It is reported that Albert Einstein once said, “Life is like riding a bicycle; to keep your balance, you must keep moving”. I think it’s pretty clear from this that Einstein was never a student nurse.
Chances are, studying towards a degree in nursing will force you to re-examine absolutely everything that was previously a priority. Jobs, partners, friends – the lot. There will be times when it feels like the bicycle ride you are on is gaining increasing momentum, possibly down a steep hill and towards something very sharp and pointy.
Coming from any kind of background is jarring – be that previous study or full-time work. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: personally, I would rather do another three master’s before I did the three years of undergraduate nursing again. Yes, it’s that hard, and yes, it’s that stressful.
The first thing that will become apparent is that nursing is not like other courses. Even the bursary and the student loans aren’t always enough to support you, especially living in the south (don’t even get me started on the fact they stopped the bursary – that’s another topic for another blog).
So, you start looking for a job. Except, how do you find a job when the hours you’re at university potentially vary from anything between one and five days a week in the classroom, to 32 hours a week on placement?
With a constantly changing timetable, it can be difficult to know just how many hours you can realistically take on without the previously mentioned feeling of a bicycle headed towards possible pointy area that now appears to be on fire.
In your holiday weeks (all seven of them), you could take on something full time – maybe. Or you could be spending your time praying that this year your Easter break coincides with that of your children so that you’re not constantly having to worry that you might be forgetting what they look like.
Or you could have an essay due right in the middle of the three blissful weeks of summer break, or an exam. The list goes on, a seemingly endless obstacle course for you and your bicycle to tackle.
Fret not – or rather, only fret a little bit more than usual – I’ve put together a little list of questions to help you narrow down your options.
Could you work nights? If you’re one of these superheroes who doesn’t seem to be utterly wrecked by night shifts then go ahead. Generally, you can expect to earn a higher hourly wage, especially working through agencies or doing weekend shifts.
Do you mind having a zero hours contract? I know, they’re bad; they don’t cover holiday, sick leave or unexpected absences and you’re not even guaranteed hours. However, there are upsides. You can allow yourself to be totally flexible around your availability, and most places are happy for you to swoop in and save the day last minute through unexpected cover.
Is it a job in healthcare that you’re looking for? If so, you’re in luck. The great thing about working in healthcare is that you’re pretty much guaranteed a job of some sort. Try not to read too much into this with regards to staffing levels, especially in the NHS. Several friends of mine work at the hospital we do placements at and it’s a great way of getting to know the layout, wards, and routine of the place.
If you find yourself really struggling with employment, chances are your university will have some kind of support available to you. Check out what they have, or maybe message your personal tutor or a previous mentor and ask if they wouldn’t mind being your professional reference if you don’t have a whole lot to draw from.
To summarise, do what you can to make your bicycle ride as smooth as possible. And chin up – when you’re qualified you’ll probably only have to work one job.
Emerald Young is a third-year adult nurses at the University of Brighton