Guest blog authored by Rosie Schofield, Postgraduate Adult nursing student and RCN Student Information Officer at the University of Southampton.
I’m a final year postgrad student with an interest in nursing activism, political engagement and saving the nursing profession! I have worked as a HCA in a wide variety of settings over the last 12 years. I originally studied nursing as an undergrad but dropped out after 2 years due to depression, completed my degree in psychology and decided to return to study nursing as a postgrad. I had to briefly drop out again due to a cervical cancer diagnosis but I’m back because nursing is my passion and I will not be defeated!
Earlier this month, the Department of Health and Social Care confirmed that from August 2018 students entering the nursing profession through the postgraduate route would no longer be eligible for the NHS bursary, and would instead have to apply for a loan to cover tuition fees and living costs. This comes as a further blow to nursing, a profession already in the midst of a recruitment and retention epidemic. As it stands, there are an estimated 40,000 unfilled nursing vacancies and with one third of the current workforce due to retire in the next ten years, this is set to skyrocket. It was also announced that applications to undergraduate nursing dropped by 23% following the removal of the bursary last year. All in all, a pretty bleak outlook for nursing, and I fear the loss of the postgraduate bursary is destined to have an even more detrimental effect.
The postgraduate diploma/MSc route offers those with an undergraduate degree in any subject the opportunity to become a nurse in just two years through an intense, accelerated programme. Postgraduate student nurses have to achieve all the same competencies, academic, and clinical requirements as undergraduates but at masters level study and in two years as opposed to three. It’s a challenging programme and not for the faint-hearted, but it has proved very successful in producing excellent nurses. The course often appeals over the undergraduate programme because as well as being shorter, it feels like taking a step forwards for those who have already completed a degree. Additionally, it is becoming increasingly important for nurses working at an advanced level to hold a masters level qualification, therefore the postgraduate route frequently appeals to those interested in fast tracking a career in management or advanced nursing practice.
Postgraduates come from all manner of backgrounds and bring with them a wealth of academic and life experience. However, they also tend to come with additional pressures and responsibilities, many having families to support and all the financial and practical challenges that a family entails. In addition, postgraduate student nurses have their existing student debt – the average graduate now leaves university with debts of over £50,000. Based on that figure, committing to a further two years of masters level study could result in debts in excess of £80,000. With a starting salary of just £22,000 a year, it’s not hard to see how the postgraduate nursing route becomes an increasingly unappealing option.
Those of us who choose nursing as a profession are generally not money-orientated people. What draws us to this career are the opportunities; to build positive, therapeutic, sometimes lasting relationships with patients; to act as an advocate; to skilfully support a person through their last hours of life providing compassionate, person centred care based on the best available evidence; to become a leader and contribute to making local and national policy changes that improve health care; to educate the next generation of nurses to be the best they can be or to conduct research into the role nurses play in improving patient experience. The possibilities of a career in nursing are exciting and endless, but the prospect of a mounting figure of debt four times greater than your annual pay, and the knowledge that you will struggle to support yourself financially or provide for your family means that for many, nursing will no longer be a viable option. This is an incredible shame for all the individuals that the removal of the postgraduate bursary will affect and ultimately, will be a grave loss to the nursing profession.