Some nursing students at Dalhousie University in Halifax say they are strapped for student loans because of their intensive program structure.
They say that, added to the unique financial needs of the program, this creates problems of food insecurity and housing for some students.
Lane Williams, who is in his senior year, describes himself as one of the “lucky ones” because he has two part-time jobs that are flexible and can accommodate the demanding hours of the nursing program. The compromise is 18 hours a day.
“There are times when you get up at 5:30 am and you’re not in bed until 11 at night or later, then you wake up at 5:30 am to go back to the clinic,” Williams said. “It can be difficult.”
Without the money earned from his teaching assistant and research assistant jobs, Williams said he wouldn’t be able to make ends meet.
$ 2,000 in student loans short
Recently, the Dalhousie University Nursing Society has started to wonder why so many nursing students are struggling financially. The company found it was receiving $ 2,000 less in student loans compared to other programs.
Since some of their studies take place in the summer, the student loans program calculates that they are in class for 28 weeks, which is about four weeks less than a conventional school year. Although they receive more money for their studies in the summer, it is not enough to make up for the loss.
The $ 2,000 spread “might not seem like a lot,” Williams said. “But when you’re a student, in a program like ours where you don’t have a lot of time to work, even a few hundred dollars makes a huge difference. That’s a lot of months of groceries.”
Students complete several clinical placements in hospitals, sometimes working 12-hour shifts in addition to their studies. Often times they have to own a vehicle and pay for gasoline to get to their locations, which may be in places like Truro or Windsor.
On top of that, tuition fees have gone up.
“In everyone’s life, finance is a big deal, but even more so when you have an erratic schedule, when you don’t get paid for your 12 hours, when you get $ 2,000 less than other people at the university, ”said Anika Daclan, co-chair of the nursing society.
While there are programs that help cover tuition fees after graduation, Daclan said students need to have access to cash up front in order to make it that far.
“It’s a huge impact on us,” she said. “There aren’t a lot of scholarships in the school of nursing. This big tuition burden really weighs on nursing students.”
On Tuesday, Daclan and Williams were able to raise the issue of student loans with Premier Tim Houston, who hosted an impromptu video meeting with nursing students from across the province.
“It was the first time I had heard of it,” Houston told CBC News.
“Personally, I don’t think people should be at a disadvantage because of the structure of the program, so that’s definitely something we’ll be looking at.”
Daclan and Williams said the call has become a chorus of students worried about their finances. They said some students struggle to pay the parking bill during their clinical placements, while another paid for clinical placements they couldn’t do due to the pandemic.
Others pushed for more scholarships and scholarships.
Houston said it was ready to take action to show healthcare workers and students that they are wanted and needed in the province.
“I was very happy with the call. I learned a lot from this call,” he said.
The Department of Higher Education told CBC News in a statement that it was open to considering the issue of loans.
While this is an encouraging response, Williams said the change needs to happen as soon as possible.
“It is truly unrealistic to expect nursing students to continue with the status quo because it is not a system that sets you up for success,” he said.
Nursing is fast-tracked at Dalhousie, with students spending three months in class or on clinical placements, followed by one month off. Daclan said in the past, students have been told to find a job during their month off, which is not always possible.
During the pandemic, she said some were offered volunteer positions.
Janet Hazelton, leader of the Nova Scotia Nurses Union, has called on the province to do all it can to support future nurses.
“They don’t have to worry about the money,” she said.
Williams, from Mulgrave, Nova Scotia, said he hopes to stay and work in the province. But sometimes stress takes its toll.
“This is something that really scares me a bit; there are so many expectations and pressures on nursing students,” he said.
“You’re almost exhausted before you get to the ground as a RN – and it’s not like being a RN is easy work, either.”