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International nursing student Theresa talks about how small actions can make a big impact, and why it’s important not to shy away from being politically active

Finance is something that affects everybody. All students have a loan to pay but when you qualify as a nurse the wage is limited and the debt is a big weight on your shoulders – it’s a lot of work to pay it back.

It would have been amazing to have the bursary. In 2017 I came to the UK from New York on a student visa. International students like me are expected to pay close to £15,000 a year. It’s hard doing a full-time job on top of full-time study to pay for everything.

Sinking in debt

I was talking to my friends at a birthday party about how tough I was finding it.  I said I felt like I was sinking in debt. I had already tried every possible source for help and my friend suggested as a last resort I write to my local MP. She googled it and we discovered it to be Sarah Olney.  I sent her a letter and didn’t expect a reply.

I couldn’t believe it when someone called me back.  

Her office set up an appointment for me about three weeks later. This was the first time I was meeting a politician and bringing forward a matter close to my heart. I was very nervous when the day came, but had a pocketbook with five key bullet points to help keep me focused.

I needn’t have worried. Sarah was so kind and listened to me intently, asking me questions and taking notes on all the details.  She told me her mother was a nurse which struck a chord between us. 

Breath of fresh air

Her office kept in touch over the weeks and then one day out of the blue I received a copy of a letter that Sarah had written to Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock, alongside two other MPs, highlighting the concerns I raised. As I read the letter it was like listening to every detail we discussed at the meeting so it was a real breath of fresh air. The letter asked the government to directly reimburse student nurses for their final term of tuition fees.

Not in a million years did I think that reaching out and contacting an MP would result in a letter to Matt Hancock. It taught me to have faith that people do listen. It isn’t instant but if everyone did a small action it builds a momentum and a force for change.

If everyone did a small action it builds a momentum and a force for change

The experience has inspired me to be more politically active in future. A lot of people want change but they also want it delivered in their lap. You have to get up and do something – write letters, sign petitions, join campaigns. Use your voice.

It also made me realise that people are not as intimidating as you think. Sarah is a mum, a wife, the daughter of a nurse. She’s all these things as well as an MP. 

Don’t give up

My advice to other students is to get involved with politics – it affects all of us every single day. And this is coming from someone who can be very nervous speaking to people in power. Not everyone will listen of course, and sometimes you will get a negative response, but it doesn’t mean you need to stop there. If something hurts bad enough, you’ve just got to keep going until you get help. One listening ear may just create action which will blow your socks off. 

We need to use our voices collectively and make it known when things aren’t right. It can be hard when you’re going through difficulties to speak up, but having someone who could make a difference stop and listen to me was a feeling I won’t forget.

Theresa is an RCN student ambassador. 

Funding your future

Have you heard about the RCN’s #FundOurFuture Nurses campaign

Our new report Beyond the Bursary: Workforce Supply asks the government in England to provide appropriate financial support for nursing students so that everyone who wants to become a nurse can afford to do so, and we can encourage more recruits into the profession to begin to close the workforce shortages.

This includes:

  • reimbursing tuition fees or forgiving current debt for all nursing, midwifery, and allied health care students impacted by the removal of the bursary
  • abolishing self-funded tuition fees for all nursing, midwifery, and allied health care students starting in 2020/21 and beyond
  • introducing universal, living maintenance grants that reflect actual student need.

Why not become an e-campaigner today?

Sign up here

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