Irish student nurse, Leah Burke, discusses the frontline experience during Covid-19 and student pay.
Leah Burke, a third-year student nurse from Athlone, has seen the best and worst when working in hospitals before and during the Covid-19 pandemic. Knowing that student nurses all over the country have put themselves and their loved ones at risk, she is determined to get involved in the movement for better student nurse pay.
Having volunteered in caring for the elderly in Lourdes, she decided to pursue a career in nursing. “I didn’t really think about nursing until 2017 when I volunteered in Lourdes for a week,” she said. “That really opened my eyes to nursing as a profession.” Leah acknowledged how rewarding nursing is as a career. “You can really help people, and that’s what drew me to it,” she said.
During her first year of college, representatives from the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) spoke about their role in representing Irish nurses. The organisation chose Leah and another student as first-year representatives of the INMO. “Myself and another student got picked as student reps,” she said. “We go to meetings and then carry back the information to our class.”
The INMO is an active organisation that supports Irish nurses and fights for better working conditions and pay. “They represent us on a national level,” she said.
“They’re very active with the media, strikes, pay, industrial relations, and Covid. On an international level, they make sure the standard of education we’re receiving, along with the care we’re providing, is up to standard with other countries, if not, better.”
Leah experienced a lot while working in hospitals as part of her placement programme. Hands-on experience is a crucial part of nursing. Student nurses, like Leah, can work up to 31 hours a week with four hours of Protective Learning Time (PLT). “Technically, it isn’t working but, you do a 31 hour week and four hours of PLT,” she said.
Working in a hospital had put a lot of stress on Leah, but it boosted her self-worth and gave her a sense of accomplishment. “As a whole, nursing is very rewarding,” she said. The stress became apparent when Covid struck. Coming home from work would leave Leah feeling anxious and weary, knowing she could pass the virus on to her friends and family.
“It was stressful in a sense. I lived at home, and when you came home from work, you would have those thoughts that you don’t want to pass it on to family or friends,” she said.
Money was a problem for Leah when it came to paying for college, petrol and bills. The Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) is a payment scheme for those temporarily out of work. Leah relies on this scheme to stay in college and travel to work placement.
“I wouldn’t be able to afford to stay in college if I wasn’t on it,” she said.
“It is expensive paying for diesel and transport. We do 12 to 13-hour shifts, and the hospital could be one or two hours away from home,” she added.
Luckily, Leah’s parents were able to help her out with money during a difficult time. Student nurses had the opportunity to get travel allowances after finishing six weeks of placement.
“We get a travel allowance, but you don’t get that until after your placement, six weeks after you finish,” she said. “It’s great when you get it but, my parents have often helped to pay bills and diesel.”
“It’s roughly €50 a week, so it doesn’t really cover much,” she added.
Leah believes that student nurses play an important role in Ireland’s healthcare system, and they deserve to be paid in line with this.
“We are working. I know we’re supervised by a nurse, but you’re his or her right hand,” she said. “It’s going to take a huge toll on the future of our health system.”
The Collins Report, chaired by Tom Collins, former chairperson of Dublin Institute of Technology, recommended that student nurses get €100 per week for unpaid placement work during the pandemic. “The recommendation was that we got €100 a week. They called it a placement grant,” she said. “We’ve got no update on that.”
The lack of action taken by the Government left Leah and other student nurses across Ireland feeling “disheartened and disappointed.”
“It’s a real kick in the teeth knowing I’ve got friends who are sitting at home doing college through Zoom,” she said.
“We’ve been working on the frontline at the coalface of it.”
“There has been no mention of fees, grants, or anything.”
There has been a push for student pay by the public on social media. Leah said that the movement for better pay “just isn’t being reassured by the Government.”
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