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The Challenging Career Path to Nursing

routes to nursing in Ireland

The path to a career in nursing has now become a difficult one to navigate. A career in nursing that was once secure with employment guaranteed is now unstable – with often few prospects in terms of job openings in Ireland. The CAO points required for nursing is a stark reflection on the state of this discipline. In 2001 it was reported that all general nursing courses had dropped in points to between 325 and 395. Roll on eight years later and nursing points were predicted to rise after the HSE cut places in 2009. In recent years there has only been 1,300 nursing places available to students due to the HSE’s continued reduction in places. As with any college place shortages; there will be severe competition and points will rise dramatically. In fact some of the nursing courses on offer have passed the 500 points mark. Children’s and general nursing has risen to 505 in Trinity College and to 495 in UCD.

Many students view this as ironic – given that a nursing career is both demanding and stressful, yet not extremely well rewarded financially; yet the rise in points to get a place on a nursing programme will now draw on the top 30% of Leaving Cert performers. General Nursing courses are always the most popular options but the increased competition saw points for almost all programmes rising. To compare: in DCU in 2001 General Nursing was 345 points – this year it was 445 points. The highest cut-off points for a General Nursing course is National University of Ireland, Galway, at 450. The course with the highest points is Children’s and General Nursing in University College Cork, which has a limited number of places and has risen to 520 points. If one was to look at the leaving certificate grade break-down and their accompanying points; it becomes very apparent the type of required grades to make up 440 to 500 points from a pool of six leaving certificate subjects.

Nursing is now almost as competitive as Primary Teaching, which was traditionally one of the most closely fought for courses in the CAO system. As with teaching, even with restrictions in recruitment and related moratoriums, the perceived security offered by the traditional public service sector seems to be one of the defining criteria in CAO choices. Aside from the security factor (which is currently questionable), the competition for places has of course been seriously accelerated by a cut in training places this year. Despite those cuts, introduced as part of the government’s cost-saving response to the downturn, there is no let-up in interest in Nursing, and demand for places has increased again this year.

It is difficult to interpret the HSE’s actual response to the nursing crisis in Ireland by cutting places on offer to students. With retirements and on-going emigration of newly qualified nurses  all in search of better pay and conditions; there is cause for concern in the nurses union as to who will fill these places. The Irish nurses and Midwives organisation (INMO) has warned it is deeply concerned that there will be a shortage of nurses in Irish hospitals over the next three years. In fact they recently told the media that the situation ‘could reach crisis point’. They draw a comparison between what happened in the 90s when a massive recruitment campaign was needed to draw in recruit essential doctors and nurses from abroad.

General Secretary of the INMO Liam Doran says his members will make sure to let management know exactly how these plans are affecting patient safety on the ground. ‘We cannot have a situation where you cut the number of nurses, midwives and support staff in a ward and at the same time have consultants and other managers think you can maintain the same quality of service’.

Whilst words like ‘unacceptable’ and ‘dangerous’ in terms of patient safety continue to be used by those concerned; Ireland will keep exporting newly qualified nurses, seeking better working conditions and security. These are the same nurses that one day the government will no doubt be trying to recruit back.

What is unfortunate for those wishing to enter the career this year – many who would make excellent nurses; they will not get the opportunity to provide such an important nursing service, due to them being unable to make that drastically high points mark.

As we all know; a good nurse is more than a combination of high points. They have to be empathetic, responsive and practical in nature and being. These essential interpersonal and intrapersonal qualities won’t always be accompanied by 500 points – leaving a lot of potentially excellent nurses out of the hospital wards forever.

Author: Catriona Lowry