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Student nurses


This guide is for RCN members who are nursing students. It includes information on re-sits, appeals, complaints, placements, raising concerns and accountability. 

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Familiarise yourself with the various standards published on the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) website which outline what is expected of you (and your programme provider) during the course of your studies and beyond. In particular:

As a student you should not participate in any procedure that you are not fully prepared for, or which is not adequately supervised. If you find yourself in this situation, discuss the matter as quickly as possible with your mentor or personal tutor.

There may be times when you are not be directly accompanied by your supervisor or another registered colleague. This may happen in emergency situations. As your skills, experience and confidence develop you will become increasingly able to deal with these situations but in the early stages of your education, you must not not undertake any role for which you do not feel confident and competent without direct supervision.

Guidance for registered nurses seeking to delegate tasks to nursing students is available from the NMC. In particular, registered nurses should review the NMC’s Standards for Education and Training

Situations which may be classed as grounds for appeal are as follows:

  • Mitigating circumstances. These are unforeseen or unavoidable disruptions to study caused by serious circumstances which took place during the period when course work was due (or in the run up to an examination/during the examination period). You cannot normally apply for mitigating circumstances after you have sat an examination or submitted an assignment, so it is always important to raise any concerns with your course tutor beforehand.
  • Procedural irregularities. You may feel that the process applied or conduct seen in an examination or coursework assignment fails to meet the standard procedures that are required of the educational institution where you study. If this is the case you must provide evidence that there are irregularities and a failure to meet a consistent approach to each student.
  • Unfair treatment. You may feel that you have been unfairly treated in comparison to your fellow students. Where you feel there is evidence of prejudice, bias or inadequate assessment on the part of one or more assessors, you must show that this had a direct effect on your results.

Read your student handbook to understand your university's assessment process, policies and procedures, as well as appeal time limits. Seek support from your personal or link-tutor and mentor and/or your Student Union.

If you have exhausted the appeals procedure and the issue is still unresolved, consider contacting the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for England and Wales or the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) for Scotland.

If you believe your place on the course or your NMC registration may be at risk as a result of the failure, please contact us as soon as possible.

Until the post Brexit review of the NMC Education Standards is complete, the NMC has confirmed that clinical simulation can be used to contribute towards a student's practice hours. This allows nursing students to practice and learn through simulated practice learning where conventional clinical practice isn’t available or possible.  A discretionary standard RN6 has been introduced to allow up to 600 hours of simulation to count towards practice hours. This will remain in place until the standards development work is complete. For more information, please see the NMC's information on recovery and emergency standards.

If you are concerned for your safety, speak in the first instance to your personal tutor and education institution. If you still have concerns, read our guidance on raising concerns below and contact us if you need further advice and support.  

If you have other concerns about your studies that you want to raise, such as deficiencies in the university’s standards of service or the quality of supervision or tuition, try and resolve them informally. If you are not satisfied with the response, read your university’s student complaints procedure to decide what to do next.

Contact us if you have followed your university's guidance and the problem still exists. Please also see our Raising concerns guide for RCN members.

It is important that all nursing students have access to life assurance (often called death in service) benefits should they die as a result of exposure to COVID-19 whilst on clinical placement. This provision is time limited and the position varies across the UK countries and is detailed below.
We expect employers, universities and, in Scotland, further education colleges, to work closely with affected families following any student death. 

Students on placement should be allowed access to lateral flow tests and undergo the same regular testing as other patient-facing staff. This applies to students in both NHS and social care placements. The government guidance for Managing healthcare staff with symptoms of a respiratory infection or a positive COVID-19 test result provides helpful information. 

You can also see our COVID-19 FAQs.

For information on student electives please see our guide on student electives overseas.

The RCN indemnity scheme will cover student members wishing to undertake elective placements abroad, subject to the conditions and exclusions explained in the indemnity document, and provided you are undertaking a health and social care activity acceptable to the RCN scheme.

Any conduct, behaviour or other matter that could bear on your suitability for fitness to practise (or for dealing with patients) which comes to light during your studies will be handled under your university’s fitness to practise procedure.

Instances where the procedure might apply include concerns about character (such as convictions, plagiarism, falsifying records), serious unmanaged or untreated health problems, misconduct (abuse of patients or colleagues) or lack of competence.

If you believe your place on the course or your NMC registration may be at risk as a result of a fitness to practise investigation, contact us as soon as possible.

Registering with the NMC: health issues

If you have a health issue, it could affect your admission to the register. The NMC will want to know that you are able to deliver safe practice.

It is important to do the following in the months before the end of your course.

  • Prepare a full account of the health issue and the circumstances around this. The NMC are looking for assurance that you are able to practise safely.
  • See your GP or consultant and request a medical report as soon as possible.
  • If you are asked for a reference at any stage, it is important to tell your referee why you are asking for a reference.

If you are in dispute with your university regarding the good health and good character declaration or a caution or conviction, contact us for further advice.

Registering with the NMC: cautions and convictions

If you have received a caution or conviction, it will affect your admission to the register. The NMC will want to know:

  • what happened?
  • why it happened?
  • if this issue could affect you and your delivery of safe practice
  • whether you have informed the university
  • if you have reflected and regret your actions.

It is important to do the following in the months before the end of your course:

  • prepare a full account of what happened and the circumstances around this
  • if there was more than one conviction, each one must be individually addressed
  • remember to show insight and remorse
  • gather evidence to show that the university or employer was informed of the caution or conviction. If the university or employer was not informed, give an explanation of why they were not
  • see your GP and request a medical report as soon as possible if the caution or conviction was related to a drink, drug or a health issue
  • if you are asked for a reference at any stage, it is important to tell your referee why you are asking for a reference

If you are in dispute with your university regarding the good health and good character declaration or a caution or conviction, contact us for further advice.

Practice placements are an essential part of nursing programme and will equip you with the skills needed for a successful nursing career. In line with standard 2 of the RCN Nursing Workforce Standards, all nursing students must be supernumerary when on placement.

Placements are arranged by your university. When allocating placements they will take into account your circumstances such as where you live, whether you have dependants, and whether you have access to a car. Your university will have placement information online or in your student handbook. In it, you’ll find information about claiming expenses, supervision and assessment arrangements, and what to do if you cannot attend your placement.

You can find some useful advice in our Helping students get the best from their practice placements publication.

You may have the opportunity to go on an elective placement overseas - this will give you invaluable experience. 

Raising concerns about placements

A lot of your time as a student will be spent on placement and seeing the theory being put into practice can raise many questions.

In addition, organisations must have effective procedures in place to allow nursing staff - including students - and their representatives to raise any concerns in relation to equipment, policies and processes for managing COVID-19 at the earliest opportunity. This could include concerns relating to in relation to unsustainable pressures in the workplace as well as equipment, policies and processes for managing COVID-19.

Students should feel able to raise concerns without detriment and should receive timely feedback on their concerns. If your concerns remain unresolved, refer to:

If you have concerns while undertaking your placement, firstly speak with your practice supervisor/assessor or your academic assessor . This can include any difficulties you may experience due to unsustainable pressures impacting on your placement. Also, read your placement or student handbook to find out how to deal with these difficulties.

You can also see our Raising Concerns guidance for members.

Contact us if you have followed your university's guidance and the problem still exists. 

Failures, resits and appeals

If you fail your practice assessment, you should have been made aware of your development needs earlier in the placement.

You are entitled to additional time to address your learning and practice needs if you did not receive a mid-point interview or feedback about your need to develop.

If you fail an assignment, placement or examination, you would usually be offered an opportunity to re-sit.

If you still fail to meet the required standard following the attempts allowed under the course regulations, you can consider an academic appeal.

You can't appeal against academic judgement, but you could appeal if you believe that the judgement was not made fairly or in line with university process. You would need to follow your university’s academic appeal regulations.  

As a nursing student, you should not be rostered to work on the ward or within the sphere of nursing as a nurse.

Students are placed on the ward or within a sphere of nursing to undertake a clinical placement and meet certain learning needs. You should not be placed in a situation where adequate levels of support cannot be guaranteed. You are not placed 'to make up the numbers'.

If you are concerned that you are being required to carry out nursing duties, please contact us.

You may undertake a health care support role but you should not undertake any role which is beyond your competence/skill base. Please see our information for healthcare assistants (HCAs) and assistant practitioners (APs).

Before agreeing to work as a health care assistant you should:

  • discuss any arrangements with your clinical supervisor
  • be paid a rate for the job
  • ensure that any nursing bank or agency specifies the basis of your attendance
  • have access to all locally agreed provisions / terms and conditions of service as other employees. 

It should be clearly understood by all staff that you are working as a health care assistant and not in a nursing student capacity.

Even though you will not be working by virtue of your status as a student nurse, you should still follow the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s (NMC) guidance for student nurses available from the NMC website.

When you have successfully completed your course, your university will submit your course completion and contact details to the NMC. It is very important that your university has your correct contact details so that this process isn’t delayed. See our 'Just about to Graduate' publication which details the process.

Your university will send a declaration of health and character to support your application. This includes informing the NMC of relevant convictions, cautions or pending charges. Read more about the process here.

If you declare a health issue or caution or conviction during admission, the NMC will want to know more after you complete the admissions process on NMC online. Please see our fitness to practise section on how to present your situation to the NMC. If you are in dispute with your university regarding the good health and good character declaration or a caution or conviction, contact us for further advice.

Occasionally a university may refuse to support your admission to the NMC register if;

  • your place on the course or your NMC registration may be at risk as a result of a fitness to practise investigation or if,
  • you are in dispute with your university regarding the good health and good character declaration or because of a caution or conviction.

If this happens to you, see our fitness to practise section within this guide and contact us for further advice.

Our Student Money Guide will help you get the best out of your bursary and the benefits available to you a student member. 

If you are eligible you may also wish to apply for the NHS Learning Support Fund

If you are concerned about your financial situation, use your University’s student services. They may offer specialist money advice on budgeting, funding, hardship and consumer issues.

You can also contact Turn 2 Us, a national charity that helps people in financial hardship gain access to welfare benefits, charitable grants and support services.

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Page last updated - 12/06/2024