There is a growing body of literature concerning the needs of informal carers, however, there is little relating to the needs of carers who are also university students. There are a number of publications concerning the difficulties university studies may cause and in particular the stress that some healthcare students endures when they undertake clinical placements. Being an informal carer has the potential to aggravate any difficulties students may have in the normal course of their studies.
The purpose of the study was to explore the experiences and needs of healthcare students who are also informal carers. An electronic survey (February 2010) of 3567 students identified 36 students who are also informal carers. Most were female, pre-registration nursing students, studying full-time and who cared for their physically disabled children, chronically ill parents or terminally ill grandparents. Most respondents spent over 6 h a day on informal caring responsibilities. The majority said informal caring had a negative impact on their studies.
An in-depth interview study was undertaken (April 2010) with ten students. Data themes identified in the analysis were; descriptions of being an informal carer, impact of caring on studying, sources of support and hidden lives. In the theme ‘hidden lives’ students highlighted that they did not want university staff to know that they were informal carers as they did not want ‘special’ treatment. It was theorised that this could be due to the stigmatisation sometimes attached to being a carer. The value of the study was that it was found that more targeted information about student support services is needed, to help students successfully complete their studies. This would be beneficial for universities too as students who leave early without successfully completing their programme have financial implications.