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Are student nurses living in poverty?

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Sometimes you see a headline and know an article is going to be worth the five minutes it will take to read. That’s how I felt when a member of our news team filed a story from the Unison conference: ‘Student nurses should be paid “living wage” while on placement, says union’.

If I didn’t work in an open-plan office, I would have cheered.

As an ex-student nurse I’m all too familiar with the exhaustion that comes from finishing your placement shift, grabbing some food and then heading off to work an evening shift in a bar. When you finish at midnight or 1am, getting up the next morning to head back to placement is tough to say the least.

”[…] there just weren’t enough hours in the day to earn enough money to live on”

As well as living with other student nurses, I took the possibly naïve decision to live with students from other courses. One housemate had a grand total of three hours a week in university and although I didn’t envy the outside reading she needed to do, I did envy the fact that she could easily juggle a part-time job around her studies.

The problem, for me at least, was that there just weren’t enough hours in the day to earn enough money to live on, revise, write essays, attend placement and lectures and sleep for eight hours.

Cutting the number of hours student nurses spend in placement or in lectures is simply not an option. The academic work is tough, but it needs to be; there’s a lot to learn in three short years. It just wouldn’t be possible for nursing courses to consist of three hours of placement/university-directed learning and a chunk of self-directed study, as my enviable housemate frequently bragged about.

So is it really necessary for student nurses to work part-time?

Many people would argue that student nurses have it much better than other students. They don’t pay tuition fees and receive a bursary. But even the top-level bursary equates to an hourly wage far below minimum wage and the amount student nurses can apply to loan reflects the fact they don’t pay tuition fees.

For many students, part-time work is essential despite the additional financial support.

So would paying students a minimum wage on placement negate the need to work part-time? Or would it change student nurses’ status and create a cheap workforce?

There are clearly pros and cons to the idea. Although I don’t believe it should be easy to become a nurse, the difficulty should come from needing to be good at nursing, not from having to survive three years of poverty.

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Anonymous

    I still don't see why it wouldn't be possible for us to 'pay' tuition fees in return for us to be placed at band 2/3 during our 3 years at university. Sure we'd end up paying more overall but we wouldn't have to struggle so much in the beginning. I'd say that 90% of the people who dropped out of my course were mums who couldn't afford to provide for themselves and their children which is awful. Especially given that, in my opinion, they are probably a safer investment that us single types who can just pack up and leave for Oz when the going gets tough

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  • Anonymous

    At the next NMC Council meeting in May, the decision to extend the 5 year rule to 7 years to complete undergraduate nursing training should be approved, this may not suit all students but give opportunities to study/work and have a life that can be extended according to personal circumstances.

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