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

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Nursing students at Victoria University in Melbourne say they are struggling to make ends meet as they complete up to 12 weeks of unpaid internships in order to graduate.

Gia (pseudonym), a third-year undergraduate nursing student, said she knew her healthcare degree would come with late nights and shift work when she signed up.

But she didn’t expect to find it difficult to support herself throughout her studies.

Gia told ABC Radio Melbourne that she was unable 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 nursing student says she is exhausted trying to earn money between internships.(ABC Radio Melbourne: Zilla Gordon)

“I only have eight straight weeks allotted,” Gia said.

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

“I had to work almost two weeks in a row at 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’m sinking deeper and deeper into burnout.”

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

This sentiment was shared by the nurses she learned from.

“They have these discussions in the department about burnout and what they’re going to do for people who are leaving the profession,” she said.

Gia said it hurt her passion for the profession.

Depends on partners for support

Tamika Wood, a nursing student at Victoria University, said she quit her job as a swimming instructor about a month ago after her internship made it too impractical to take shifts .

A woman standing in an elevator wearing PPE and scrubs.
Tamika Wood says she had to quit her part-time job.(Provided: Tamika Wood)

“I have my partner who will support me until I get another job that will allow me to do an internship,” Ms Wood said.

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

“A lot of us are struggling right now, mentally, financially and also physically, to make the investments,” she said.

“I had to take a whole week off [my placement] because my body wasn’t recovering, it was because I was trying to work out and do placement at the same time.”

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

“I’m finishing it because I want to know I can do it.”

A woman's arm wearing a dark sweater, holding a water sprayer to mist plants.
Families and partners support students while they are unable to work.(ABC Radio Melbourne: Zilla Gordon)

Opt for online learning

Another student, Chelsea Jansen, said she wouldn’t be able to start her first internship until she was in her third year of a bachelor’s degree in nursing at Victoria University.

“I only have one placement left…but a lot of us students haven’t had any nursing placements. »

nurses wheel a resident down a hallway
Bachelor of Science in Nursing students must complete 800 hours of internship to graduate.(ABC News: Nic MacBean)

Ms Jansen said she spent two months on the university site and then the course was blocked due to a pandemic.

“About 95% of my college degree was probably online from home,” she said.

‘Part of regular training,’ says university

The dean of Victoria University’s College of Health and Biomedicine, Karen Dodd, said the university-recognized condensed internships were “not ideal”.

“We have just gone through and continue to go through the COVID situation, which has had an impact on placement capacity,” Professor Dodd said.

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

She said as internships are part of the student qualification requirements, payment was not an option.

“It’s part of the regular training of a nurse, or maybe most healthcare professionals in Australia,” she said.

“Depending on where the student is in their course, they may or may not be added to this workforce.”

Professor Dodd said the university encouraged nursing students concerned about losing income during their internship to reach out.