By 1News

Student nurses have reported living in cars and skipping meals to make ends meet as they go on placements.

Despite it being a full-time commitment, nurses in training are unpaid while on placement, forcing some into unsustainable living conditions and prompting calls for paid clinical placements.

Student nurse Shannyn Awhina currently lives in her friend's shed and said the financial burden has taken a toll on those trying to acquire a degree.

"The reality is the financial burden is real," she said. 

"Ultimately you're cutting your income down from a full-time wage to bare minimum, so you're now faced with still trying to pay your same bills and keep up with what you need to pay for in life, your food, your petrol, your rent, your power, on bare minimum income."

Though her living conditions are not ideal, Awhina said she is "fortunate" to be living in her friend's shed, as without it she does not think she would have a roof over her head.

"If it wasn't for [my friend] I wouldn't actually know where I would be able to live, I wouldn't be able to afford a room to rent.

"You do what you have to do. Winter is cold and summer is hot, but you do what you have to do to get this degree."

Amid a workforce shortage, Awhina said current conditions are not ideal for keeping nursing students enrolled and committed to their studies.

"There are people who have had to live in their cars just to get to placement and get through this degree, ultimately just so we can keep the people at the end of it.

"Just because it's been that way, why does it have to continue to be that way?"

Executive director of the College of Nurses Aotearoa Kate Weston spoke to Breakfast and said student nurses should be financially compensated. 

However, there were issues around direct payment as it could class learners as employees.

"They should be financially supported, but it's really important that we make the distinction that they are paid, supported with grants and supported in other ways such as fees free," she said.

"To be actually an employee is problematic because learners need to learn, and to be an employee makes it more about the service needs rather than the learner's needs."

Awhina said she understood this, but that something needed to change nonetheless given the current workforce shortages.

"It definitely needs to change, it's not working as it is... We really need to make changes so we can change our workforce."

Commenting to the programme, National Party health spokesperson Shane Reti said the party, set to lead the next government, campaigned on a bonding scheme for newly graduated nurses and midwives, "where the Government would pay up to $22,500 of their student loan in return for a commitment to work in New Zealand for at least five years".

The proposal would result in an additional $87 per week in take home pay for new nurses, however Awhina said it failed to address the issues confronting nurses in training.

"At the moment we need to look at keeping nurses in training to become RNs and how we put them through that journey initially so that they can actually become registered nurses to build up our workforce."

Te Whatu Ora responds

Te Whatu Ora’s chief people officer Andrew Slater said it worked with education providers to make sure clinical placements were transparent and fit for purpose.

Nursing students must do 1100 hours on clinical placements across a variety of health settings.

"Students while on placement are “supernumerary” which means they are additional to clinical staff and operate within the caseload and support of their supervisors. This is to ensure they have the time and space to learn, as they are students and not employees.

"It is important that the learning environment for our student nurses is protected from workload pressures. The current Nursing Council standards do not allow for paid hours worked to count towards clinical learning hours.

"We are focused on supporting our student nurses without impacting access to student allowances and grants. This includes building new access to hardship-based support for students to help manage financial pressures they might face while studying."

This story was originally published by 1News.

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