Former Maynooth student wins major nursing award

Social Democrats call to improve student nursing pay conditions

Henry Bauress


Henry Bauress


Former Maynooth student wins major nursing award

Theresa Lowry-Lehnen, lecturer at IT Carlow

A former Maynooth University student has won a major nursing award.

Theresa Lowry-Lehnen, who is the practice nurse at Institute of Technology Carlow, was last night awarded ‘Practice Nurse of the Year 2020’ at the Irish Healthcare Awards.

 The awards are created by Irish Medical Times, the awards are now in their 19th year and recognise innovation and excellence across the Irish healthcare sector. 

 Following her win, Theresa said: “This year, 2020, is the year of the nurse, a time to celebrate the many wonderful achievements of the nursing profession and all those working in it. Having spent almost four decades working at the heart of our great profession, I am truly honoured and very proud to be the Practice Nurse of the Year 2020”.

 Ms Lowry-Lehnen, who lives in Castlewarren, Co. Kilkenny,  has been working as an associate lecturer in the faculty of lifelong learning at IT Carlow since 2008 and as the full-time college nurse since 2015. Institute of Technology Carlow boasts more than 9,500 learners. 

A Carlow native and past pupil of St Leo’s College, Carlow, she is a graduate of Mater Misericordiae University Hospital (MMUH), The Open University, NUI Maynooth (NUIM), The University of Surrey, St. Mary’s Teacher Training University College, London,  and RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences. She is a registered teacher with the Teaching Council of Ireland, an IUHPE registered health promotion practitioner and a registered nurse prescriber (RNP).

Congratulating her, David Denieffe, Vice-President for Academic Affairs, IT Carlow, said: “Theresa is a dedicated and hard-working practice nurse who is popular with everyone on campus. Her considerable medical knowledge, experience and natural empathy means a visit to the campus medical unit is a pleasant one for the students at IT Carlow and we are delighted that her talents are being recognised nationally.”.

Ms Lowry-Lehnen has 37 years’ experience in clinical nursing practice, combining her practice with 16 years in educational, teaching and lecturing roles. She has a PhD and has published a number of books and medical journal articles. 

Meanwhile, Social Democrat TD, Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall TD has called on the Government to end the exploitation of student nurses and midwives who have been expected to fill gaps in our chronically under-funded health service during the pandemic.

Speaking in support of a motion on the issue from Solidarity-People Before Profit today, Deputy Shortall, co leader of the party with Kildare North TD, Catherine Murphy,  said: 

“It should bring shame upon the minister and the Government that our student nurses and midwives are being exploited for cheap labour under the current clinical placement scheme.

She said chronic understaffing in our health service has made this the reality for some time now, but it has been intensified this year. Over 16% of Covid-19 cases have been among healthcare workers. The nature of their work has placed them at increased risk and has led to higher than normal absences from clinical settings – with students expected to fill these gaps. “The fact of the matter is that essential work is expected of students in clinical placements, for which they are not duly compensated. The issue boils down to cheap, exploited labour filling essential work.

Deputy Shortall said student nurses and midwives work on average 15 weeks per year for the first three years of their degree. The students who are lucky enough to receive a clinical placement allowance get a meagre €50.79 per week, while others receive nothing in compensation. In their final year, these students will complete 36-week internships as rostered staff members and will be paid €15,056 – well below minimum wage.

Deputy Shortall said the Minister for Health has defended the status quo, justifying students’ lack of pay because it is part of their education. “However, it is clear from students’ first-hand experiences that this is not a purely academic exercise and they are filling critical roles in our health service.”