training. Training allowances paid by private sector providers are sometimes based on individual company wage agreements but may also be freely negotiated.

Just under 140,000 persons were in nursing training in the 2017/2018 school year. These included 63,707 in general nursing, 7,481 in children’s nursing and 68,236 in geriatric nursing (Federal Statistical Office 2019).