Why I decided to quit my nursing course
Overwhelming stress prompted Kirsty Sartain to quit her nurse training, a decision she is still struggling with
Overwhelming stress prompted Kirsty Sartain to quit her nurse training, a decision she is still struggling to come to terms with
Kirsty Sartain made the distressing decision to quit her nursing degree course amid money worries, an exhausting schedule and a lack of support to cope with the stress she was feeling.
‘Leaving the course was the hardest decision I have ever had to make, it was devastating,’ she says.
Ms Sartain, who was 27 when she started her nursing degree course at Staffordshire University in 2015, dreamed of becoming a Macmillan nurse after caring for her grandad, who had terminal cancer.
‘Any day off I managed to get would be spent in tears on the sofa, completely exhausted’
Her bursary payment just covered her rent, and her loan was about £191 a month.
The university’s Stafford site was just nine miles away from her home, but she was instead placed in its Shrewsbury campus, 44 miles away.
‘One of the biggest challenges for me was the commute,’ she says. For the first three months she was driving to lectures four or five days a week, which cost around £40 a week in fuel.
When placements started she was again based in Shrewsbury and was unable to claim travel costs.
Ms Sartain says she would have to get up at 5am, leave home 20 minutes later and get to the hospital within an hour to make the 7am handover, then stay on shift until 7:30pm.
Toll of exhaustion
She would buy fast food on the way home, arrive back about 8:45pm and go straight to bed ready for the next shift. After her first night shift in Shrewsbury exhaustion took its toll.
‘I actually fell asleep driving home the next morning. I hit a kerb doing 50mph, which woke me up, and I had to pull over and take a nap.’
At this point she was still working as a carer at weekends, but she found the mental challenge of caring was too much on top of everything else and instead got a shop job to support herself.
‘I worked throughout, but it was hard. The sheer volume of reading, assignments – plus reflective pieces that mentors would give us while on placement – meant that any day off I managed to get would be spent in tears on the sofa, completely exhausted,’ she says.
‘Mental health needs to be front and centre, as the course takes its toll quickly’
‘My partner carried me a lot while I was at uni. I only started receiving help for the mental health issues I was having around 11 months into the course, even though I had had several breakdowns on placements and was missing lectures.
‘I even left placement halfway through the day on two occasions after having panic attacks, yet I was never signposted to the support team.’
It was only after seeing a private therapist, paid for by her partner, that Ms Sartain discovered that the university offered six free sessions and a mental health mentor for her placements.
‘I was nearing the end of my first year at this point and, after a transfer to Stafford, moving into a new cohort had been tricky. It was all just too little too late.
‘I feel like a failure’
‘It’s been two years since I left, and my classmates have just qualified and are in the first few weeks of their careers. I am working as a carer again but I feel hugely unfulfilled and very lost.
‘I feel like a failure, for not being able to get there. I have no clue what direction to take my life in, and have been in and out of jobs and therapy since.
‘Being a nursing student puts you on a pedestal in society – the pride you feel from telling people and the awe you get in return is wonderful. I don’t feel I will ever have that feeling again.
‘But the thought of going back makes me feel sick.’
‘Students need all the help they can get’
Ms Sartain believes nursing students need extra support to stay the course. ‘Mental health needs to be front and centre, as the course takes its toll quickly. Even if you don’t go into it with mental health issues you’re likely to develop some.
‘The bursary should be reinstated and increased,’ she adds. ‘Students need all the help they can get to take the pressure off in other areas.’
Stephanie Jones-Berry is a health journalist