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Becoming a nurse: research update

Becoming a nurse: research update

In mid-2022, the Branch called on graduate nurses to complete a survey of their experiences of working while they were studying. The survey was part of a postgraduate research project and, in addition to the survey, interviews were undertaken with graduate nurses who had been employed while they studied. That research has now been finalised. A summary of its finding is presented below.

The research project, titled Becoming a nurse: a mixed methods study of student nurse employment and graduate nurse experience, had two aims:

  1. Explore the influence of different student employment models – including the registered undergraduate student of nursing (RUSON) model – on graduate nurse transition to practice.
  2. Consider the impacts on nursing workforce recruitment and retention.


The research concluded that employment as a student RN in any role (inclusive of non-healthcare roles such as hospitality and retail) provides the graduate with professional work-readiness skills that are transferable and benefit the graduate RN as they transition from student RN to qualified RN.

But employment in a nursing-related direct care position in health or aged care provides the student RN with additional clinical nursing focus that improves graduate RN preparation.

Employment as a RUSON results in additional benefits associated with the student RN’s immersion in the nursing team. This immersion further extending the students’ connections to nursing, provides additional support networks, and establishes early professional identity, all of which may improve graduate RN preparation and help to reduce the risks of transition shock.

RUSONs are also more likely than any other student to remain with their student employer during their graduate year, meaning the employment model may also be a recruitment and retention tool.

‘Working as a RUSON was 100 per cent the best thing that I did for my degree and for my learning, and I would have done it much earlier if I had known how good it was going to be.’ – research participant

Ultimately, the research concluded that undergraduate employment influences recruitment and retention. Results demonstrated that retention was also influenced by broader factors including workplace culture and graduate support, opportunities for ongoing learning and career development, working conditions and wages, and lifestyle impacts.

Transition to nursing

Overall, close to half of the participants indicated they were experiencing difficulties with the transition from student to registered nurse. Significantly, those who did not work at all while studying, or who did not work in health (for example as a RUSON), were over-represented in this cohort.

Of those who did work while studying, 40 per cent had worked as a RUSON, 20 percent as an assistant in nursing (AIN) or similar role, and 11 per cent as an enrolled nurse. These students overwhelmingly indicated that their employment helped them feel more prepared for their graduate year – 81 per cent of RUSONs and 77 per cent of AINs (or those in a similar role) compared with 39 per cent of those who didn’t work in health as a student RN.

Recruitment and retention

Of participants who worked as a RUSON or in another health role during their pre-qualification employment:

  • 55.1% of RUSONs remained with their student employer in their graduate year
  • 23.5% of AINs working in health or aged care remained with their student employer in their graduate year

RUSONs and students working in other health roles were also slightly more likely to want to stay in nursing over the next three years, with 82 per cent of RUSONs intending to remain, compared with 79 per cent of those who did not work in health as a student.


The established benefits associated with student RN employment in nursing-related roles, and specifically as RUSONs, suggests that there should be an ongoing collaborative approach between government, education and industry stakeholders to expand the number and availability of RUSON employment models.

There is also evidence that the provision of structured student employment such as the RUSON model supports recruitment of graduates.

The research therefore recommends:

  1. Promoting and expanding RUSON employment models to offer all student RNs the option of employment as a RUSON during their university education
  2. Reviewing existing RUSON employment models regularly to ensure student RNs are set up for career success and to inform future improvements.