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Should you go private when you qualify?

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Choosing where you’re going to work when you’ve qualified is a complicated choice. Do you want to work with adults or children? Do you do a year in acute first or go straight to a specialist ward? Should you stay in the trust you trained in or try somewhere new? But the hardest and perhaps most controversial question of all is – should I work in private healthcare?

heather phelan student editor 2

Heather Phelan

It’s a divisive topic. Every student nurse I speak to on the matter has a strong opinion, and it’s mostly that we should work on the NHS.

When the NHS is practically collapsing due to lack of staff, and every day there’s a different story in the news about patients’ welfare being put in jeopardy because of understaffing, as student nurses, we feel almost obligated to work on the NHS when we qualify.

Up until recently, most student nurses’ tuition fees were paid for by the NHS, along with a bursary for living expenses.

This left most of us feeling like we owed the NHS our time – the public paid for our training, so the least we could do is try to ease the burden of understaffing.

“If they need us so badly, shouldn’t things feel slightly less thankless?”

But now that the bursary has been scrapped, and nurses have to pay for their training out of their own pockets, just like every other student in the country, can we really be blamed for looking out for ourselves?

Yes, private nursing generally pays more. But I spoke with several student nurses who have worked for private healthcare companies and, surprisingly, have no interest in working their when they qualify. “They don’t look out for you,” one told me. “It’s a business, so money is the priority, not the patients, and that’s not the kind of environment I want to work in”.

But the government isn’t exactly sending us a positive message.

First the bursary was scrapped, pay rises have been capped for decades, and now certain politicians are saying that if nurses want to increase their wages they should “work harder” to meet targets, while complaining about rates of mental illness increasing and the number of student nurses decreasing.

“No path is easy, and really, it comes down to one thing: if you’re only interested in money, you don’t pick a career in nursing”

If they need us so badly, shouldn’t things feel slightly less thankless? I spoke to one student nurse who has definitively decided that she wants to work privately when she qualifies on the PgDip.

She told me that she has spent years working as a healthcare assistant on the NHS, seeing nurses suffering from fatigue and burnout, dedicating their entire lives to doing their best for their patients, while watching their friends in the corporate world earn double or even triple what nurses earn.

If this is what we’re in for, she said, she at least wants to earn a decent wage to save for her future.

There are downsides to every job, and everything comes with a price. No path is easy, and really, it comes down to one thing: if you’re only interested in money, you don’t pick a career in nursing.

We’re all following this career for one reason, and that’s to help people. Most of the student nurses I spoke to said they would indeed work in the NHS when they qualify. It’s what their heart tells them to do.

But there was also one very important thing that each and every nurse said to me: “I don’t know if I could work on the NHS forever. For now, yes. But never say never.”

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Readers' comments (2)

  • I work for Cygnet Health Care, specilust MH providers. The independent sector provides good care and quality driven outcomes for service users, NHS service users. The Independant sector also funds nurse training for its HCAs and provides excellent opportunities and a comprehensive , supportive preceptorship programme for graduate nurses, so our service users get the best care. I value the NHS, it trained me 33 years ago, but service users need care wherever they are, and the Independant sector has always had to prove it was good enough, and we are, for service users and graduate nurses. Student nurses need to make the choice that is right for them, but dont discount or be afraid to explore
    independant sector opportunities and career prospects.

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  • Anthony Johnson

    I do agree with this despite my love for the NHS. As an entity it has to attract new students in. The current situation isn’t all that attractive so it’s not surprising that staff turnover is high. We need compassion for staff as well as patients.

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