A FARMER who dodged poisonous snakes and spiders as a "bush medic" in the Australian Outback is among hundreds of Scots returning to nursing after a career break.

Pete Wilson, 27, graduated with a degree in nursing from Robert Gordon University in 2011, but said he did not feel ready - at just 20 - to commit to life on the frontline of the NHS. He spent the next four years working in Thailand and Australia instead.

Read more: Hundreds of Scottish-trained nurses plan to work abroad

He said: "Even after I left nursing I always found myself in medical positions in the sorts of jobs I did - if I wasn't the first aider then I was the medic.

"In Australia I was a farmer and I farmed for about eight months on an organic farm. When you live two to three hours drive from the nearest hospital you really need to start thinking on your feet medically wise, and I got the opportunity to be a bush medic.

"We'd work with the vet - the vet was the farmer's brother - and any time there was an injury I would be the first responder. My best mate fractured his leg and I had to patch him up as best as I could and then haul him off to the vet where we did an X-ray, because the vet was only 30 minutes away where the hospital was three hours away.

"There was always a risk of snake bites, spider bites, I had to learn my tropical diseases, leeches, infection control - so many slight cuts on the farm could quickly turn into an tetanus infection. So even though I was a farmer, which is radically different from nursing, I kept finding myself in that line of work."

Mr Wilson, who is originally from Dufftown in Moray, returned to Scotland in 2015. He is now completing a fast-track refresher course at Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) so that he can re-start his career in nursing.

He hopes to secure a permanent post in the Greater Glasgow area or Inverness, where his girlfriend lives.

He added: "It was never a case of not coming back to it - I just wanted to come back when I felt I would be able to be the best nurse I could be.

“I went into nursing when I was really young and when I left it was the only thing I knew, and I didn’t want to burn out. It turned out to be a very long gap year and I was always pining after nursing.

"I’ve come back and I am a lot more mature, with some life experience, having seen some incredible things, and I wanted to bring that back to the NHS.”

Read more: Nurse training places to increase for sixth year in a row

One in five nurses in Scotland are over 55, leading to fears that a retirement timebomb is looming over the next decade.

Despite record numbers of nurses and midwives working in Scotland's NHS, the vacancy rate is climbing as the number of new nursing posts being created outstrips supply. More than 800 posts have been empty more than three months.

The Scottish Government announced in January that it would increase the number of funded training places for nursing and midwifery in the 2018/19 intake for the sixth year in a row, to 3,724, but university courses take four years to complete.

In comparison, the GCU course runs over 16 weeks, helping to bolster frontline NHS staffing numbers much more quickly.

Since the university launched its Return to Nursing programme in 2015 more than 300 people have successfully completed the course, which is funded by the Scottish Government. It is now being replicated by other universities.

Read more: Nurses warn staff shortages putting patients at risk 

Laura MacLeod is also part of the current intake. She trained as a midwife straight from school 20 years ago.

She said: "It was very different back then. The job has changed a lot but I loved it then and I'm enjoying it again now."

Ms MacLeod left midwifery due to of childcare issues.

She said: “I had two young children and I didn’t have the robust childcare to work shifts. I have been away seven years, my kids are older and this course is available to us which I decided to take advantage of. It was quite daunting, but I feel very fortunate that we have this course at GCU that allows people like me who've had career breaks to get back on the professional register and hopefully gain employment throughout Scotland.”

Read more: Former NHS boss says degree requirement hampering nurse recruitment 

Irene Kennedy, the university's nursing programme leader, said the key success of the course has been its partnership agreements with hospitals across Scotland. As a result, students are able to update their skills in nearby clinical settings no matter where they live.

Ms Kennedy said: “Our programme is a fast-track way for our students to return to nursing in just 16 weeks. "We give them the support they need to study and succeed within the University element of the course, but the vast majority of the programme takes place refreshing their skills on clinical settings.

"It’s important they can do this as close to home as possible, and it’s also where they enjoy the camaraderie, which so many miss when they leave the profession.

"I am proud of what the institution and the students have achieved and how we are positively contributing to reduce a forecasted shortage in numbers of nurses in Scotland. Working with our NHS partners, our return to nursing students and midwives bring a wealth of experience back in to the profession.”