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Student nurses in pain

JULIEN NEAVES Sunday, August 13 2017

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FOR University of the Southern Caribbean (USC) nursing student and single mother Adeola Ogunsheye it has been a rough couple of years. She had left her job to study nursing because it is a full time programme. Her fiancé died when she was in the third year of her studies and he had been helping to financially support her. Ogunsheye was put under further strain when she and more than 500 other nursing students stopped receiving their monthly stipend since June last year.

On August 4, president of the Trinidad and Tobago Registered Nurses Association (TTRNA) Idi Stuart highlighted the students’ plight during a multi-trade union protest in Port of Spain. He said the nursing students were not being paid their $800 monthly stipend and he gave the Government a deadline of month-end to pay the outstanding monies.

Ogunsheye, 31, told Sunday Newsday in a telephone interview that $800 was the starting sum received by nursing students but as you progressed each year the amount would increase. She said in year two it was about $1,100, year three was about $1,300 and final year was supposed to be more than $1,500 though they have not received that sum.

Ogunsheye, who has a seven year-old daughter, said the stipend amount was “not enough to maintain anything but it’s still better than nothing. You still look forward to it at the end of the month.” She said it has been hard not receiving the stipend and she at times has to choose whether to give up going to a class or give up going to the hospital. She added that students have to complete a certain number of hours to satisfy the nursing council.

She said when they go on the ward they are “working down to bone” and they function like a normal registered nurse (RN).

“It has been extremely hard. But I’m still here. By the grace of God my parents insist that I complete my course.” Ogunsheye studied nursing at the College of Science, Technology and Applied Arts of Trinidad and Tobago (COSTAATT) for two years but transferred to USC when she moved to South and had to start over.

“I’m doing it for six years now.

After giving all that amount of time doing this and you expecting a little change end of month and not getting it, is something to frustrate you.” She said there are people who believe no one should be “getting paid to go to school” but felt they need to understand that by student nurses being out on the field studying or learning they do everything that a RN does.

“We still need to survive. It should not be something we have to be dogging and begging for. We need to get it, we need to get our backpay.” She said there are students who have to borrow money to go to school and receiving the stipend “will full a hole.” “It only fair that we get what we deserved.” Ogunsheye had graduated with a bachelor’s of science in nursing but had not completed her exams with the nursing council, one practical and one written, which is required to become a RN. Sunday Newsday also spoke to two other nursing students but they asked that their real names be withheld.

Delia*, a fourth year student, said the lack of a stipend had been quite difficult. She said when she joined the programme students were informed that they would receive money to cover transportation.

Delia said there were times they received the money late but now they were not getting anything.

“I have commitments, I have children. The stipend that is gone used to see about my bills. I have to take money I have for my children and put to use for myself. I have outstanding debts that need to be cleared. It is very tedious and distressing to say the least.” Delia said it was very unfair to the students. She said last July students were told they have been paid in August with the outstanding money and then they were told December and then the end of February and then the end of May but “nothing happened.” Delia said her bank account was in negative which she had never experienced before.

“Can you imagine my distress?” Nisha*, a 23-year-old student who is also in final year, said the stipend was mainly used for transportation but also for school supplies, books and paying school fees. She said not everyone has financial support and some may have had it but lost it for some reason. She said for her she has to depend more on her parents.

“People have to borrow from people.

And pay back small loans. Some students who are mothers. The little money used to go a long way for a lot of them.” On people questioning why they should be paid a stipend at all Nisha said students do not just do theory or sit in a classroom but when they are on the ward they are working like nurses but under supervision.

Stacey Mahabal, president of the Trinidad and Tobago Nursing Students, the student arm of the TTRNA, and president of Nursing Assistant Trainees, told Sunday Newsday they were instrumental in getting students out to march during the August 4 protest. She said she had been taking information from students and liaising with Stuart who had been advocating on their behalf.

Mahabal said as part of the programme students have to spend time working at a hospital/health institution and the stipend was for this work. She said the mix of days of going to the hospital and going to class depended on which year of the four year programme the student was in. When they do not have classes they would go Monday to Friday, 7 am to 3 pm, with an option to make up lost time on a Sunday.

Asked who was responsible for the payment of the stipend Mahabal said at first there was an arrangement between COSTAATT and USC where COSTAATT would pay them. She said COSTAATT indicated via letters that it would not be able to pay because of the high intake of students to USC.

She said students were on the wards training and work under supervision as a RN. She also said they have overhead costs for labs, transportation and registration of $1,500.

“Sometimes the little stipend just goes in bills.” Mahabal said she did not know if it was illegal for the stipend not to be paid but their argument was that they are going to work and should be paid a stipend.

“We just want a little thing to cross over. This is an essential service.

We not asking for a salary but just asking for a little cash.” She said on the ward sometimes they help to fill the gap as at times the people paid to work did not come out.

Mahabal also said they learned that they were not under the Health Ministry but the Education Ministry and reached out to them.

Asked the response from the ministry, Mahabal said officials keep telling them they are “investigating.” She said students are discouraged by the lack of a stipend but it has not affected their care.

“We steadily going out and giving it our all still. Nursing is something we love. (We there) every day, whole day with the same amount of passion.” She said that if by August 31 they do not receive the monies they are prepared to protest in front of Parliament.

Education Minister Anthony Garcia, in a telephone interview, said Minister in the Ministry of Education Dr Lovell Francis had met with the students and they are trying to work out arrangements. He said there was a change sometime last year when the nurses were moved from the Ministry of Health to the Ministry of Education.

“There are some challenges we need to unravel and as soon as we are able to do that will be sorted out.”

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