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Lack of support for student mothers driving course drop out


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.


Readers' comments (15)

  • Why should they have any different treatment? OK it's tough but they surely knew that before they started. In my experience it's the nurses with small children that cause problems and it's the rest of the team that needs support when baby is ill and the ward is short.

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  • My partner has been struggling to get on a back to nursing course for a number of years, despite spending 16 years in the NHS as an A?E and District nurse. Her problems are not helped by the attitude of the person above. The NHS is short of Nurses more should be done to encourage and support people to the profession, particularly good nurses whose only "crime" was to want to have children as a Mum. These girls and Dads should be properly supported back to a profession that has been shown to lack the necessary caring and empathy skills that were once abundant in a caring Health service...not the to busy to care thinking that goes with the above comments.

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  • Why is more not done by the profession/nhs/government to get mums or dads who were nurses back to the profession ?. Is it really cheaper to bring in people from other country's to fill skill shortages.

    Do universities find it commercially not profitable to run Back to Nursing courses ?, why is more work not going on to sort this out. Nursing can you tell me ?, this has been a well known problem for years which does not get debated thoroughly enough, by deceision makers and people who are affected by this. What a waste of human resource and investment that went into these Mums and Dads to train them to be Nurses. As a country we appear to be able to cope with this waste !, I would like to think you could prove me wrong.....but I haven't got a lot of faith in what is being done (Mr Carter).

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  • Totally agree with the comments of Anon 4:11pm. Having worked in the NHS for many years in a ward environment where only a few of us didn't have children, we were the nurses who always worked Christmas, Easter and bank holidays, never could get a holiday in the summer months due to colleague's child care commitments and generally got a rubbish off duty due to our colleagues with children demanding (and being allowed) to work around their child care commitments. I completely get that mothers need to work around their child care, but in a hospital ward which functions 24/7 365 days a year, night/weekend/Christmas/school holiday working is a key part of the role and for every mother who gets a child care friendly off duty, it means that some other poor nurse gets the less favourable shifts. At the end of the day, the needs of the patients AND the needs of the childless staff also need to be met - not just the needs of those with child care commitments. I also find it very hard to believe that people would enrol on a nursing degree course and not realise that it involves shift work or hours which are not 'child friendly'.

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  • I am a student nurse and also a single parent and to be perfectly frank I have lost count of the amount of times staff nurses have told me I should not have gone into nursing if I could not work all the "rubbish off duty" as stated above. So much for a family friendly attitude towards staff, what a load of rubbish! When I qualify I will be an excellent nurse, mostly because I will not be judging others by their family situation and guess what, when my kids are older and can look after themselves i will then work all those hated off duties and will take my annual holiday in May! Roll with the times people it's not 1950 anymore (thank god).

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  • In response to 4:11pm - the ward is short due to poor staffing levels not because someone's baby is ill !!!!

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  • Anon 8:10pm How many times have you gone into a morning shift only to be greeted with an early phone call saying baby is poorly? Almost impossible to find an extra nurse at that time. Parents be a nurse by all means but have proper and reliable childcare.The only thing the ward is interested in is your attendance on duty and not your inadequate domestic arrangements. Sometimes you are just a nuisance with your Christmas& Easter holidays off so get real!

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  • Laha78

    As a staff nurse and a mother of two young children, I couldn't agree more with anon 4:11pm and 6:06pm.
    I went into theis profession knowing full well the shift work, holidays and weekends would be covered regardless. Yes, I agree family policy must come into play to a certain extent, but I've seen far too many people take the pi** and be given preferential holidays and days off based on the fact they have kids!!!!! It's too convenient and too much of an excuse to use to get out of the shifts many don't want to do and I'm sorry, but it's your colleagues that pick up the slack!

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  • After reading the above comments I can see why nursing has such a problem filling posts. Who on earth would want to have been a nurse, had children, and return to colleagues that sound completely bitter and twisted about anyone with children.

    Don't worry you will soon be by yourselves (if not already), with the attitudes that you have shown. Has nursing really turned into such a soulless profession ?

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  • So basically what is being said is don't have children if you want a nursing career, either before or after. Shocking to read. I am a student nurse and the university doesn't give special preference to us mothers. Neither do the placements I have worked on. I would never expect that, neither would any of my fellow students. I have had to go on placement knowing my children are poorly. No wonder people don't want to go into nursing with co workers like you lot!!

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