‘I am a nurse who is not a nurse’

Monday 10th June, 2013

Gloria Vlcek is another unemployed new grad in NSW. Other states in Australia had serious rates of new grad unemployment in 2012 – has it now spread to NSW?

Send a message to health ministers about new grad unemployment.

This is Gloria’s story – she says that finding employment  is the biggest hurdle for nursing’s new graduates.

Like many young people coming to the end of high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, or rather, I had too many ideas and aspirations and couldn’t settle on just one. I always had a very keen interest in health and medicine, but knew I wouldn’t have the grades to pursue a career as a doctor. I ended up putting my degree preferences in for nursing - I thought it would be a good choice for me and if I didn’t like it, I could always change. Well, once I started my nursing course I loved it and there would be no chance of seeing myself doing anything else now.

I graduated earlier this year from the University of Sydney with a Bachelor of Science and Master of Nursing. The degrees took me five years to complete. For someone with near to no financial support, getting through five years of a full study load and clinical placements was very tough going - but I certainly grew as a person, gained an immense amount of knowledge and had some life-changing experiences. Unfortunately, eight months after starting the job-hunt for my first nursing position, I am still serving my time in the retail job that put me through uni in the first place.

Like most nursing students in their final year, I applied for the new graduate nurse program provided by the state’s public health service. I arrived well prepared for the interview, had my paperwork organised and ready to go and answered every question confidently, clearly and concisely. I passed the interview, but weeks later was told they didn’t have a place for me and I was put on a waiting list for a position.

During all my clinical placements while at university, I received great feedback on my abilities, from nurses, patients and doctors. For five whole years I was constantly told what a great nurse I was going to be. At no time during my studies did a teacher ever pull me aside and say ‘I’m worried about you, your practice isn’t good and you might not make it’. I passed every one of my CPAs (Clinical Practice Assessments) with a 100 percent score.

One of the best experiences during my studies was a placement in the operating theatres at one of Sydney’s major hospitals, where the staff members were astounded to find out I was a student (it’s hard to tell who’s who when everyone wears scrubs). They’d exclaim ‘You are not like other students.’ One nurse told me I was capable of doing the work that a new graduate nurse wouldn’t do in their third month. Sure, I am a bit smug about this, can you blame me? I fitted right into the workplace. I know that I am very adaptable; I have a great track record of learning fast and fitting in in every job I’ve ever started.

In my last year of uni, I was constantly being told that I would have no problem finding a job, that I should aim high, that there’d be no chance of me not getting any job I wanted. Yet here I am, jobless, understandably bitter and completely desperate.

Most people who hear stories like mine are completely shocked. ‘But we have a nursing shortage, we need to hire more of them!’ Well, they are right - we are facing a nursing shortage. But just like me and all the other nursing graduates without a job, they have been completely misled about our job prospects. The government gives many of us Commonwealth Supported Places (CSP) at universities because they want to attract more nurses into the workforce. In my case, having a CSP cut the cost of my degrees by about 78 percent. Thank you Australian taxpayer, you paid for me to become a nurse. Unfortunately, you won’t see a return on your investment, because what the Government seems to have forgotten is to give us jobs.

Some of my fellow students, who are fortunate enough not to be in my situation, have started giving me all sorts of advice. Trying agencies is a popular one, but agencies only hire nurses with 12 months experience. Try applying interstate? But the story is the same in all other states - they also have more new graduate nurses than there are positions. Try applying for Registered Nurse positions? Well, I’ve applied for dozens. I have only ever had a reply from two employers, one of whom told me that I should be applying for a new graduate program and that I would be really late in doing this. I couldn’t help setting him straight. Don’t the employers know that there are hundreds of people like me out there? Do people who receive my applications simply throw them away, thinking that this girl must realise it’s a new graduate program that she needs?

My name will disappear off the waiting list at the end of the month, as a new one will be created for next year’s unsuccessful applicants (though we shouldn’t call them unsuccessful, they did pass the interview, after all). And if you end up on this list, don’t hold your breath, you may never be contacted, because the hospitals are full up. Time is running out for me - if I cannot find employment as a nurse, I will not be eligible to re-register. But one thing is sure for my future: I am never going to consider getting an education to qualify for a job ever again, because what a colossal waste of time it has been.

I am very glad I was asked to write about my experience, because the Australian public needs to realise how very poorly nurses, the country’s most trusted professionals, are treated when they simply try to start out.

Nursing, who’d have thought it’s such a cut-throat business?