Nursing studies

How to let go of guilt about not ‘going the extra mile’

Nursing students are encouraged to do extracurricular activities but not everyone has the time – and is it really necessary?

Nursing students are encouraged to do extracurricular activities but not everyone has the time – and is it really necessary?

During his time as a nursing student, James Savage has taken on many voluntary roles.

The final-year mental health nursing student at Liverpool John Moores University has been president of the university’s nursing society, a member on the RCN Students Committee, and a student quality ambassador for Health Education England. ‘It gives me the chance to engage with like-minded people, enhancing my own learning and practice,’ he says.

But Mr Savage appreciates not everyone has the time to do extracurricular activities – and nursing lecturers say while it’s a ‘nice to have’ attribute on a CV or portfolio, it’s not a necessity.

Nursing students are encouraged to do extracurricular activities but not everyone has the time – and is it really necessary?

Picture: iStock

During his time as a nursing student, James Savage has taken on many voluntary roles.

The final-year mental health nursing student at Liverpool John Moores University has been president of the university’s nursing society, a member on the RCN Students Committee, and a student quality ambassador for Health Education England. ‘It gives me the chance to engage with like-minded people, enhancing my own learning and practice,’ he says.

But Mr Savage appreciates not everyone has the time to do extracurricular activities – and nursing lecturers say while it’s a ‘nice to have’ attribute on a CV or portfolio, it’s not a necessity.

Why isn’t every nursing student doing voluntary work?

As well as school-leavers, nursing degrees attract a high proportion of older students.

Figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) show that, of those applying for courses in 2021, 10,770 applicants, out of a total of 60,130, are aged 35 and over. The likelihood is that many will have caring and financial responsibilities, limiting spare time.

When Nursing Standard asked on social media if there was too much pressure to ‘go the extra mile’, one student tweeted: ‘I honestly don’t feel like I have the time to do anything other than study, placement, uni and parenting. Already burning the candle at both ends and adding something else into the mix will probably lead to burnout.’

Other students in my cohort are volunteering, but I just don’t have time. Will it affect my degree?

Not in the slightest, says Helen Ashwood, nursing course director at Staffordshire University.

‘The course doesn’t require nursing students to do any voluntary work,’ she says. ‘It’s something that an individual chooses to do in their own time. No student is ever penalised for not being involved.’

RCN professional lead for nursing students Rachel Wood says students should never be put under pressure to volunteer.

‘Some students, especially those in England where there isn’t a bursary, are having to work in paid employment – usually as a healthcare support worker – to supplement their finances,’ she says.

‘We would always advise they prioritise their health and well-being first and foremost, and secondly the successful completion of their nursing course. We want them to graduate on time and join the registered nurse workforce because that’s where we need them.’

I feel I’m at risk from stress and burnout if I take on anything else. What should I do?

Chronic stress can deplete your energy, undermine your belief in your own abilities and effectiveness, and lead to burnout, says the NHS Leadership Academy guide to spotting the signs of stress and burnout.

Burnout is commonly described as ‘being emotionally drained’, ‘feeling empty’ or ‘just not being able to be myself anymore’.

Having a planned break from work responsibilities every week can make a big difference. ‘Knowing we can turn off phone, mobile or laptop contact for 24 hours might be a luxury but it’s worth trying to achieve, because we will be more productive and resilient afterwards,’ says the guide.

Being a nursing student without doing anything extra is already enough, says Mr Savage.

‘It’s important to remember that the course has to come first,’ he says. ‘You need to prioritise your studies and placements and make sure you have a good work-life balance. What we need more than anything is new nurses who have passed the course and are the best that they can be.’

I’d like to get involved in some voluntary work that gives me different experiences, but I only have an hour or two to spare. Any ideas?

Speak to your university in the first instance, Mr Savage advises.

‘There are lots of projects you can get involved with to the degree you’re able to,’ he says. He recommends focusing on one thing and doing it to a high standard, rather than spreading your time across several projects.

‘Think about creating your own opportunities too,’ he says. ‘And remember it’s a team effort – if you’re working with a good team everything seems much easier.’

At Staffordshire University, there are all kinds of possibilities if students want to volunteer, says Ms Ashwood. These include raising awareness of homelessness, via various campaigns, including a sleep-out taking place in February 2022.

For those who cannot commit to anything long-term, there are one-off options, such as fundraising for Children in Need or Macmillan Cancer Support.

‘Students and academics can become involved,’ says Ms Ashwood. ‘It gives them the chance to contribute to something in a different way. They don’t have to feel it’s too much.’

One student on Twitter said she writes letters for a charity for vulnerable adults, while another volunteers as a welfare officer and first-aider at her son’s football club.

Picture: iStock

I’ve started volunteering, but it’s beginning to feel quite stressful. What should I do?

Do not be afraid to tell people you are struggling and that you need to take a step back, advises Mr Savage.

‘You can always return to volunteering when you’ve got more time,’ he adds.

Before you start volunteering, it’s worth being realistic about the time you have to spare, he says.

‘It’s far better to be honest with yourself. You’ll have changing deadlines and schedules, so if you are asked to commit to something two or three evenings a week, it’s likely not going to be feasible,’ Mr Savage says.

‘I’ve wanted to take up some volunteering opportunities but I’ve turned them down because I couldn’t commit to the availability they wanted.’

What should I do if I feel guilty about not doing more?

Some students feel guilty about not being able to take on unpaid and voluntary roles.

‘I do feel guilty at times, but I need some form of balance and to be there for my children,’ said one student on Twitter.

Mr Savage agrees that there is a lot of pressure on nursing students to take on extra activities. ‘It’s partly because they’re so talented and able,’ he says. ‘They provide such a good contribution and life experience, but there should be no guilt.’

Nursing students should prioritise their own well-being, says Mandy Day-Calder, who runs a healthcare training company and has a nursing background.

‘You can’t pour from an empty cup,’ she says. ‘To give good care to patients, you need balance. View your life as a whole and value what helps you to be a good nursing student.’

If the guilt has the potential to become overwhelming, she advises speaking to others in the first instance.

‘Talk to other students and your friends and family. Often just sharing helps you feel better.'


Sign up to continue reading for FREE

OR

Unlock full access to RCNi Plus today

Save over 50% on your first three months:

  • Customisable clinical dashboard featuring 200+ topics
  • Unlimited online access to all 10 RCNi Journals including Nursing Standard
  • RCNi Learning featuring 180+ RCN accredited learning modules
  • NMC-compliant RCNi Portfolio to build evidence for revalidation
  • Personalised newsletters tailored to your interests

This article is not available as part of an institutional subscription. Why is this?

Jobs