The Curse of the Student Nurse

Shauna McCrudden

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Nurses are the backbone of the healthcare system. They take care of us when we’re sick. They work through the night to make sure everyone receives the care they deserve. So why are we driving our student nurses away?

Nursing Students - photo credit JD Lasica (Flickr)
Nursing Students – photo credit JD Lasica (Flickr)

She’s got the notes; she’s got the medications; she’s got the fob watch; she’s got the stethoscope. Her white shoes are getting dirtier every single day. The amount of information she is expected to remember is getting to be overwhelming. And now her feet are killing her despite the comfort of those white shoes. But she chose this and knew what she was getting herself into, right?

Mary*, a third-year general nursing student, said she and her friends are feeling the struggle:

“This year I started to work twelve-hour shifts so it’s been pretty tough to find time to breathe. I feel like I’m doing so much work for nothing and I have barely any life outside it. There’s a shortage of staff so they have to give us all the jobs they don’t have time to do and leave us alone with barely any instructions. They’re just so busy dealing with ten emergencies somewhere else.”

Nurses have been leaving the country in droves for years. Sunnier weather and better pay are attractive offers to those who feel stuck in Ireland’s ongoing healthcare crisis which lacks many opportunities for those looking for an easier life.

I’ve always wanted to be a nurse and care for people, but the excitement for a career in nursing is waning.

In October 2016, as an incentive to nursing students, Health Minister Simon Harris announced the restoration of pay increments of €1,500 a year (roughly around €25 extra a week) to fourth-year nursing students during their clinical placements, pay which had been stopped in 2011 during the recession. 

The restoration is a new attempt by the Government to prevent any further industrial action as nurses are only one of many professional groups threatening strikes. Minister for Health, Simon Harris said in a statement announcing the pay increments:

 “We have major challenges recruiting and retaining nurses in this country but I believe this is a small step forward. We need our nurses to stay and we need our nurses to come home.”

Simon Harris - photo credit Department of Health (flickr)
Health Minister Simon Harris – photo credit Department of Health (Flickr)

The restoration of pay is one of several measures introduced to recruit and retain nurses in just the last year. Others include the first stage of pay restoration under the Lansdowne Road Agreement, an increase in the rate of pay for the student nursing placement in fourth-year to 70% of the first point of the staff nurse pay scale, permanent jobs for graduating nurses and extra pay in return for taking on duties from doctors.

But despite these measures, only 36 people turned up to the first day of a HSE-hosted open recruitment event for nurses held over the Christmas period in Dublin.

Nursing student, Mary, talked about her money situation which is one of the toughest challenges faced by a student nurse:

“It’s really getting to me. After second year I was seriously considering giving up because I was so depressed. I’ve always wanted to be a nurse and care for people, but the excitement for a career in nursing is waning. Restoring pay is obviously a good thing but it’s basically just giving back the pay that we should have had in the first place.”

It’s my plan to move to Australia after I graduate.

According to a survey released by the Union of Students in Ireland, who surveyed more than 600 student nurses across the country, 93% of student nurses are thinking about emigrating when they qualify as a nurse. Of those who said they’ve thought about emigrating when they qualify, 44% said it’s because of the working hours, 36% say it’s because of the burnout, and 60% said it’s because of a lack of financial support. 80% feel voiceless as a nurse or midwife.

Mary feels like one of those students.

“It’s my plan to move to Australia after I graduate. I have a couple of friends who are nurses who moved there and they have said there are far more opportunities with better pay, less stress, more days off and more enjoyment of the job.”

In his statement, Mr. Harris elaborated on his Department’s steps to keep Irish nurses in Ireland and to keep them happy and well cared for:

“I met with a group of graduate nurses recently and it was clear to me that [the lack of incremental pay] was severely impacting on their conditions and morale. I understand we need to do more and my Department continues to work with the HSE to focus on a wide range of measures to progress recruitment and retention of nursing staff.”


*Name changed by request

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Shauna McCrudden