Student nurses on the NHSTogether demonstration against privatisation last November
Student nurses on the NHSTogether demonstration against privatisation last November

Today’s nursing students face many challenges – which may be financial, personal or relate to their studies, says a just-published Royal College of Nursing survey.

Over 4,500 nursing students across the UK responded to an online survey between August and October 2008.

Nursing students are from across all age groups.

Half of nursing students (47 per cent) responding to the survey were over 30, including 17 per cent who were between 35 and 40, and 19 per cent who were over 40 years.

Rather than entering nursing straight from school or college, two thirds (65 per cent) were in paid employment before starting their nursing course.

Four in ten (44 per cent) nursing students responding to the survey had considered leaving their nursing course.

By far the most common reason for considering leaving was for financial reasons (62 per cent) with students reporting financial debts from less than £1,500 to more than £10,000.

Four in ten (39 per cent) of those who had considered leaving reported that their experience on a clinical placement had been a factor.

This highlights the importance of quality clinical placements, with effective communication, support and mentorship.

Many students commented on travel with one in seven (15 per cent) reporting that too much travel had contributed to them considering leaving their course.

Other reasons that had contributed to students considering leaving their course included personal problems (26 per cent), doubts over nursing as a career (24 per cent), childcare difficulties (19 per cent), and insufficient support from a university tutor (21 per cent).

Of those who had considered leaving, 85 per cent reported that the reason they stayed was that they wanted to finish their course – demonstrating their commitment to continue their nursing career despite financial and other problems.

Support from family and friends was important, with 63 per cent reporting that this helped them decide to stay in nursing.

Other reasons included starting paid work to help financially (25 per cent), support from a university tutor (15 per cent), and making other childcare arrangements (4 per cent).

The majority of nursing students will be undertaking paid work this autumn (89 per cent), continue to work whilst on clinical placement (73 per cent), and have been in paid work throughout their nursing studies (71 per cent).

Eight in ten (83 per cent) students who will be working this term will be working as a health care support worker. Other paid work includes bar work or jobs in retail.

Nursing students reported working up to 30 or more hours a week in their paid job, with a third working up to 10 hours (37 per cent), four in ten working between 11 and 19 hours (42 per cent) and 15 per cent working between 20 and 24 hours a week.

The hours per week that students are spending either in formal study and paid work is high.

Nearly three quarters (73 per cent) of nursing students reported that the money they earn helps them to stay on their course.

Paid work is impacting on nursing students’ studies.

Two thirds (63 per cent) report that they have less time to study; with nearly one third reporting that working has a detrimental effect on their studies (30 per cent).

Half report that the impact of paid work is that they have to be more focused in the time they have available to study (50 per cent).

Two thirds of nursing students responding to the survey finance their studies through a non means-tested bursary (64 per cent), and 25 per cent reported having a means-tested bursary.

Other ways nursing students finance their courses apart from additional paid work include three in ten receiving financial support from their partner or family (27 per cent), other allowances, and by taking on debt including overdraft, credit cards, and loans.

Six in ten reported having an overdraft (62 per cent), and half reported credit card debt (51 per cent).

Many students reported having loans, including a third with a student loan (33 per cent), loans from family (38 per cent), bank loans (29 per cent) and from friends (9 per cent).

Three quarters of nursing students responding to the survey reported that they thought they would finish their nursing studies with debt (excluding any mortgages) (75 per cent).

Students proposed a range of factors that they would find supportive including support from universities, childcare and financial support.

Students also valued support from the RCN.

Nursing students have high levels of motivation to complete their courses and become registered nurses, including among those who have considered leaving.

When asked about their views on finding a post when qualifying, half (52 per cent) were confident of finding a full-time permanent post on qualifying, including 14 per cent who were very confident.

One third were not sure of their chances of securing a fulltime permanent post (33 per cent), while 15 per cent were not confident or not at all confident.

In its conclusions, the RCN survey says that better supported students would mean reduced student attrition with more students contributing to the nursing workforce as registered nurses.

Given the number of nursing students in paid work throughout their studies and while on clinical placement, financial support is of great importance.

The range and level of debt and incidence of paid work highlights that the current bursary does not provide a liveable financial package.

Raising the bursary would enable many students to be able to study without taking on additional paid work and debt, and also leave them more time to study.

Being able to identify those at risk of leaving, ensuring students are encouraged to inform their tutors of any difficulties and then enabling appropriate support and interventions does have the potential to encourage many more students to stay on their course and therefore enter the nursing workforce and care for patients.