This month, I have been mostly selling my shoes. And jackets, jeans, some speakers that came with my car…. Anything really, to be able to afford to get to placement.
When I was interviewed for my course, I was warned – twice - about the high costs of travel involved in the course, but like many others on the course, I really didn’t understand the full impact this could have. We can get sent all over Kent for our placements and Kent is big.
The placement I’m currently on costs me £40 a week in petrol and just a few days before I started the trust announced that they were no longer issuing student parking permits due to funding issues, so now it also costs me £5 a shift to park there.
“there are just not enough hours in the day to earn the money I need to survive”
So, I have my £450 a month bursary, my rent is £375, and my travel comes to £220. Is it just me or do those numbers just not add up? And that’s before I’ve had anything to eat.
Yes, like most other student nurses I work alongside on my course; I have two jobs, one agency and one flexi, the hours I work each week would upset my tutor no end, but there are just not enough hours in the day to earn the money I need to survive.
So what’s the answer?
Is it really true that a nursing degree is becoming accessible only to those who have some financial support? I can’t see how a single, independent adult can really be expected to get through the course without coming out massively in debt, but hey at least once I’m qualified I’ll get a wage, right?
Right… a wage that I’m watching decrease in real terms every year, a wage I will barely be able to live off let alone start to pay back my debts.
A new staff member just started working in my placement area who moved here from another part of the country. She qualified two years ago and has been unable to find a job until recently as there just weren’t enough jobs for graduates in the area she wanted to live in (she’s an excellent nurse by the way). So, she got the job here, moved over and planned to live in nursing accommodation at the hospital until she found her feet. Four months later and she is still in nursing accommodation - a small single room with a creaky bed, rats and mould in the kitchen, in a block shared with an ever-changing bunch of students - because she can’t find anywhere she can afford to rent on her wage. And that’s in a fairly deprived area in the south, not in London, or Manchester, or anywhere that I might dream of heading off to when I qualify. What hope is there?!
“What hope is there?!”
When the nurse in question was telling me all this, one of the others piped in and pointed out that if you want to be a nurse, you need “a man at home” who can pay the bills. Now, forgive me but I can’t imagine myself ever having a man at home (out on his surfboard/playing guitar/posing with a diet coke is fine) who I rely on to support me while I pursue a challenging, exciting career.
So what do I do? Keep struggling? Go bankrupt when I qualify? Move to Australia?
This profession will lose many excellent nurses if it does not start to stand up for itself, work as a group to challenge the constant disrespect shown by politicians, and start to demand a wage that enables one to live at least *slightly* over the breadline.
Rachael Starkey is Student Nursing Times’ student editor for child branch