Let’s be honest, being a student nurse is a huge financial burden and it’s not always easy to find ways to make some extra cash.
There seems to be a misconception that nursing training avoids the kind of debts and loans associated with other university degrees. The reason I know this is because I held the same misconception before I began this course. I was under the naive impression that being on an NHS-funded course would allow me take three years off work in order to put all my energy into studying and at the end I would be rewarded for my efforts by walking into the nursing profession completely debt free.
Unfortunately things did not work out like that, and before I had treaded the wards on my first placement I had already resorted to working as a waitress in my local pub for some extra pennies. Don’t get me wrong, I will always be full of sincere gratitude to the NHS for funding my career, especially considering the rise in university tuition fees over the past few years, but I soon realised, as did many of my coursemates, that if I was going to make it to the end of the three years I would have to find some means of work.
After struggling through my first year juggling placement deadlines and a minimum wage job, the latter of which involving working every free evening in order to get by I had to say goodbye to my social life. I quickly realised I needed a better way to earn the extra cash. So I considered what I know so many student nurses consider - to work as health care assistant for an agency or a bank.
I have been working for a small healthcare agency for a few months now, and the experience has been a mixed one. Doing any job whilst doing your nursing studies is difficult but working within the healthcare field can be even harder so please do fully consider all the pros and cons, some of which I have detailed below, before you apply.
There are many advantages to agency work, the most prominent one being the flexibility of the work and the regular income. Whilst trying not to sound greedy or materialistic, there can be no doubt that agency work pays better than most and is a worthwhile point considering a good amount of nursing students struggle to cover their car insurance and petrol alone with the meagre student bursary they receive.
Flexibility is also a major benefit; I cannot stress enough how refreshing it is to have the ability to choose your own hours and not feel guilty at saying no to a shift because you need to work on an assignment or revise for an exam.
It is also fantastic to have the ability to develop your skills in personal care without having the title of ‘student nurse’ shadowing you. Although it’s not always easy to remember you are working under a different role and it is essential that you do not complete some tasks that you would be able to do as a student, even if you are encouraged to do so. This is one reason why I tend not to mention I am a student nurse unless I am directly asked because if the ward gets busy I don’t want to be pressured into doing tasks I am not authorised to do.
Overall, agency work is overwhelming; it requires self-confidence to walk onto an unknown ward with staff who are strangers and be expected to take care of patients in an unfamiliar environment. But I can promise you that if you remember all the skills you value as a student – such as respect, dignity and advocating your patients’ needs - then you will not only make some extra cash but you will also grow in confidence. I was terrified on my first agency shift; I was so paranoid about being late, that I ended pulling into the carpark over an hour early! It sometimes requires you to expose yourself to an somewhat scary environment in order to build up your skill-set and this can ultimately only serve to make us all into better nurses.
Faith Vargas is a third-year student nurse studying adult nursing at the University of Derby.