Would you train to be a nurse in 2017?

Don’t get me wrong I absolutely love my job, but if I had my time again, would I train to be a nurse in 2017, knowing what I’ve learned along the way?

I initially went into nursing at age 18 training at a teaching hospital in London. I was given a training bursary which was around £240 per month and it covered my rent in the nurses home and was just about enough to live on as a student. I worked a little in bars and as a HCSW to supplement my income. It is really difficult to get work as a student nurse because the training demands are significant in comparison to other university courses. Some university courses have 8-12 teaching contact hours a week and then the student can fit reading around other commitments such as working part time. A student nurse balances study with working on placements to an average 40 hours per week and then has independent learning and reading and writing assignments on top of that, making it really difficult to fit in extra work.

September 2017 will be the first intake of student nurses to not receive a bursary. The average student debt right now is £50 800 coming out of university. This is the fees and living costs. I have to say based on this alone I would not even consider going to university never mind a nursing course, where you are not able to work alongside study. In London not many students were straight out of school like myself, many nursing students were mature students who had already had other careers or families, I think these costs are going to put many people off from following a nursing profession. Since the end of the bursary scheme applications for nursing courses have gone down by 23%, there’s an average nursing vacancy rate of 9% and around 1/3 of the nursing workforce due to retire in the next 10 years.

The current vacancy rate is affecting all nurses, with shortfalls in all departments and wards impacting on other team members. This means that nurses are frequently working paid and unpaid overtime to cover staffing vacancies and sickness. Where I work there is an asking of covering shifts every single day and the staff try their hardest for their team but quite frankly they are exhausted. In 2013 the RCN did a survey that revealed that 2/3 of all nurses had considered leaving the profession because of the stress of the role. I have to say that I have considered leaving on many an occasion and still question why I work in a stressful job when others have left nursing altogether to go onto other successful careers, or lead successful nursing careers overseas where they feel appreciated.

A newly qualified graduate nurse earns £22128 per year after 3 years of university, because of government funding caps on pay this is regarded as a 14% real-terms pay cut in the past 7 years. A firefighter earns £29345 after 3-4 months training. A police officer earns £27015 after 2 years training. A paramedic can earn the same band 5 wage of £22128 after 10 weeks training. There seems to be inequity throughout the services and nurses do feel hard done by as it was a government mandate that required all nurses to complete degree level education. A Sunday Time Journalist this week suggested that nurses were people who could give a bedpan and fiddle with your drip. This is so disrespectful in terms of what a nurse can do. I completed a diploma in nursing, as it was most convenient to me at the time, degree education back then was much more difficult to get into although back then it was seen as the way forward. When I qualified i quickly went on to complete my degree by distance learning whilst working, this was a great balance in that I could afford to pay for it whilst working. I’ve also now completed several post graduate specialist courses.

Nursing can be such a varied career choice. Basic nurse training is just the start, the amount of different specialities, Medicine, Surgery, Paediatrics, Mental Health, ED, ICU, Speciality Wards are varied, specialist nursing roles are more frequently used, as well as opportunities in Education and Management … it’s not all about bedpans.

Is anything being done to address a staffing crisis? Overseas recruitment is one way many trusts are trying to attract nurses. It is very difficult to get nurses from overseas with language barriers, English tests and extensive NMC regulations. This has been made worse with uncertainty about Brexit. Not as many European nurses are willing to make the effort with uncertainty hanging over them. It is easier for big city hospitals to fill vacancies this way, a small country district general hospital has little hope of making itself attractive enough to be worth the risk. Nursing associates have been introduced as a 2 year process to fill some vacancy gaps as a band 4 as opposed to band 5 nurse, this has similar university education and the people carrying out this training have the opportunity to go on to do further training to gain registered nurse status. It’s a bit like going way back to having a two tiered system of enrolled nurses and registered nurses. It worked back then so will probably work again and we look forward to working alongside them.

I feel incredibly privileged to do my job. I love working with a team to find out what is wrong with my patients, to treat them so that they can go ahead with their busy lives. It is made worthwhile when just one person says thank you. With all the political efforts causing difficulties and uncertainty in nursing, I don’t think I would want to train again in 2017. All credit to those that go on to pursue nursing as a career, it’s not an easy career choice to make, and full of everyday challenges. When you work within a team that appreciates you it can be very rewarding.

What can be done to help nursing currently?

  • Appreciate your nurses, say thank you often.
  • Respect how hard everyone is working
  • For managers, understand what you expect your team to do and what resources they have and need
  • Make your team feel worthwhile.
  • Ensure that your staff are able to balance home and work life.
  • Help nurses to work to their full potential, offer training opportunities.
  • Engage your team with department or ward changes
  • Offer support particularly for departments under stress
  • Support union efforts with pay and lobby MPs