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The University of Southampton
Health Sciences

International Nurses Day: New research addresses UK’s nursing shortage

Published: 13 May 2024
Student nurses
Student nurses at the University of Southampton gaining practical experience

Tactics from around the world to encourage school leavers into nursing have been examined by the University of Southampton, with a view to helping fill the tens of thousands of vacancies in the UK.

It coincides with International Nurses Day which celebrates the contribution that nurses make to society, on Sunday 12 May – the anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth.

The study says better links between universities and schools, as well as access to nursing work experience, are needed to attract more school leavers to study nursing.

Young people’s preconceptions around low pay, poor working conditions, and nursing being for women, must also be addressed if the thousands of vacant nursing posts in the UK are to be filled.

In 2021-2022 there were 46,000 vacant NHS nursing posts in England. The Health Foundation has predicted that, without intervention, there could be 140,600 empty nursing jobs by 2030.

A project by Clinical and Health Research master’s student Emily Clipstone and Dr Leire Ambrosio, Lecturer in Adult Nursing at the University of Southampton, has found school leavers are overlooked when it comes to nursing recruitment. In 2021, 7,105 university places to study nursing were taken up by school leavers, compared to 17,415 places taken by mature students.

The project brings together, for the first time, educational strategies used in different countries to increase the numbers of school leavers going on to study nursing.

Emily said: “Nursing is seen by school leavers as a comparatively low-paid job choice, and one that is traditionally female. Through examining strategies used around the world, we’ve looked at how these engrained ideas could be challenged in the UK to boost recruitment into nursing.”

Successful tactics used in other countries to boost teenagers’ interest in nursing include clinical simulation sessions (in Bahrain), nursing open days at universities (in Italy), pre-nursing scholarships with a week’s residential experience (in Scotland), six-week internships in clinical settings (in the United States), and a health club in school with visits from nurses and voluntary nursing work in the community (in the United States).

Dr Ambrosio explained: “From analysing the outcomes of these initiatives in other countries, it’s clear that exposing young people to the settings of studying and working in nursing – giving them real life experience in the profession – makes a huge difference to piquing their interest in pursuing a nursing career.”

The project paper recommends further research over an extended period to assess how successful these practical recruitment strategies are at turning school leavers’ interest in nursing into studying nursing at university.

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