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  • 05 June 2023
  • 6 min read

How Staff Shortages Have Affected Student Nurses’ Learning & Placement Experience

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    • Richard Gill
    • Hassanatu Bah
  • 2
  • 2181
Staffing shortages and nursing careers“My nursing career will be adversely affected by staff shortages. Particularly in the community where I plan to work and qualify… Whenever I talk about the job, I emphasize how enjoyable it is, how rewarding it is, and how the positives outweigh the negatives.”

Staffing shortages are a hot topic within the community. Student Mental Health Nurse Angelica talks candidly about the effects current levels have had on her learning and placement experience.

As we all know, staffing levels in general nursing and mental health have been an ongoing issue for years. My own experience as a Student Mental Health Nurse has shown that staff shortages negatively impacted my nursing degree progress.

Staff Shortages In Psychiatric Settings

Nearly a third of nursing vacancies in England are for Mental Health Nurses, resulting in overstretched services that struggle to deliver timely care. Additionally, COVID 19 has affected people's mental wellbeing, and people are increasingly aware of mental health and the importance of seeking help (which is excellent).

According to a BMA report published in 2022, since 2016 there has been a 21% increase in the number of people in need of mental health services (1.4 million vs 1.1 million in 2016).

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What Could Be Causing This?

Nursing staff shortages in psychiatric settings are primarily caused by nurses' disinterest in working there. In addition to personal factors, social and organisational factors contribute to lack of interest in working in psychiatric settings.

Mental health is still stigmatized, and many people hold the outdated view that nurses abuse patients, as they did when asylums were open.

The shortage of staff has affected patient’s access to therapeutic care, resulting in a reduction in ward activities and a lack of patient involvement in care decisions. Staff can experience stress, pressure, heavy workload, lack of support and burnout. It is more important than ever to retain nurses due to the current nursing shortage, as burnout impacts their job satisfaction.

The Impact Of Covid On Nursing Degrees

It was during Covid that I began my nursing degree, which already had an impact on both my learning and experience.

After my first placement was cancelled, I was put on an "online placement", which was not ideal. I have since been on various placements and experienced first-hand how staff shortages have negatively impacted my team and my learning.

During my time working on an acute inpatient ward, I was assigned an assessor who clearly did not want me. This was very upsetting. The fact that she was stressed, busy, and couldn't deal with me made me feel like a nuisance to her. I worked with her for two weeks and she would pass me off to other staff members.

After that, she went off sick long-term due to stress. She never saw me again after that, and I was assigned to an assessor who already had one student. I have been on two placements where my assessor had two students to supervise, which indicates a lack of staff.

As much as my assessor appreciated having me, it was extremely challenging juggling two students at the same time. I missed out on that one-on-one time with my assessor, where I would receive full attention and support.

My nursing career will be adversely affected by staff shortages. Particularly in the community where I plan to work and qualify… Whenever I talk about the job, I emphasize how enjoyable it is, how rewarding it is, and how the positives outweigh the negatives.

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Limited Learning Opportunities & Flexibility

My learning opportunities were also affected: the other student did an IM injection while I was on break, so I missed my opportunity to do one. If the other student got more opportunities than me, I often felt annoyed, frustrated, and jealous.

Though I understood that it wasn't the other student's fault, and they probably felt the same as I did, it still hurt to feel unfairly left out.

I was placed on a PICU ward with 8 students between the staff! The manager had to create a special student rota so that there weren't too many students working on one shift because there weren't enough staff on one ward to accommodate all the students.

Students have their own lives outside of work, and many don't want to work on certain days, especially weekends, because they need flexibility. There aren't as many staff on weekends on acute wards, MDT/ward round meetings don't take place, and OT/activity staff don't work. I had to work a few weekends, and it is known that working weekends on an acute ward isn't the best for students.

Community Settings Are Also Affected

During my time in a community setting, I encountered staff shortages as well. There was a severe shortage of staff there. The team had been without a manager for 6 months and tried to fill the position without success. The team was also short of 3 nurses.

Several nurses on the team were also newly qualified, so they couldn't be assessors, so I was placed with a social worker on the team who was a Band 6, but I was her first student. Her background wasn't nursing, so she didn't know how to work with me. As a result, she couldn't help me with medication or giving Depot injections to patients, both of which are skills I hadn't practiced much.

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Hope For The Future

My nursing career will be adversely affected by staff shortages. Particularly in the community where I plan to work and qualify.

It is known in the community that it is difficult to retain and employ nurses. This is because it involves a lot of sole responsibility; managing large patient caseloads and lone working doesn’t appeal to Newly Qualified Nurses.

Ultimately, I think all nurses, especially Student Mental Health Nurses, know that they are entering an understaffed field, but I am not sure how this will affect me and my career.

It is my hope that more Mental Health Nurses will be hired and stay in the field. Whenever I talk about the job, I emphasize how enjoyable it is, how rewarding it is, and how the positives outweigh the negatives.

About the author

I am a student mental health nurse who has a passion for community nursing. I’ve had many years of experience working in various, different mental health fields but i have now found my feet working in the community. I’ve known since i was little that i was always going to be in a caring role and then I accidentally fell into mental health nursing and i would never go back! It has my heart.

    • Richard Gill
    • Hassanatu Bah
  • 2
  • 2181

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    • Suzanne Loveridge 11 months ago
      Suzanne Loveridge
    • Suzanne Loveridge
      11 months ago

      What seems like a lifetime ago nurses were paid to train. They learned from the day they first stepped into ... read more

    • Matt Farrah one year ago
      Matt Farrah
    • Matt Farrah
      one year ago

      Angelica, this is a brilliant piece of writing. Stylistically, it's a wonderful read (simple and clear). In terms of what ... read more

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