One in four nursing students are dropping out of their course before qualifying, according to figures from the Health Foundation charity. Out of the 16,544 students who were in the final year of their nursing degree in 2017, more than 4,000 decided to quit their studies. This is an alarming finding for UK healthcare practitioners, who are already suffering from a shortage of nurses.

Not only are student nurses dropping out in record numbers, but fewer are entering the field to begin with. Figures released this August show that the number of nursing students has fallen by 4% since 2017, and by 11% since 2016. This dramatic drop is thought to be in part due to the removal of student bursary funding, which helped low-income students to afford school fees.

If this trend continues, Janet Davies, Royal College of Nursing (RCN) chief executive and general secretary, warns of “unimaginable problems for the future” for both patients and healthcare professionals alike. She also insists that “The staffing crisis must be stopped from spiralling further.”

The question at the heart of the matter is: Why are nursing students dropping out so close to their graduation date? Is it due to financial, professional, or personal reasons? While there’s no one definitive answer, analysing the roots of this new trend is the key to addressing the U.K.’s nursing shortage.

Issues Facing Nursing Students

There are a number of reasons that students cite for leaving their nursing course before qualifying. For many, it’s a financial decision. With limited financial aid available, some nurses are forced to drop out as they can’t pay for their final semesters. Students are also being exploited as a source of cheap labour, discouraging them and making it difficult to pay school bills.

Juggling professional, educational, and financial responsibilities can take its toll on a young mind. Many students end up burning out before they have a chance to graduate. According to Anne Corrin, head of professional learning and development at the RCN: “Nursing is a wonderful career, but student nurses face some of the most demanding workloads of any course. This makes financial pressures of student life and placements even harder to bear.”

Helping to Support Student Nurses

With the number of nurses in the UK healthcare system on the decline, it’s more important now to support nursing students as they make their way through school. Anne Corrin states: “It is vital that student nurses have the opportunity to learn in placements – where they spend half their time –and are not relied upon to make up shortfalls in staffing numbers. They must not be exploited as cheap labour.”

Nursing students need not only support at a professional level but also at a financial level. Many public and political figures support expanding government programs to ease cost burdens on students. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has pledged to create five thousand extra trainee nurse positions next year in a bid to boost NHS nursing staff numbers.

Nurses are dropping out of school at record rates thanks to financial and professional pressure. If this trend continues, the number of UK nurses is expected to drop to record lows. The government and the NHS are taking steps to ensure that nursing students receive the support that they need and restore nursing staff numbers in medical facilities across the country.