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'Does it really need to be so tough to become a nurse?'


Studying to become a nurse means going through a constant whirlwind of placements, work, essays, reading and exams, explains Rachael Starkey. Nurse training shouldn’t be easy, but does it need to be so intense, chaotic and stressful?

I’m writing this from London, where I’m in the middle of my dream elective placement: a week in paediatric intensive care and a week at Great Ormond Street Hospital. I‘m so excited about what I’m learning over these two weeks; it couldn’t be more different to the general children’s nursing that makes up most of my training, but I can’t help wishing hard for the end.

The reason? Once these two weeks are over, I’ll have finished year two of my training. It’s really been a tough year, and I definitely wasn’t prepared for how difficult it would be.

It has felt like a constant whirlwind of placements, work, essays, more work and exams. An unrelenting level of stress never seems to subside. There have not been enough hours in the day to do the reading I need to do, and I’m hoping against hope that next year, my third year, won’t be quite so tough.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not unhappy - I love what I do and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I’m proud of how hard I’ve worked this year and how well I’m doing. But does it really need to be so tough to become a nurse? Surely I shouldn’t be wishing the time away.

Some argue that the only ones who stick it out are those who really want to be a nurse, but I’m not convinced that’s the greatest recruitment technique. With a huge shortage of nurses looming in the not so distant future, shouldn’t nursing education be looking at how to attract more students onto courses?

Reviews into pre-registration education don’t look at improving quality of life for students and allowing us to concentrate on learning all we need to.

Simple things would help, such as ensuring our bursaries come through on time - or at all - and that our placement expenses get returned quickly by being managed online, not by post. Surely that must be possible in 2014?

Arranging the year so that those with children are not on placement during school holidays would make so much difference to a lot of student nurses, too.

Nobody does this course just for fun or because they don’t know what else to do. Yes we care, and we will be good nurses, but keep making it so tough and people just won’t want to do it. There won’t be the students needed to plug the predicted shortfall in nurses, and those who do qualify won’t want to stay.

It’s no good just looking into how to make pre-registration education better, it needs to be made more attractive to potential nurses, to change the minds of those who look at the financial picture and find they can’t afford to do the training. Those who attend an open day to be told they will be on 13-hour shifts during every single one of their child’s half-term holidays need to be convinced.

Good nurses come from good training, but what do we get from intense, chaotic, stressful training? Is it too much to ask for policy makers to talk to students about what would improve our education? I don’t think so.

Rachael Starkey is student nurse at the child nursing branch of Canterbury Christ Church University.

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Readers' comments (3)

  • I will risk being seen as harsh and rude but I think nursing students (and other NHS funded students) are extremely lucky that their training is paid for them AND they get a bursary. No other students get that. I fully accept that the finances might mean some people can not afford to start their degree but this is the same for any other study, except for the fact that our student loan will be at least £27,000 less than someone who, for example, wants to retrain to be a human rights lawyer. We get fees paid, a bursary, potential child care support and travel costs if you need to travel far to placement or uni. That is a pretty sweet deal. And in exchange, we don't even have to work for the NHS at the end. Mind you, I fully agree that the problems with the bursary and travel payments should be solved. Travel expenses could surely be done online.

    Nursing is an extremely demanding profession with most people working in rotating shift patterns. All these things need to be carefully considered before starting training. How will you cope with children once qualified? It will be most unlikely you will be able to take annual leave for the entire school holiday?

    The way the academic year works out for nursing students is that you are at uni 45 weeks of the year, be it in lectures or on placement. This is required to fit in the large amount of things we need to learn. The planning of the 3 years can not take individual people in to account when a cohort might have 300 students over all 4 fields.

    It is simply honest that we are told in advance that it will be extremely challenging for those with kids and not enough childcare/financial support. In fact, the result of those warnings is that I have in reality actually found it a lot less exhausting than I expected and this makes me feel that I am managing my work well. Many of my classmates have kids. Many of them have a part time job. Some of them are even single parents. It can be done. Maybe not everyone is able to make it work. That is a shame for them. Perhaps the Open University is an option? They do nursing too.

    And finally, on the subject of policy makers talking to students, only yesterday do 70 students speak to Lord Willis of Knaresborough to give him their input on how future nurses should be trained. Not one of them said: we have to work too hard. In fact, we all asked for more course content and perhaps extending the course to 4 years.

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  • Marieke Vink | 4-Nov-2014 2:08 pm

    Well said!

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  • I have been trained for four years now and I look upon my training as a walk in the park compared to the pressures I have today. The whole point is to enable you to cope with several demand upon your time and learn how to prioritise. Time management is huge on the wards even when you don't take your breaks or go home on time. I love nursing and don't regret joining it as a profession but it is hard and some days your tears will be due to sheer exhaustion but that is balanced by the grateful thanks of your patients and the satisfaction of making a difference keeps you going back.

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