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Why do so many student nurses quit their course?

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24 April, 2012

When you look around your lecture halls, have you noticed the number of student nurses shrinking?

I remember my first day sitting in a giant sports hall surrounded by my fellow enthusiastic students. However over the months our numbers seemed to have grown fewer and fewer. Now we fill just half of the same lecture hall.

Obviously I know that the different branches of nursing separate after the first year and a normal rate of attrition is to be expected, but is the quit rate among nursing students higher than other courses? And if so, why?

I think that nursing seems to lose more students than other academic courses. Jonathan Secker, recruitment and communications lead for the faculty of health, social care and education at Anglia Ruskin University, agrees: “Your life is taken over for three years so if you have any external factor come into play (pregnancy, family bereavement, partner job loss) then this seriously conflicts with whether you can complete the course.”

So it is clear that nursing students are under a lot of pressure. Jonathan adds that “people drop out due to the reality of placement and it not being what they expected.”

While there may be unique stresses to the nursing student I may not be seeing the entire picture. From my perspective it may seem that my colleagues are just disappearing but there could be other reasons. A number of them may have been put back by six months for a number of reasons or some may have taken a year or two out from their studies to rejoin at a later date.

What do you think? Have you noticed your class getting any smaller? Why do you think that is?

Readers' comments (45)

  • Simple common sense!

    A degree, hard work and sacrifice = harfly any jobs, one of the most stressful jobs around if you are lucky enough to get one, burnout, already insultingly crap pay and getting worse, diminished pensions, no promotion prospects, no respect and constant attacks from the government... I could carry on!

    Who the hell wants to be a nurse?!? The ones getting out are the smart ones!

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  • Anonymous | 24-Apr-2012 3:36 pm

    maybe they should have thought more carefully about getting into it in the first place. think about all the waste of resources and denying the chance of a place to others who really did want a career in nursing.

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  • Anonymous | 24-Apr-2012 3:47 pm and think of all the attacks on nursing, nurses pay, pensions etc have happened since many nurses started training. There are some smart people out there who see that and choose not to put up with it.

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  • I don't know of anyone who has quit yet (2 1/2 months in), but I can see this may be the case for a number of reasons. Although there are more mature nursing students than the general student population, many student nurses are very young and some might just not be emotionally mature enough to cope with the demands of nursing whilst still a teenager. Additionally, with schools of nursing as part of universities I'd assume that some younger nurses feel they are missing out on the 'student life' that some of their peers are.
    As there are a lot of mature nursing students, other commitments (e.g. childcare, illness of a family member, pregnancy, financial issues, relationship breakdown, etc etc) may make it impossible for some people to continue when circumstances change.

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  • there have been a number of students on my course whom have dropped out for a varying number of reasons.
    some at the very begining unable to cope with the full on course, some later on because of financial difficulties and some because of placement brought to light concerns about wether they were on the right course ie; placement not what they expected.
    i am on the BANS Mental Health Branch and it is a daily struggle financially which brings even more stress to an overwhelming course allready although i get great support i dont feel financially the government appreciates what we set aside to do as students and the committments we have to make and the affect it has on our loved ones.

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  • Ellie and lynn I think you are both right, these things and more are not new to student nurses, and traditionally there has been a large dropout from nursing due to these problems, because it is far, far harder than any normal degree. However all the problems that are besieging nursing at the moment cannot be ignored either, the daily attacks by the government, tge lack of respect, the realisation that the profession is dying on its knees, and perhaps most importantly the complete lack of jobs or opportunities, the constant and debilitating cuts in pay, conditions, pensions etc, and many people are simply not prepared to put up with the hard work, stress and sacrifice of gaining a nursing degree when the benefits are nonexistent.

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  • Anon 24th april 3:47, that is absolute rubbish! Just because people realise they aren't prepared to be a martyr does not mean they would not have made great nurses!!!

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  • Hi Adam thanks for this article its great. Personally I believe that many students leave due to lack of support and the course is very demanding. I feel lucky to be studying at Bournemouth University not only is it a great university but the level of support you get from the teaching staff is fanatastic. Nothing is ever too much trouble, I have to say that some students I have spoken to have said they dont get support and they feel that there given a few text books and they go away and feel like they are teaching themselves. Its a shame that some people leave, but in all honesty its a tough course and students need to have support in both practice and placement.

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  • Anonymous | 25-Apr-2012 10:33 am

    "Anon 24th april 3:47"

    "...does not mean they would not have made great nurses!!!"

    that is not what was said or even implied!

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  • My trust have no jobs for qualifying students after all their hard work and lack of money how stressful is that. I can honestly say I could not now recommend a career in nursing. The media think we sit around whilst we ignore crys for help.
    I wouldn't do it.

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  • I am a second year at the University of Birmingham. We were told monday (after I read it on the sunday in a nursing journal) that the school of nursing may be closing, we will be told in June! They are unable to guarantee our third year of study. Staff support is never consistent. A staff member said to me today that their morale is low in the department. Well at least they had some awareness of these possibilities! I adore placements and am a much 'better' nurse than academic student. I am 36 and since beginning my degree have had three very close family bereavements, partner being made redundant, and having my eldest daughter (of which I have 4) being diagnosed with various health conditions. Oh and alongside this I try and work part time to pay the mortgage. I have left a very good career to come in nursing but I am very seriously wondering if this was wise? The future of the NHS is unstable, morale on wards is low and the future is bleak :( how wonderful!
    However, making a difference to a patient is amazing and the satisfaction felt of a job well done is second to none. I think although the reasons why is degree led now, we should revert back to more traditional methods of learning. Do patients really care if I use Hravard Referencing correctly?
    I feel many students drop out because they are either naive, lazy or realise it is not for them. The frustration comes from people like me who have sacrificed on financial, personal and professional levels many aspects of their life - time with children, money for transport/books/lunches/resources just to give back a stressed mom/partner with an ever increasing overdraft......

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  • Adam Roxby

    Hi everyone.

    You know that reading the comments is my favourite part about writing articles. So let’s get going.

    First anonymous – That’s quite an expansive list and also a depressingly bleak evaluation of the state of our NHS. I am not blind to the troubles but would like to remain optimistic that things can change. Thanks for your comment.

    Second anonymous – Thinking about the reality of a course might only get you so far. As I’m sure you can appreciate there is a grand difference between an understanding of what you think and nursing course would be and the reality.
    However I’ve never been in a position to have a course denied to me so I’m not sure if I would feel differently if that was the case.

    Anonymous | 24-Apr-2012 6:17 pm – It is true that there are certainly a large number of reasons not to go into nursing but I like to take comfort in the fact that even after all of that we still attract great people to the profession. Obviously, that’s not to say that we should put up with all the problems and injustices and it’s great that students and nurses are finding their voices.

    Ellie – I think you may be in the minority there! You offer some great reasons as to why people might leave. Nursing attracts such a diversity of people. From teenagers who are fresh out of college and become overwhelmed with the reality of nursing to the mature student who is struggling to balance a wide range of other commitments.
    Thanks for your comment.

    Lynn–I feel your pain with the financial worries. I was one of the families who has lost out because of the change in the working tax credit system. What really annoyed me was when my wife was told from one of the advisers that she would be better off if I was imprisoned or if we were separated. So I can see that there are lots of things outside of our control that are conspiring to knock us off the course. It’s just going to make my graduation that much sweeter… I hope.

    Anonymous | 25-Apr-2012 10:31 am – Again I tried to remain optimistic. I sometimes slip into the naive state of mind of just focusing on my studies and hoping everything will be fine by the time I finish.

    James - It’s good to hear people praise their university. I hear a lot of bad things, a lot of universities and I do wonder just how much of it is accurate. I too am lucky to have a good university behind me (Anglia Ruskin in Chelmsford).

    Anonymous | 25-Apr-2012 1:40 pm - As per usual life thing the media has a bit to answer for on the negative state of nursing. From spreading misinformation about MRSA and vaccinations to betraying nurses as soulless grunts who slap a flannel on a patient for 2 min each morning. I truly believe that at every instance we find this detrimental practice going on we should confront it.

    Thanks everybody for engaging with this article. As I said it is my favourite part of writing it so it’s really great to see so many passionate people talking about these issues.

    Slightly off topic, I hope you are all looking forward to the upcoming first episode of the Student Nursing Times Podcast!

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  • Adam Roxby

    Hey Debra

    Your comment came in as I was writing.

    That’s terrible news. You sound like quite an inspiration to still continue and to find joy in what you do when you’re surrounded by such things. I have a slight idea of what sacrifice is for the cause of health care but nothing like that.

    If you are online and use twitter then it’s a great tool to find other nurses and students to share issues and problems with. I can be found at @AdamRoxby but there is also the fantastic @NurseShift which holds regular twitter chats about all sorts of nursing issues. There is one happening next Tuesday at 7:30 PM GMT and it would be great to see you guys there.

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  • I think this is a great article, as it is an issue that affects many Nursing students but they're often told that "everything will be alright". I'm a first year student Nurse and I can relate this to my very own experience, on numerous occassions I just wanted to drop out as it simply is not what I had expected it to be. I also find it very difficult because as I started my university weren't really helping as they were telling us all the negative things about Nursing rather than the positives. I find this course extremely challenging as it is the most challenging thing I could ever choose to do in my life ( no exaggeration intended) but I have several chronic illnesses that affect my immune system Lupus and Autoimmune Hepatitis just being two of them, there is always something I am battling with on a daily basis and the last thing I could choose is to be a Nurse. I've had a lot of grief from certain individuals, been put down as certain members of my family/friends are simply not happy with what I have chosen to do, but I've got to say it has made me very strong as an individual, being a patient myself I can understand what kind of care and treatment other patients would want to expect from us. Also, seeing bad practice by staff nurses on the wards motivates me to be that person who can make a difference to someone just by doing my job properly rather than making the patient feel that you are undergoing a task.
    Nursing is a serious profession, if you are not willing to make sacrifices for people who deserve to be treated equally to you then then it's not for you, there's no point students complaining saying it's too full on if they don't understand the rationale behind the profession, there are also other sectors you can go into within the health setting or study further rather than sticking with being a nurse. Many students don't realise this, they tend to make assumptions and can't be bothered to carry on. You have to bare in mind if it's something you enjoy doing, and come home knowing you've made someones day just by listening to something they had to say then the reward is alot more than a comfy job where you sit on your backside all day and get paid a silly amount of money every month.

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  • I am a Ward Manager who regularly works along side students at all levels in my place of work.
    As with any course in any subject there will always be people who drop out/ leave either by their own choice or by the pressure of things at home.The NHS is a great political tool for politicians to use and abuse and sadly that is something that isn't new- its been the same for the whole of my 23 years in the NHS.What you learn more and more is that its only the bad stuff makes headlines or raises a Politicians profile.Don't be sucked into a political debate to the point that you believe there is no future in Nursing- there is and your contribution is needed.
    I have worked with some fabulous students who have demonstrated great crudentials to secure Nursings future.I have also had the misfortune to work with some students who should never considered it as a career but who later go on to leave their course or be removed but again thats not a new thing.
    I firmly believe that there are many many great Nurses out there who do a fabulous job day to day, who yes are overworked and we all agree underpaid but that again is not new its historical.
    Nursing is demanding of anyone and working in the NHS today is even more so but thats the challenge we all face now in Nursing whether it is as a student, post reg or like me with a number of years experience under my belt.A good student today is the great Staff Nurse of tomorrow and you are valued,needed and wanted by staff like me and most importantly by the patients we care for 24/7.
    A patient wants a Nurse to care- its not rocket science and often patients won't care if a Nurse is an academic genius they want dignity, respect and for someone to install a sense of belonging by making them feel that they are wanted.Not so much different to what we as Nurses want perhaps..................................

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  • Just look at the staff moral and all the cuts to the funding and also pay freezes NO WONDER

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  • Adam Roxby

    So I get to respond to some more comments!

    Anonymous | 25-Apr-2012 3:11 pm
    Thank you, I’m glad you like it. You make a great point and the fact that you stick with it as well as having to deal with chronic conditions is very admirable.
    I also think you are lucky in so much as to have an insight into the patient experience. Nothing really sharpens your vision like seeing things from another perspective.
    It is sad as well that your university is more inclined to scare off students with all of the negative sides of nursing as opposed to all the great things that we can get from the profession.
    Thanks once again for your great comment I hope everything works out for you.

    Anonymous | 26-Apr-2012 11:59 am
    Thanks for your comment, it is really brilliant to see a trained perspective in these issues. I agree that there are so many great students out there and I will have the privilege to celebrate some of them at the ‘Student Nursing Times Award’ on 1 May!
    I would agree that if you just build your view of the NHS and the healthcare industry as a whole on what you see in the media, then you are going to get a distorted and negative impression. Quite often the reality isn’t as bleak as what it is purported to be. You are right, that there will always be students who are not cut out for it but it is the role of mentors and universities to make sure that the appropriate students become nurses and that those for whom nursing isn’t right are supported in other ways.
    Thanks once again for your insight.

    Anonymous | 26-Apr-2012 2:37 pm
    I would be interested to read a comprehensive survey on what staff morale in the NHS is. I have met my fair share of nurses who have become bitter, but I’ve also met a large number of those who simply love working for the NHS. In my personal experience I would say more people enjoy it and don’t. Perhaps I have just been lucky?
    Thanks for your comment.

    I also want to say thank you to everybody who has read and enjoyed this article. I plan to do a follow-up at some point on my personal site ( so keep an eye out for that.


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  • So the rich also cry, not only in Nigeria but also in a country like England Nurses are not satisfied, i don't know why i read nursing (always full of confusion).

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  • Adam Roxby

    Hey Anonymous | 26-Apr-2012 11:11 pm

    Not entirely sure what you mean but I can confirm that all walks of life cry.

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  • Hi Adam,

    re my coment re staff moral.....
    i love my job i really do but my moral is low this is the same with all my colleagues. To much emphasis on targets clients take second place

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