Sarah Graham | Contributing Writer | Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Meet The Young Nurses Who Need A Side Hustle Just To Pay Their Bills

Meet The Young Nurses Who Need A Side Hustle Just To Pay Their Bills

The Debrief: 'One of my colleagues works three extra jobs just to make ends meet'

 'I worked as a paediatric specialist nurse in a children's hospice, but after having children of my own, I simply couldn't afford to support my family on a nursing salary,' says 27-year-old Naomi. 'I now run a Botox and filler clinic, earning almost ten times as much each year. '

Naomi is one of thousands of nurses to have left the NHS in recent years, according to worrying figures from the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), which show there are now more nurses and midwives quitting than joining the profession. And she's certainly not alone in feeling the pinch.

'We really do live on the edge of comfort when it comes to money. I've noticed a lot of nurses take on little things on the side, like selling beauty products,' says 22-year-old Hannah*, who's been a nurse for just over a year.

 'You'll also find most nurses take on extra shifts – either through the staff bank or with their contracted post. Not just because we want the patients to have the best care possible, but because we need the money as well!' she adds. 'I usually work an extra one or two shifts each week.'

For Hannah, nursing is more of a vocation than a source of income. 'We know we don't get paid a lot before we come into the job, so I don't know many nurses who would actually quit because of money,' she says.

But for Naomi, the financial pressure of supporting her family was just too much, particularly on top of the everyday stresses and challenges of her demanding role.

'My typical working day would start at 7am, with a handover from the night staff, and finish at 8pm after bathing and putting the children to bed,' she says.

'During the day I'd get them up, washed and dressed, do feeds and medications. Then we would often take the children out for the day – doctor visits, music therapy, reiki, lots of activities – as well as entertaining siblings and supporting parents,' she explains.

'Some of these were end of life children, so it was often challenging. Sometimes a child would pass away during my shift, and so a really hard part of the role was supporting families with that bereavement,' Naomi says.

As a newly qualified nurse, Naomi earned the starting rate of £21,000, but says finances were always a struggle, even before having her twins. 'I often had to go without to make sure we made the mortgage payments. Looking back, I'm not sure how I managed to make ends meet month to month, and knowing there wasn't scope for a pay rise within the career was always on my mind,' she says.

Because Naomi was studying for a Masters in specialist community health nursing when she fell pregnant, she only qualified for statutory maternity pay, and says money was so tight that she was forced back to work when her twins were just four months old.

 'It was a massive strain, and I deeply regret going back to work so soon. I won't ever get this time back with the twins and I really didn't enjoy leaving them,' she says. 'I also had to take the end of my pregnancy off due to complications, so finances were strained for longer than they should have been. It was really tough, and I think it contributed to my postnatal depression.'

30-year-old community mental health nurse Tasha* says she's often thought of quitting too. 'I've worked in the NHS for 8 years and the pay cap is so insulting. When people say things like "you earn enough money, stop whinging" – and yes, people have actually said that to me! – it makes me question why I do my job,' she says.

'When I qualified nine years ago, I took on the role knowing that I would be paid a wage that reflected my training and knowledge, having worked for three years as a student nurse for less than minimum wage,' she explains.

'My wage used to rise if I met the requirements of my training and experience, but sometimes I was so busy working I couldn't always take time off the ward to meet the extra training requests. Even with that in mind, the pay barely reflects the experience and knowledge a nurse has.'

But 52-year-old Assistant Divisional Nurse Sue believes it's all relative. 'I don't feel there are any differences in financial pressures in nursing today than when I first started training. I believe we get a fair day's wage for a fair day's work compared to others,' she says.

'My daughter's in her 20s and manages a 120 place nursery for less than a band five nurse, but I consider her job as having more responsibility than a ward sister, even though it's not open 24 hours,' Sue explains.

'In my baby boomer opinion, the reason younger nurses are feeling the pinch is that they expect more,' she adds, referring to a 2017 NHS report on generational differences between early career nurses. 'That's not just the case in nursing.' 

Sue says she doesn't agree with the pay cap though, 'as this has meant the wage has not kept up with the cost of living. It should have been scrapped two years ago once it had served its purpose of reducing the wage bill and protecting individuals from redundancies.'

In real terms, Tasha explains, the 1 per cent annual pay rise has put an extra £5.50 into her wages, while her gas and electric bill has just risen by £40 a month. 'As a community nurse I use my own car, my business mileage covers the petrol (allegedly). But the rising cost of fuel, repairs and insurance means I'm often out of pocket and have to use a credit card to cover my extra fuel bill,' she says.

'The pay cap has destroyed staff morale. More and more is expected of nurses; we often go above and beyond our roles, beyond our hours, beyond our breaks and holidays. We give so much of ourselves to this job, and to the patients we care for, so to have our pay cut is demoralising,' she says.

 'To make matters worse, the NMC nursing registration fee has risen again to £120 per year. I cannot work if I don't pay to register with them, so it's yet another cost I have to find. My parents actually pay it as my birthday present each year – and, while I'm incredibly grateful, they shouldn't have to do that for me at 30 years old!'

But, having invested so much of her life into nursing since she began training at 18, Tasha isn't sure what she'd do if she left.  'Nursing is all I've ever really done, but it's hard to see jobs in local retail outlets with better pay,' she says.

'At times I've worked extra shifts through the nurse bank, which is classed as a second job, but the pressure of my full-time role now leaves me too exhausted to pick up any extra shifts,' Tasha explains.

'One of my colleagues works three extra jobs, including working in a pub at he weekend and doing hairdressing at weddings, just to make ends meet. I've no idea how she does it – we all work 37.5 hours full-time, and often work extra hours after 5pm or at weekend to keep up with paperwork,' she adds.

'I've actually looked into starting up my own business for a second income, but the process of tax is complicated and, as a second job, the tax rate is so high I'm not sure it's even worth it,' Tasha adds.

Meanwhile, Naomi says she hasn't looked back since leaving the NHS in October 2015. 'I started training in aesthetics in April 2015, because knew I had to do something. The treatments were popular and being proficient with a needle it seemed like a natural progression,' she explains.

'Training alongside shifts became incredibly difficult – I passed my family like ships in the night for those first few months – but I could earn as much doing one treatment as I was making in a whole day as a nurse. I found myself resenting having to work when I could be earning so much more,' Naomi adds.

'Fortunately it took off, and I was able to make the jump completely. I now run two aesthetics clinics, have three employees, and was nominated for Nurse of the Year at the 2016 Safety in Beauty Awards,' she says.

'There is simply no money in nursing, unfortunately. Some of my friends were having to access food banks just to support themselves and their families.'

You might also be interested in: 

'I Want To Be A Midwife, Please Don't Cut The Bursary'

It's 2017, And Apparently This Is How We're Recruiting Nurses 

How NHS Cuts Are Putting Women's Lives At Risk 

*Hannah and Tasha's names have been changed...