A petition calling for student nurses to be paid during their placement hours has gained more than 5300 signatures.
Petition creator Arya Zale said the workforce shortage affected nursing students' physical and mental health and should be acknowledged.
The pressures could also affect patient outcomes, she said.
The future of the nursing workforce was vulnerable, she said.
"It's costing patient outcomes, patient mortality, and the logic behind increasing practising nurses workloads is unsustainable and dangerous.
"There's a desperate need for nursing students, but with a one third drop-out rate not enough are entering the workforce."
Zale said it was incredibly discouraging that one year into her course, only 68 percent of her original cohort attended the clinical skills lab.
"Nursing students experience compounding vulnerabilities even under normal circumstances within our academic and clinical environments."
The system did not protect nursing students from inequities and financial difficulties comprised a big part of that, she said.
"Currently we're not paid for the 1100 hours of labour we provide over the course of our programme where as students in other trades are paid on average nearly ... $30 an hour for their apprenticeships."
Student nurses not being paid had been accepted as part of the status quo but "we're not having that", Zale said.
"We're funding our tuition, working fulltime at placements without pay, attending classes and finding time to study at home again, even trying to work other jobs to cover living costs."
Nurses would not be able to make a difference in people's lives if they could not afford to, Zale said.
Paying student nurses is long overdue and represents a new approach to an old problem, she said.
"It's student nurse led and so that might fuel change because it's approaching it from a different angle."
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