In the United Kingdom, a quarter of nursing students drop out of their courses, and it seems that similar or higher drop-out rates occur across the world. This is particularly worrying in the light of the growing global nursing shortages.
Data collected jointly by the Nursing Standard and the Health Foundation in the UK found that 25% of nursing students who started nursing degrees either left or suspended their studies. Despite attempts to reduce student drop-outs, the figure had remained nearly constant since the 25.8% in 2006.
25% of nursing students who started nursing degrees either left or suspended their studies
Retention of student nurses and drop-out rates are a significant issue across the globe. In many areas, the numbers of nurses qualifying are not enough to replace those that are leaving. While student attrition is the focus of numerous research studies, few provide comprehensive country-wide data like the study done in the UK. Other studies have revealed drop-out rates of as high as 50% in some baccalaureate programs and that most of these students leave within their first semester of study.
The Royal College of Nursing in the UK expressed the view that students were put off by bad experiences during clinical placements, financial difficulties and the academic pressure of nursing courses.
According to Anne Corrin, RCN head of professional learning and development, financial challenges often made it difficult for student nurses to continue with their course, also considering their travel expenses for clinical placements. The RCN is suggesting that more funding is needed to help students who are struggling financially.
Corrin also highlighted the fact that placement experiences can either provide positive or very negative experiences for students. “‘Good mentors can be key. A role model can inspire you if you are struggling on a course, as they keep people going, while a less interested mentor might cause a student to find it difficult to cope with that relationship,” she said.
Nigel Harrison, of the Council of Deans of Health (CoDoH), added that the responsibility of retention did not only lie with the universities, but also with the placement provider organizations. The CoDoH had developed a peer mentoring system. “A key message has been that student peer mentors are really effective in listening to each other and helping [struggling students] not feel so alone,” Harrison explained.
The University of Northampton brought down its attrition rate from 24% to 10% by obtaining funding to bring in additional staff to address student retention. “The academic rigor and first placement can be a shock for them although we try hard to prepare them,” said Donna Bray, subject lead for nursing at the University. “We bid to create a “super-supportive culture” for students and used the money to develop two nursing student support posts.” The support staff focuses on students who are vulnerable to leaving. The university also presents emotional resilience workshops to develop students’ personal and emotional skills.
Studies across the globe have identified similar causes of student nurse drop-out to those discussed above. Numerous projects that have successfully reduced attrition have also been reported on. Nursing schools, as well as student nurse organisations, could take a lesson from these success stories.