Paddy Gower Has Issues: Why are student nurses required to work for free and is it making staff shortages worse?

EXPLAINER: In the early 1900s, New Zealand led the world in nursing.     

Legendary nursing pioneer Grace Neil made New Zealand the first country in the world to have a proper system for training and registering nurses.    

Neil drafted The Nurses Registration Act in 1901.  She also defined the curriculum and appointed examiners.    

The world's first-ever registered nurse was Ellen Dougherty of Palmerston North.    

In the early days, nurses were trained on the job in the hospitals and were paid as they learned.  

However, in the 1971 Carpenter Report, it was decided that training in hospitals was exploitative because student nurses worked more than they learned.    

Fifty years ago, the first tertiary-level nursing schools in Wellington and Christchurch opened.  Now there are 20 across the country.    

But unpaid work placements are still part of the requirements for nursing students.  

Adding up all the work that nursing students do on placement, it comes to 85,500 weeks of work per year.    

That's like a workforce the size of Kaikoura working full-time, all year, for free.      

Nursing students doing a three-year degree, are required to do 1100 hours of free, unpaid placements in a clinical setting. That's more than six months of full-time work.    

The majority of nursing students have family responsibilities - only one-third are school leavers.  

This makes it hard for students to work part-time to support their families and also have the time to do their placements.   

In New Zealand, nearly 33 percent of Kiwi nursing students drop out of their degrees each year.  In countries like the US and the UK, the dropout rate is only 20 percent and 24 percent respectively.    

Follow Paddy Gower Has Issues on social media:

There is concern New Zealand relies too much on these internationally qualified nurses with 40 percent of our nurses coming from overseas. And even that isn't enough.   

Te Whatu Ora says New Zealand is short about 4800 nurses.  If nothing changes, this will increase to over 8000 by 2032.     

Anne Daniels from the New Zealand Nurses Organization disagrees with those numbers. She says the shortage is closer to 14,000 nurses - just to maintain the level of care today.    

The nursing sector is stuck in a vicious cycle. Not enough nurses leads to stressed nurses, which leads to stressful placements, students dropping out, fewer graduates and then back to not enough nurses.   

Unpaid placements are happening all over the world but the UK is actually doing something about it.   

Their government now pays nursing students up to $16,000 a year to help with their living costs while studying. All of which they do not need to pay back.    

Incoming Prime Minister Christopher Luxon is proposing to pay up to $4500 a year towards newly qualified nurses as long as they work in New Zealand for five years after graduating. But this may not be enough to keep them in the country long term and solve our nursing shortage. 

Patrick Gower is the host of Paddy Gower Has Issues on Three and ThreeNow.