Four Hours Travel A Day To Be A Nurse – Housing Affordability Is Pushing Us To The Limit

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I am a nurse who is currently experiencing the crunch of housing affordability. A story in the March Issue of the Lamp on Housing Affordability, really struck a chord with me and I wanted to share my story.

My story began when we relocated from a regional area to Sydney a number of years ago, and we settled in to a small two bedroom rental in the suburbs. Though the location was not ideal (in terms of the neighbourhood setting and inaccessibility of train transport) we chose the place mostly because at the time it was affordable. Around the same period, I was working in nursing homes while searching for job opportunities to specialize in something I was really passionate about.

In my search, a major hospital had a vacancy for the exact job I wanted! I successfully applied and have since been working there ever since. I initially thought about relocating to a suburb surrounding the hospital, but was shocked to have seen that rentals were 2-3x the price of what we were paying for our current place. Making matters worse, those prices were only for studios and 1-bedroom places, making it nearly impossible to consider a 2-bedroom.

I didn’t have a driving license but knew I would absolutely need one to cross Sydney every day. I love the job that I am currently in as this is what I’m really passionate about and this gives me the motivation to wake up each day to go to work despite the travel time and costs and not really getting much down time.

This is the best routine I’ve had learned whilst getting into work every time:

These are the shifts I could be working:

  • 0700-1545
  • 1000-1845
  • 1300-2145
  • 2115-0715

If I get rostered on a 0700-1545 shift Monday-Friday, I have no choice but to take public transport. I’ve found driving home during the afternoon peak hour takes me almost 2 hours and on bad days, over 2 hours 45 minutes. It’s just too much. Using the public transport still takes me 2 hours 30 minutes each way but it reduces my stress sitting into traffic.

So whenever I use public transport on a day shift, I have to wake up 3:30 AM then leave the house no later than 4:20 AM so I can drive to the nearest station to park my car before I take the train at 4:50 AM. After an hour on the train, I arrive at my stop and wait 10 minutes for a bus to get me to the hospital at 6:30am. And leaving work at 3:45pm is no better and I’m rarely home before 6pm.

It’s at its worst when I get rostered on a later day shift (2145 finish then back for a 0700 shift the next day) and I get absolutely zero down time. I get home 10:45pm but I’ll be lucky to get any sleep before my alarm at 3:30am the next day. My managers have been kind and they consider my location but obviously it can’t be helped sometimes and I have to work a late early shift.

On non-peak days (public holidays, weekends) my average driving time to work is about 1 hour. Factoring in parking (which is a huge problem for many hospital staff!) I add 10-15 minutes walk to my journey.

People have been asking me often why I do this but the answer boils down to my passion of being a nurse and the cost of our rental at the moment. And even if I did factor the tolls, petrol and public transport, living near my hospital is still going to be more expensive and so I have to continue to sacrifice my sleep and my time.

I’m hoping that the government addresses housing affordability as it is a problem that has been getting harder and there are a lot of people in my position or worse. I really love my job and am so thankful that I can specialise but I can’t deny that it is taking its toll on me. Even as I reconsider relocating jobs, it is rather rare to find vacancies in my specialty anywhere close to where I live.

As the country faces a continuous growth in population and demand in all our public health services, leaders of our nation shouldn’t forget the impact that housing affordability can do on key workers such as us nurses, police, teachers and so on. We’re going to continue to see staff shortages, poor staff retention and poor staffing skill mix as a result, impacting the care to our community.

Thank you for listening to my story. I resonated with the article so much that I just had the desire to share mine and with that, I thank the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association for bringing these issues into the light and pressing for change. Hopefully the government will consider how much we need affordable housing for essential workers.

What’s your experience with affordable housing? We’d like to share your story too: nurseuncut@nswnma.asn.au

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