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Victoria University nursing students face unpaid placements of up to 12 weeks to complete degree

By Zilla Gordon
Posted , updated 
A close-up photo of a woman holding her hands together with a blue couch in the background.
A nursing student at University Victoria is worried about work-placement stress.(ABC Radio Melbourne: Zilla Gordon)

Nursing students at Melbourne's Victoria University say they are struggling to make ends meet as they complete up to 12-week blocks of unpaid placements in order to graduate.

Third-year Bachelor of Nursing student Gia (not her real name) said she knew her degree in healthcare would come with late nights and shift work when she signed up.

But she did not expect she would struggle to support herself through her studies.

Gia told ABC Radio Melbourne she was not able to undertake her first work placement until her final year and was now trying to complete 500 unpaid hours before the end of the year.

She said she was one of the lucky ones.

The shadow of a woman's face, with curtains in the background.
The nursing student says she is exhausted trying to earn money between placements.(ABC Radio Melbourne: Zilla Gordon)

"I only have eight weeks back-to-back allocated," Gia said.

The student said she would normally be able to earn about $1,200 a fortnight while studying, but had turned down paid work to complete the placement shifts, which could stretch to 10 hours.

"I had to almost work two weeks back-to-back over three jobs just to try and scrape together enough money to last at least six to seven weeks," Gia said.

"If I do [work] I push myself further and further into burnout."

A woman with a dark jumper holding a coffee cup under a red coffee machine.
The student says placement shifts can last up to 10 hours.(ABC Radio Melbourne: Zilla Gordon)

That feeling was echoed by the nurses she learned from.

"They're having these discussions on the ward about being burnt out and what they're going to do about people leaving the profession," she said.

Gia said it had taken a toll on her passion for the profession.

Depending on partners for support

Fellow Victoria University nursing student Tamika Wood said she resigned from her job as a swim teacher about a month ago after her placement made it too impractical for her to pick up shifts.

A woman standing in a lift with PPE and in scrubs.
Tamika Wood says she has had to quit her part-time job.(Supplied: Tamika Wood)

"I have my partner who's going to be supporting me until I get another job that will accommodate me going on placement," Ms Wood said.

Ms Wood said living with her mum also eased some of her cost-of-living pressures, but money was not her only concern.

"A lot of us are struggling at the moment, mentally and financially and also physically, doing the placements," she said.

"I had to take a whole week off [my placement] because my body wasn't recovering, that was because I was trying to work and do placement at the same time."

Ms Wood said the experience had left her reluctant to enter the industry.

"I'm completing it because I want to know I can do it."

The arm of a woman wearing a dark jumper, holding a water sprayer to mist plants.
Families and partners are assisting students while they're unable to work.(ABC Radio Melbourne: Zilla Gordon)

Opting for online learning

Fellow student Chelsea Jansen said she could not undertake her first placement until she was in her third year of a Bachelor of Nursing at Victoria University. 

"I have only one placement left … but a lot of us students haven't received any nursing placements."

nurses wheel a resident down a hallway
Bachelor of Nursing students are expected to complete 800 placement hours to graduate.(ABC News: Nic MacBean)

Ms Jansen said she did two months on the university site and then the course went into pandemic lockdown.

"Probably about 95 per cent of my university degree has been online from home," she said.

'Part of regular training', uni says

Victoria University college of health and biomedicine dean Karen Dodd said the university recognised condensed placements were "not ideal".

"We've just been through, and continue to go through, the COVID situation, which has impacted upon placement ability," Professor Dodd said.

A generic photo of university students
Placements are a part of many healthcare degrees.(ABC News: Nick Haggarty)

She said as the placements formed part of the students' qualification requirements, payment was not an option.

"This is part of the regular training of a nurse, or perhaps most health professionals in Australia," she said.

"Depending on where the student is in their course, they add, or not, to that workforce."

Professor Dodd said the university was encouraging nursing students concerned about loss of income while on placement to reach out.

Posted , updated