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10 Things I Wish I’d Known as a Student Nurse

“I’ll be honest and say I didn’t particularly enjoy my time at university.”



handgel and handwashing

I’m not sure everyone understands how hard student nurses have it.

Unlike a conventional degree, student nurses spend three years juggling placements, assignments, revision, evidence and an ever-shrinking social life.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, so, here are 10 things I wish I knew as a Student Nurse and If I could send a message back in time I would. 


Training to be a nurse will change your outlook on life. 

I’m not saying that before my training I was a selfish self-absorbed person, but from week one my training and my current nursing role have made me more aware of the world around me, more aware of the daily struggles of the people around me and certainly more aware of myself and my own needs and limitations.

We see people on both their best and worst days – that is a privilege.

You won’t enjoy every day.

I’ll be honest and say I didn’t particularly enjoy my time at university. A rubbish day, a placement I didn’t enjoy, a difficult assignment, missing friends birthdays or family gatherings – but if you can put up with the bad days the good days more than make up for it.

It’s a difficult juggling act.

Balancing the two roles of Student and Nurse is difficult enough – add in my personal roles as daughter and sister and then my job as a barmaid – and that’s a lot for anyone to handle.

The only people who understand what I went through are the people I studied with, my fellow Student Nurses – I realised late in my course the value in a student community.

Lecturers and tutors are nice people.

The people that I wish I would have gone to sooner with my worries and problems – my personal tutor continues to be a positive influence and beneficial contact 2 years after my qualification- no one goes into nursing education if they don’t like nursing students! Fact!

Don’t be shy, go get involved.

The most enjoyable part of my uni experience was when I stopped worrying about coming across as pushy or enthusiastic- it opened doors I never imagined it would and its help me find what I most enjoy about nursing.

Everyone will ask for medical advice.

It took me a while to just shrug it off and not get annoyed at the incessant questions and funny looks when I said ‘I don’t know’, I now realise it was nice to get some recognition for the job I have and the knowledge I store away – just don’t let them send you pictures!

Your answer should always be – ‘see your GP if you’re worried’.

Not all mentors want to be mentors.

Take responsibility for your own learning, grab onto good mentors and let them teach you everything they can, and make a promise to never be one of those bad mentors! Every nurse was a student once.

Every experience is a good experience.

Even the worst day can teach you something – sounds like one of those fluffy says but seriously some of the most profound lessons I have learnt have come from bad experiences.

After an especially hard day, go home reflect.

The power of positive reinforcement.

Don’t just moan about the bad, praise the positive and make the good great! Let people know when you have enjoyed something, it means they will do it again, and don’t be scared of offering feedback.

Nursing is huge.

There are so many branches and specialities, never settle, keep learning. You will have no idea as a student nurse what role you’ll be doing in ten years.

Nurses are a community – engage with it and learn from others.


‘Student nurses graduate with £54k of debt, shouldn’t we pay them a wage instead?’

The Government claims students are “supernumerary” and “not contracted to provide nursing care”.



student nurses walking

Student nurses are the unseen workforce and vital to patient care.

While I am pleased for the thousands of students who will soon be starting their journey to become a registered nurse, it comes with a stark reminder.

In November 2015, ministers announced the NHS Student Bursary and tuition fee payment would be cut in a plan to increase the number of available student places.


Suffice to say, this hasn’t worked.

Instead, we have seen a consistent decline in the number of student nurses qualifying. Official figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) show an overall decline in applications of 8% since 2015.

There is no debate that nurses need to be degree-level educated – but are student loans the best way to fill an ever-widing gap in our workforce?

The unseen workforce.

Student nurses are the unseen workforce and are sometimes vital to the delivery of safe, compassionate, person-centered care.

Completing over two-thousand hours of hand-on, direct clinical practice over three years – is it fair to ask them to accumulate up to £54,582 (plus 6.3% annual interest) of debt?

With a starting salary of £24,214, this is a debt the majority of nurses will never pay off.

The Government claims that because student nurses are “supernumerary” and “not contracted to provide nursing care” they need to be treated like all other higher education students.

While is it true that the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) mandates that student nurses are considered ‘supernumerary’ – how realistic is this expectation? We hear stories of student nurses, trainee nursing associates and healthcare support workers being used to fill nurse staffing gaps on an almost daily basis.

A self-perpetuating cycle.

With an estimated 40,000 unfilled nursing vacancies in the NHS alone, health and social care services in England are stuck in a self-perpetuating cycle.

Chronic under-investment in services has led to an increased demand on staff and subsequently affected recruitment and retention rates. Universities then fail to recruit enough nurses to meet the current demand and so the cycle continues.

The Royal College of Nursing has called on the Government to invest at least £1b per year into nursing education and come up with a long-term plan after its plan to increase numbers has failed to work.

Matching the proposed apprentice wage while student nurses are on placement would go some way towards alleviating the financial burden the government has placed on student nurses.

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A fresh start?



RCN Congress

I’m excited and I’m nervous. I qualified as a nurse just 15 months ago. I left a career in IT of “quite a few years” – I decided I needed a fresh start.

Now I’m sat on a train heading to my first ever RCN Congress. I’m a voting delegate and will be honoured to carry that responsibility for my branch.


I’m also excited to finally be meeting people that I’ve solely (or mostly) only ever connected with online.

Finally, I’m looking forward to the various debates and resolutions. Listening to the speakers will further inform my views and I might even share a thought or two myself – fortunately speaking in public does not generally worry me (I’ll be the one with the ukulele).

A brief glance back to this time last year when certain “irregularities” were noticed by some members around the pay deal and communications regarding it.

The train of events that followed uncovered a number of poor practices regarding transparency and accountability and our current council were elected to address these.

I also mentioned I am nervous.

Recently, it has become clear that further “irregularities” have occurred – and questions will be asked.

Tomorrow morning is the Royal College of Nursing’s Annual General Meeting – an opportunity for members to ask questions. An opportunity for the council to demonstrate its commitment to openness, transparency, and accountability. An opportunity for a fresh start.

I genuinely hope the answers to the questions I raise are clear and dispel the concerns many of us have.

And if they don’t? Well, that’s why I’m nervous.

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