A quarter of student nurses are dropping out before graduation

Attempts to address the issue over the last decade have had no effect.

Matt Bodell
4 September 2018
Rows of colorful chairs

A quarter of student nurses are dropping out of their degrees before graduation.

Research conducted by the Nursing Standard and independent charity the Health Foundation has revealed that nearly a quarter of student nurses are dropping out before the end of their course.


The statistics show that of 16,544 student nurses who began three-year degrees in 2014, 4,027 left their courses early or suspended their studies. This gives an average drop-out rate of 24%.

No improvement in 10 years.

Figures from a Nursing Standard investigation in 2006 put the drop out rate at 24.8% – suggesting that attempts to address the issue over the last decade have had no effect.

The Royal College of Nursing warned only last month that with an estimated 40,000 vacancies in the NHS and student numbers continuing to decline we could see patient care jeopardised.

In May, the Nursing and Midwifery Council launched its new standards of proficiency for student nurses which could improve drop-out rates in the near future.


Student nurses need support.

Anne Corrin, Head of Professional Learning and Development at the RCN, said: “As a new academic year begins, these figures are a stark and timely reminder of the need to properly support student nurses.
“It is vital that student nurses have the opportunity to learn in placements – where they spend half their time –and are not relied upon to make up shortfalls in staffing numbers. They must not be exploited as cheap labour. Experienced nurses must also be supported to teach students on placement and CPD budgets protected.
“Nursing is a wonderful career, but student nurses face some of the most demanding workloads of any course. This makes financial pressures of student life and placements even harder to bear.
“Falling student numbers and rising vacancies in our health and social care services mean addressing these issues has never been more urgent.”

Putting pressure on the NHS.

Ben Gershlick, Senior Economics Analyst at the Health Foundation says: “While the attrition rate has remained fairly constant over the last decade, its impact is becoming more severe bearing in mind the overall shortage of nurses, vacancies in nursing posts and rising demand pressures on the NHS. The need for nurses trained in the UK has also increased as we have seen a recent fall in the inflow of nurses coming from abroad.

“Reducing attrition should be a crucial aspect of our overall approach to workforce planning. The long-term plan for the health service, which is currently in development, and the workforce strategy expected from Health Education England, need to bring a much more joined-up and strategic approach.’

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