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The time for a healthcare student officer is now

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Student affairs editor Anthony looks at healthcare students’ representation in the NUS and what they can do to make their voices heard.

With the National Union of Students’ (NUS) election season ongoing, it is imperative that student nurses and midwives get involved with the student movement that purports to represent them. Last year, as a member of #BursaryOrBust I witnessed a range of prospective sabbatical officers who said they valued us. It made me realise that our persona as sweet, caring angels was — for once — as useful as it is attractive to the entire political spectrum. If you could gain the support of nurses and dieticians, then surely you must be worth voting for.

“If you could gain the support of nurses and dieticians, then surely you must be worth voting for.”

I believe that healthcare students have to be involved within the NUS not only because of our power within student politics, but also because the NUS is the one place where healthcare students, regardless of their trade union, are able to be united. The RCN, RCM, Unison and Unite have their experience and expertise within our professions, but they are by their very nature controlled by non-students.

To have my voice projected nationally as a current student through Unison, I had to rely on the good nature of its head of nursing, Gail Adams. She is a wonderful person who has helped me in not only my career, but also every area of my life. If she had not been in her role as head of nursing, I’m not sure that I would have received the opportunities I did.

“We should have representation in an organisation that is supposed to represent us on current issues.”

Healthcare students need somewhere to organise and lead so they can fight for their political goals. That place should be the NUS. We should have representation in an organisation that is supposed to represent us on current issues, such as the quality of our education, the NHS bursary or housing. Yes, trade unions do this as well, but it is only in the NUS that representation is likely to be someone who actually is, or was, recently a student.

Sadly, I do not think the NUS has always fulfilled this role, as sabbatical officers can use our name and reputation for their own ends. But with that in mind, there have been some great voices for us within the NUS.

“There have been some great voices for us within the NUS.”

Shelly Asquith and Malia Bouattia have been champions of our causes and have worked to ensure healthcare students are able to lead themselves and work directly with the NUS’s leadership. I firmly support Ms Bouattia’s re-election, for without her, I don’t think there’d be a chance the NUS would be the force it needs to be in the future.

But, that doesn’t change that neither the good nor the bad sabbatical officers fully know about our issues or are able to devote the necessary time to fight for them. As a result, we need a healthcare student officer — someone who is a healthcare student. Someone who has the time to commit to defending other healthcare students and the organisation we work for: the NHS.

“We need a healthcare student officer.”

Motions have already been submitted to conference, but they will not pass unless we apply pressure to our local sabbatical officers and the national candidates to demand that we are allowed a space and a say in our union.

I know that it is hard to find the time to engage in politics, whether student or mainstream, but healthcare students must realise that if we don’t influence our representatives, then we are giving them carte blanche to ignore us and our issues. As I near the end of my time as a student, I am aware of how little time I, along with others who fought for the NHS bursary, have to make a difference. We need a sustainable solution to the level of student activism within healthcare politics, and we can’t wait for another attack upon our profession to galvanise us. I think that a healthcare student officer role is our best bet to create this movement, and that is why I am asking students to support it.

“Without healthcare students, you wouldn’t have an NHS.”

For any other students reading this, you should too. Without healthcare students, you wouldn’t have an NHS. Furthermore, healthcare students are more likely to be women, people of colour and parents, as well as more mature than the average student. They are the definition of a widening participation group, and we deserve our own campaign.

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