Coronavirus has affected a lot of people in a lot of different ways. From the loss of regular personal connection, to the challenges of teaching kids at home while trying to work, or losing jobs altogether. The global pandemic has taken a toll on everyday life in a way we’ve never seen or experienced before. 

One group that isn’t often mentioned is those studying to be nurses or new graduates looking for aged care placements. 

With little to no information given about what they can expect, student nurses looking for placements find themselves unsure of the future of their study, and in turn their careers. 

We’ve heard from student readers that the impacts of COVID-19 have gone far beyond restrictions on their social lives. One shared a list of 50 aged care facilities in New South Wales that they were calling one-by-one to search for placement or work experience. 

It’s no secret that Victoria is currently the worst affected part of Australia. Harsh restrictions and the strict lockdown procedures in many aged care facilities, mean that for the young nurses looking to get into the aged care sector, their career is on hold. And with this hold, comes a whole range of other issues, including negative effects on their mental health. 

We spoke to one young nursing student, Christina, a 23 year old living on the Mornington Peninsula. Christina has been looking for placement in aged care since November of last year. “I’ve tried nursing homes, and hospitals, and literally everything around me.

“I’ve contacted over 20 different places trying to find placement, but they either say no or just never reply to me. I know they’re busy and I’m not really a priority but I feel really depressed when I think about it,” she said. 

“It really saddens me that I can’t do anything with my course right now and it’s on hold. It has been on hold for the past six months, and all I can do is wait. I hate that feeling.” 

Whether it’s because she’s studying online, or due to placement positions being allocated to other schools, Christina has continued to struggle to get her foot in the door. And with a placement offer being retracted after restrictions came in, her mental health has taken a real hit. 

“I got really lucky and got an interview with [an aged care provider] in Bonbeach. They were going to take me on as a PTA, which is higher than the job I was studying for. But that was back in March, and ever since I’ve been back and forth, emailing them asking when I can come in, or if there’s anything I can do, but they’ve just been saying ‘nothing yet, we’ll contact you immediately, keep holding on.’ They locked down the week after I landed placement with them and then they said ‘sorry you can’t come in’,” she said. 

“Placement was my last step. I was supposed to finish last month, but due to coronavirus, that’s been pushed back until next June.” 

As is the case for many, it’s been a hard time for Christina, tuning into the updates every day hoping to hear something positive about the future of her course and career. As coronavirus updates generally focus on people who are working, or primary and high school aged students, she feels like higher education students, especially those like her who are looking to do placement in medical fields, have been left out of the conversation. 

With the ongoing uncertainty  around placement and the progression of her studies, Christina feels like she’s lost control of her career and future. 

“I’m worried that I won’t be able to start placement if they don’t find a vaccine. What’s the next step? Nobody knows. So I’m just stuck, and you feel so out of control and you feel very helpless. I just think about what I could be doing, so it’s not a great feeling, not knowing,” she said. 

“You just have to wait on the government, but they never mention students doing placements. I guess it’s just not important to them. 

“If I could just do my placement I wouldn’t be bothered about lockdowns, but having everything on hold like this, it really plays with my mental health. It’s been really hard. Not knowing what’s next is the real devil there.” 

While not all parts of Australia have been as heavily affected by COVID-19, the negative impacts on those looking to break into the aged care sector has been felt around the country. Speaking to Jessica, a 28 year old nursing student in Hobart, even finding volunteer work while studying has been hard. 

“Right now, because of the pandemic, it’s all online classes. I’ve finished about half of the course, so ideally at the end of this year I will get my certificate.

“Now I’m trying to land a casual job in a nursing home. I tried to apply for a few positions on Seek and Indeed, but didn’t get any responses.” 

Considering her lack of experience within the industry, Jessica decided to look for volunteer roles while completing her studies. By volunteering, she hoped that she’d get inside experience in what the day-to-day lives of older people in aged care facilities were like. After finding one volunteer position however, when coronavirus restrictions began she was asked to not come in anymore. She has continued looking for more opportunities since Hobart’s restrictions have relaxed, but has found more refusals and push backs. 

“I’ve sent emails to nursing homes in Hobart, and I get some responses saying that because of the pandemic, and older people are so vulnerable, they’re not accepting any new volunteers. 

“I think that before the pandemic, it was easier to find work, and now nursing homes aren’t accepting any new applications,” she said. 

“Even though life is pretty much back to normal in Hobart right now, compared to Melbourne or Sydney, Hobart has much fewer job opportunities. Especially after this pandemic, there’s even fewer than before. So I’m still struggling to find any work here.” 

After leaving her job in finance in Melbourne to relocate to Hobart and change career paths to work in aged care, Jessica has struggled to find her way into the industry. Times have been tough on everyone since the pandemic began, but as a new nursing student looking to get into one of the most affected industries in the country, Jessica has been left feeling concerned about her future. 

The coronavirus pandemic has touched everyone’s lives in one way or another. Whether your work has been moved to your home, your children have been schooling in your living room, or you’ve lost your job completely, the fallout of the pandemic is wide reaching. But one group of people have been feeling increasingly left out in the cold and forgotten. 

Nursing students whose goals have been entering the aged care sector have been put on hold and left out of the conversation. With no real discussion around the futures of their careers and when they can expect to get back on track, the lack of control and power over their futures can feel disheartening and frustrating.

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