“Overworked, underappreciated, and disempowered,” says UVic Nursing Student Society
UVic nursing students are calling on the university and the provincial government to better support them amid staffing shortages on the Island.
“Considering the current nursing shortage and the increased demand on our healthcare system related to public health crises … the importance of governmental support for the future generation of nurses is greater than ever,” read a statement written by the UVic Nursing Student Society (UVNSS) that was shared with the Martlet.
“However, current tuition costs, 36-40 hours of unpaid practicum work per week, and less than one month guaranteed for time off has resulted in UVic’s Nursing Class of 2023 feeling overworked, underappreciated, and disempowered.”
The call for change comes after the B.C. Nurses’ Union held a rally on May 10, which demanded action in response to the staffing shortages. Members of UVic’s Nursing Class of 2023 were in attendance.
In addition to the challenges and burnout facing nurses as a result of the shortages, nursing students are also facing their own unique set of obstacles. Several students sat down with the Martlet to share their experiences.
“Not only does it impact our ability to provide good patient care if there’s not enough staff, but it also impacts our learning,” said one of the students, Thomas Drewry. He explains that often, students are expected to take on a larger workload to make up for shortages, which takes away time that should be used for improving their skills.
According to third-year nursing student Jaymelyn Hubert, the management often changes in units, making it difficult for the university to communicate with students about their practicum schedules.
“It’s been my experience in this program that I don’t know my clinical placement or my schedule until days before I’m set to start,” said Hubert.
“They also really highly encourage us not to book anything on our days off,” added another student, Jennifer Jap. For months at a time, students are expected to be on call for seminars and extra shifts.
Like registered nurses across the country, students are also experiencing the emotional toll of being overworked and unable to meet their patients’ needs.
“As nursing students, we’re exposed already to this toxic system that’s obviously not working,” said Jap. “I’m just kind of questioning [if] I want to work in [a] hospital. It’s tough on you physically, and mentally, and emotionally.”
“There is this fundamental feeling and belief in all nurses and nursing students that there’s a need in society and healthcare that we need to meet,” explained nursing student Alex Drew-Johnson.
“[It’s] incredibly stressful when you feel as though you can’t meet those needs … When there are four other people who also need help, there are certain things that fall through the cracks, and it’s heartbreaking every single time, and it doesn’t get easier.”
On top of the emotional demands of the profession, students find themselves overworked yet still unable to make ends meet due to rising tuition and living costs and lack of compensation for their required practicums.
“If the government truly wishes to improve the current nursing staffing crisis, an upstream approach to support up-and-coming nurses is essential,” reads the statement from the UVNSS.
“In our opinion, this would include governmental collaboration with UVic to reduce tuition costs for nursing students, opportunities for paid nursing clinical placements or co-ops, and increased communication between nursing students and overseeing authorities.”
The Martlet requested a statement from UVic in response to the concerns of the UVNSS. “UVic is firmly committed to nursing students receiving high-quality educational experiences, both in the classroom and during their practicums, where they gain valuable hands-on experience in the field,” reads the response.
“Tuition fees are based on the number of course credits students are taking. For example, senior practice courses have a higher number of course credits because of the intensive requirements these courses have in the lead up to the completion of the [Bachelor of Science Nursing] program,” reads UVic’s statement.
According to a study conducted by the UVNSS, 90 per cent of the 2023 class believe that tuition should be lowered, and 77 per cent feel they should be compensated for the work they do during practicums.
Some students choose to participate in Island Health’s Employed Student Nurse (ESN) program, which pays students to work under a registered nurse. However, the program does not provide credit toward practicum hours or academic credits. According to the UVNSS, students often work 60-70 hours per week between employment and practicum placements.
“I think if we want to see people of diverse backgrounds [getting] into nursing, that it’s important to make it more accessible financially [and] with more flexibility,” said Kelsey Booth. As a parent and a student, Booth finds it particularly difficult to navigate the program.
In addition to paid work experience that counts toward their degrees, students feel that more emphasis on retention of nurses is key to improving the staffing shortage and their experiences as students.
“[If] we’re going to put money and everything into nursing education and creating nurses, we also need to put money and effort into retaining them and making it a sustainable profession,” said Booth.
Nursing student Anisha Sidhu echoed Booth’s sentiment. “Nurses are being driven away because of the lack of compensation, so with compensation you get the retention of nurses.”
According to the B.C. Nurses’ Union, 35 per cent of nurses are considering leaving the occupation, and 82 per cent are struggling with their mental health.
Despite these stark statistics, the UVNSS said they and the nursing student body are already working with UVic School of Nursing faculty and the local government to make change happen. The UVic Nursing class of 2023 is hopeful about the future of nursing and excited to start their careers next year.
“I’m excited to be part of the change,” Sidhu added. “I know that nurses are not going to stand for the current working conditions because they’re not safe. [Especially] up-and-coming nurses. We will not stand for that.”