Wanted! Registered nurses ready to work in COVID-19 isolation units that look like a set from the movie ET. Must be willing to perform life-saving care for thousands of sick individuals. Must be able to have tough conversations with patients and families. Must be willing to take on thousands of dollars in student debt.
It may sound overblown but, essentially, this is what we currently ask of many nurses. Illinois currently has a shortage of 21,000 nurses and the number is expected to grow as nurses retire and, also, burn out. The crippling cost of nursing school contributes to this shortage.
As a new nurse I entered practice tens of thousands of dollars in debt from nursing school. Let’s just say, school does not prepare you for that. I always wanted to be a nurse. My father has several medical conditions and I became familiar with nurses as a kid. I met them in the hospital when I visited my dad.They even came to our home and let me watch them hang IV medications. As I grew up, I knew that nursing was my calling.
I started to research schools… That’s when it hit. School costs around $80,000. Well, in high school I was an athlete and honors student, eligible, I figured, to earn scholarships. I did, with strings attached. I received a partial athletic scholarship, and entered college as a two sport athlete.
I made it through pre-requisite courses while running and vaulting. Once I entered my nursing program, things changed. Nursing school has a rigid schedule. I had to make a tough choice: stay in sports to keep my scholarship or stay in nursing. At the age of 20, the looming thought of even more debt weighed heavy on my mind, butI didn’t want to give up my life-long dream of being a nurse. Instead I gave up my athletic scholarship, adding to my student debt.
Let me give you a little perspective on what nursing school is like. The Guinness Book of World Records deemed the Bachelors of Science in Nursing degree as the toughest college degree. Beyond assignments, tests and classes, add in clinicals at health care facilities near and far. For me, these clinicals meant a drive of up to an hour each way. I have not yet mentioned studying. Students study, on top of everything else, 45-60 hours each week. All of this is necessary to ensure that students can graduate and become registered nurses. They hold the lives of the public in their hands.
Alongside doing everything to excel at nursing school, financially, I still needed to make up for the scholarship. I worked three part time jobs as a nursing tutor, a home care worker for the elderly, and for a vending machine company.
Working while in nursing school was standard for my cohort. It was hard to sustain, but I am a first generation college student of a middle class family and I was going to do everything in my power to succeed. I still came out of school massively in debt.
We have a huge nursing shortage. Providing scholarships takes away a hurdle for people who want to become nurses but cannot handle the financial impact. I made sacrifices to become a nurse that will influence me and my family for years. Can we expect the thousands needed to fill gaps in the field to do the same?
SB3636 provides measures to help nursing students to be successful, enter the workforce and be the amazing nurses of the future. It has hospitals providing $500,000 for students. This bill creates a culture of caring for the caregiver. If we removed the requirement of financial burden from nurse’s job descriptions, we might see more people able to take those positions. The rise in COVID 19 cases in Illinois shows how valuable nurses are at the bedside. Now let’s help them get there.
Amanda Buechel BSN, RN, CCRN
Surgical Trauma Intensive Care Registered Nurse
Oak Forest, Illinois