I’m a nurse, and I know free uni degrees won’t solve the problem

I am a nurse. I used to work at an internationally recognised Melbourne hospital on the paediatric intensive care unit. I loved where I worked, but after my partner and I split up, I couldn’t afford to rent a place close enough to work on my single wage.

I couldn’t support myself if I stayed working where I was. So I had to change jobs.

Ellyn Richardson on her way to work as a nurse.

People are shocked to find that I am paid more in my current job as a school nurse. I work 8am-4.30pm Monday to Friday, instead of exhausting 12-hour shifts. I no longer work weekends and get to see my family and friends more often.

The recent announcement that the state government will pay for the degrees for new nursing and midwifery students struck a chord with many nurses, but not in a good way.

More than 10,000 students will have the cost of their undergraduate degrees fully paid. This is in a bid to lure year 12 students into nursing or midwifery to try to fill the gaping hole that is a result of chronically underpaid and undervalued, experienced nurses and midwives leaving the industry.

It sounds like a great plan, but it simply is not a solution.

I fear with this new funding announcement we are going to have thousands of undergraduate students ready to take on placements in hospitals but there won’t be enough experienced nurses to help guide and mentor them through.

The government is missing the underlying cause of why there is such a shortage of nurses in hospitals. It’s because experienced nurses are burnt out and fed up with working so hard and reaping no reward. All we get is a round of applause or we get potato cakes on International Nurses day. All the while we are dripping in sweat from the personal protective equipment that was never designed to be worn for such long periods of time.

We still are working overtime, picking up extra shifts, working while sick (when it’s not COVID), barely seeing family or friends because we are too tired from working long hours.

We as nurses and midwives have other people’s lives in our hands and our base rate just does not reflect that.

The nurses in major hospitals should be getting paid the most. That’s where the demand is, that’s where we need our very best nurses. That’s where we need experienced nurses teaching and guiding the new and upcoming nurses on how to care for others.

We need to find a solution to keeping our young but experienced nurses in our major hospitals.

We are the ones who need the big black cloud of our HECS/HELP debts fully paid and cleared. I still have a massive study debt after six years of being a nurse. I didn’t earn enough in the first two years of being a nurse to even crack the first pay bracket to pay off my debt. And now our study debts are only getting worse with the higher indexation rate.

We need the pressure taken off with a substantial pay rise to help keep us afloat above the rising cost of living.

The Victorian government claims they are making the choice easier for those thinking about studying nursing or midwifery next year.

What about making the choice easier for experienced nurses to decide between staying in the place they love working or leaving it entirely.

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