This post was featured, in part, in RCN Bulletin.
Earlier this year I had a vision. Well, a thought. I felt like a lot was very, very superficial in my life. I know some things are always more important than others, and I know what’s low on my table might be high on someone else’s. I’m not silly enough to think everyone should think like me (or we’d have a nation of cat worshippers. I know it worked out well for the ancient Egyptians but that’s neither here nor there) but I felt something was lacking. I would come home from work feeling, well, pointless. Anyone could do what I do. No one even knows what I do half the time. I was drained, but in a ‘wow my life is getting dull’ way.
I knew I had the potential to be so much more. Mum always wanted to be a nurse and was brilliant in any crisis. Dad always had a mind for maths and science and always had a calm head on him. And my sister Lou was the gifted one when it came to biology and chemistry. We all had the capability, so why wasn’t I doing something about it?
Starting my student nurse journey
So, in January, I decided it was time to quit my job and start an Access to Higher Education diploma in Nursing. I found a part-time job, with plans to complete the course at leisure and apply for university in September 2017, or even March 2018 if I felt like it. I had three universities in my sights: Anglia Ruskin University which is based in Chelmsford, Cambridge and my hometown of Peterborough, King’s College London based in, well, London, and University of Essex based in Southend. Plenty of time to decide.
Except the government had other plans. Not content with kicking disabled people out of their houses, or calling a referendum which has ruined a generation’s travel and work plan, or screwing over junior doctors, or raising VAT, or basically saying they want full access to anyone’s phone willy nilly, or turning schools into academies and naffing off the curriculum, or or or… they had plans to remove the NHS bursary, a financial lifeline for thousands. Plans that earlier this summer were confirmed as definitely happening. Because honestly, doesn’t removing caked-on faeces from a human body, performing last offices on patients, and generally mopping up urine and vomit sound like a course worth paying for?
This bursary, offered as part-payment for student nurses who are required to complete around and about 2,500 hours working within the NHS over their three year course, is now going to be replaced with good ol’ tuition fees and loans. Meaning from 2017, student nurses are basically paying to work for the NHS. They take out a loan, they work on wards, they qualify, they then pay off all that lovely time working on wards for the next three decades.
Unlike other courses, where students can turn up to lectures if they want, work a part-time job if they want, and breeze through if they want, nurses are required to attend ALL lectures, work a certain number of nights, Bank Holidays and weekends, and make up lost placement hours on their own time. Working part-time and studying isn’t possible because to nurses, it’s like a full time job from day 1. Don’t do the hours, don’t qualify.
To me, that’s not fair. But without getting too politically bitter about the whole thing, it’s totally expected by a government run by Etonians and people whose parents own millions in property and other delectable assets and wouldn’t really know debt unless it’s a £2.4m mortgage on a 4 bed townhouse in Knightsbridge (part paid by expenses of course).
So, my plans had to change. Ain’t no way I was going to owe £60k when I graduated. My Access course was sped up. Instead of taking one year, I had to finish in three months. Could it be done? A lot of people – including those on my course – weren’t convinced. I wasn’t convinced. But it had to be done. It was going to be incredibly tough, given the last time I was in any form of education was 2002. I was going to do it.
AND DID IT I, er, DID. That’s right. In June I finished the course with 33 distinctions, and 6 merits. And I applied (very late) for a place in my chosen unis (and a few extras just in case). After a rigorous interview process, I withdrew from my extra choices and managed to get three offers from my chosen options. I firmed my first choice, ARU, and kept KCL as my insurance.
So, that’s life right now. In September I start my three year course. I know it’s going to be difficult. And I know I’m going to want to quit at least 17 times in the first term. I know it’ll mean lots of sacrifice for me and David. But if I can be known as ‘that nurse who really made mum’s last few days so pleasant’ or ‘that nurse who was so good to us when dad broke his leg’ or ‘that nurse who really cared’ then surely being that nurse is worth it all.
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