More poignant stories emerged about the treatment AUT nursing students.
By Tom Taylor of rnz.co.nz
Nursing students were required to work a minimum of 1,100 unpaid clinical hours alongside full-time study, with no payment or compensation for gas or hospital parking.
Many also juggled jobs to make ends meet.
And although AUT said it takes student welfare seriously, more students have come forward to describe internships in uncomfortable or dangerous situations.
‘Just go out and eat some fruit, and you’ll be fine again’: This is how AUT responded to the concerns of its clinical practicum nursing students, says third-year student Chelsea Torrance .
Every day on a Facebook group for nursing students, Torrance saw new posts showing how anxious students were about their graduation.
Worried for their well-being, Torrance collected the stories of 20 other students into a Google Doc where students could remain anonymous.
“I’ve done countless internships that involve 40-hour weeks, unpaid – 60 minutes of driving round-trip for internships, parking fees, gas, and time off,” one student said.
“AUT is disgusting, disorganized, unpleasant and detrimental to the well-being of students – especially nursing students,” said another.
“AUT knows you by your student number, not by your name or your face.”
Torrance said that during clinical placements throughout the degree, AUT places students in uncomfortable or dangerous situations.
In an extreme example, she said that as a sophomore last year, AUT placed her in a dementia ward with convicted rapists and murderers.
“We were literally fearing for our lives because they could break in a second and then a six-foot-tall man holds you against the wall.”
She asked to be moved, but her clinical educator told her there were no other placements available other than the women’s section of the same ward, she said.
Torrance said AUT continued to send students to this clinical placement even after students expressed serious concerns about their safety.
“Even if we had started our next placement a bit later, it wouldn’t have bothered us – we really wanted to get out of there.
“Everyone was petrified to go into this placement every day, but we still needed to get those hours or we would fail.”
In a response from AUT, the university said it had taken student feedback into account and would no longer use the internship.
But other students shared Torrance’s apprehension about college failing:
“There is no B or C level student.”
“You have to be an A-level student or you’ll be sitting back.”
“It creates so much stress and pressure that I ended up in the ER with a panic attack and heart palpitations before I had to have a test.”
“I’m 21. It’s not good.”
The head of nursing at AUT, Stephen Neville, said that while the university is focused on student success, it must also consider public safety as graduate nurses enter the workforce.
“Some students may fail, but we will give students other opportunities to succeed.”
Neville said the school gave students multiple opportunities to demonstrate competence, which could delay a student’s graduation, rather than cancel it altogether.
Responding to criticism that students have to travel long distances for their clinical placements, he said there were only a limited number of placements that universities shared.
“The option is either no clinical experience for the student, in which case they cannot qualify for the course, or to be able to travel to the other side of Auckland – and I’m sorry if a student has to do this, but I would prefer if they had the opportunity to succeed in the program by completing clinical studies [placements].”
Neville said AUT has a fund to support students financially.
The fund did not specifically cover student travel costs, but was kept flexible to meet the diverse needs of students, he said.
However, some students said that this support was difficult to access and that students had little say in where they were placed.
A third-year nursing student from AUT told RNZ that she wouldn’t advise anyone to pursue a nursing degree:
“Fuck no, get away from it – don’t even think about it.”
RNZ put this view to Neville. He replied, “I think it’s totally unprofessional for someone who wants to be a nurse to use the F-word. It doesn’t resonate particularly well with me.”
Neville also said any student who has concerns about their degree or placement can contact him directly.
Figures provided by AUT showed that of the 1,085 students enrolled from 2017 to 2019, only 612 or 56% had completed the three-year degree.
Neville said he didn’t know your stats.
Te Whatu Ora, Ministry of Health considers additional support
Health Minister Andrew Little admitted “there are problems” in the training of nurses.
“Particularly at the end of this third year, during the final placement,” he told Checkpoint.
The Ministry of Health and Te Whatu Ora were considering what measures or what level of additional support could be provided to stop the attrition of final year students, he said.
When asked if third-year nursing students should be paid, Little replied that they should get “some form of support during this final placement, as they are about to finish and therefore be eligible to be a registered nurse”.
Little said AUT was not the only place training nurses in New Zealand and that there were in fact “record numbers of students in our nursing schools and we are producing record numbers of graduates”.