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Lack of support for student mothers driving course drop out

  • 15 Comments

Student nurses who are also mothers are dropping out of their degrees due to the “very patchy” support given by universities to help them deal with the realities of the course and placements, according to new research.

Too little information early on about what professions, such as nursing, will entail means that placements become the “crunch point” for many of these students, said the study.

The research, by the University of Warwick, found student mothers typically enrolled on courses for vocational and female-dominated professions – such as nursing, midwifery and social work – which previously did not require a degree.

“Mothers come with high expectations of particular jobs but are regularly disappointed after starting the course”

Warwick University report

“The reality of such jobs is perhaps far from what was initially expected,” said the report – called Tracking student mothers’ higher education participation and early career outcomes over time: initial choices and aspirations, HE experiences and career destinations.

The stress of having to juggle childcare and domestic work – and also in many cases paid work – with studying, also caused student mothers difficulty.

Upon graduating, many mothers put their careers on hold or returned to their old job, said the study authors.

Reasons cited by students included feeling exhausted from the university experience, wanting to spend more time with their children and partners, or a realisation their desired profession was not as family-friendly as they first thought.

Interviews with 24 student mothers found better timetabling of lectures, more information about hardship funding, improved mature student networks and a greater understanding of the demands they faced would have improved their time at university.

Overall, the research aimed to look at whether university helped student mothers achieve social mobility in comparison to their female peers without children.

It found the limited number of courses – and therefore occupations – popular among student mothers, lack of information about the reality of jobs upon graduation, and the difficulties encountered during their studies meant they experienced “relatively poor” social mobility.

“On a course where there are lots of student mothers, universities need to step up, providing a timetable with more condensed lectures”

Clare Lyonette

In its recommendations, the report called for more degrees to be offered on a part-time basis, for courses to be timetabled more flexibly and for student mothers to be given priority over placements that are closer to home.

It also warned against student mothers being “ghettoised” into very vocational subjects, and urged a wider range of universities to engage with student nurses before they made course choices.

“Mothers come with high expectations of particular jobs but are regularly disappointed after starting the course,” said the report.

“Higher education institutions do not want to lose students during higher education so it makes sense for them to ensure that these women have chosen the right course. Support for student mothers is very patchy,” it said.

Clare Lyonette, who led the research, said: “On a course where there are lots of student mothers, universities need to step up, providing a timetable with perhaps more condensed lectures which could facilitate childcare, which is very costly.

“Most importantly, mothers should be provided with as much information about particular courses when they first apply to avoid later drop-out,” she added.

  • 15 Comments

Readers' comments (15)

  • Anon 4:10am
    No, no one is saying don't have children but with the greatest of respect, until you've worked in a ward where every week the same people are calling in claiming their children are unwell and it is left up to colleagues who have families of their own and knackered, to come in on their days off, trying to help out and covering extra shifts, it is absolutely demoralising and leaves you on your knees. I have two young children and have called in once because one wasn't well. I would never take advantage of this but SO MANY do and it's something you will come to realise when you do start working and find you're that person looking after 16 acutely unwell patients because a colleague has let your team down. AGAIN!

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  • It is inevitable that a system that is family friendly will be "unfriendly" to those who do not have children [though they almost certainly do have families]. People who ask for family friendly policies never seem to address this issue. Why should antisocial shifts and Xmas day working be more acceptable to a person without children. Why should covering extra shifts and working late be acceptable to people without children, I think you will find they have responsibilities just as important to them as your children are to you.Its not a case that you will do the "sh**" shifts when your kids grow up as the lady above stated because people who dont have children can be facing over 40 years of difficult and unsocial rostering. I have even known people slag off their "non children colleagues" for not volunteering to cover their unavoidably unsocial shifts on facebook. This would probably not be such an issue were wards better staffed and there was more leeway and flexibility all round but with tighter cover and staff restraints the division will only get worse and will the illfeeling. Can people with children put forward solutions rather than just asking for "special consideration" and just expecting the rest of us to provide cover while smiling sweetly.

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  • In my experience, I have found that student nurses with children on my course are struggling due to finding out placement allocations late (1-2 weeks before) and lectures/timetables changing short notice NOT because of "not knowing what to expect". This then causes problems with childcare as after-school clubs and other child care like more notice than a week.

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  • Anonymous | 21-Aug-2015 3:59 pm

    It saddens me that nurses without children (through choice or circumstances) are labelled as 'bitter and twisted' when we dare to share a very real problem. Compassion for others circumstances swings both ways.

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  • As a student nurse I do find it difficult to accept this level of ill-feeling towards nurses with young children. That said, however, this is the very same reason I waited so long to get in to nursing. I always wanted to be a nurse but children arrived while I was still relatively young and, knowing I could never possibly commit to the demands of a nursing course whilst having young children, my career was put on hold until now. With my children at 14 and 17 (16 and 19 on qualification) I am now fully commited to my course and career and willingly take on the less favourable shifts. Having said that, I have so much admiration for those with young children who are managing to pursue their studies and careers successfully - it's hard work!

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